Journalists express support for beleaguered UNIAN colleagues


At a roundtable meeting organized by Stop Censorship to discuss the situation at the UNIAN information agency, journalists agreed to defend UNIAN editors who have alleged censorship by management from pressure and dismissal.  They are calling on Ukrainian and international organizations to register this case of censorship.

The meeting on Tuesday decided to create a commission from journalist organizations which will follow the situation.  Oksana Romanyuk, representative of Reporters without Borders in Ukraine explained that the commission would serve as a kind of external supervisory council to ensure resolution of the situation.

The roundtable desired also to appeal to the President’s Administration; UNIAN’s owners; as well as the interdepartmental working group on freedom of speech. Ms Romanyuk said that they would be calling for the dismissal and punishment of those responsible for the censorship. “This situation is unique and we must give maximum support to the UNIAN editors. Reporters without Borders is willing to provide any support, including of a legal nature”.

National Journalist Union lawyer Tetyana Kotyuzhynska believes that there are grounds for initiating a criminal case under Article 171 § 2 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of a journalist carrying out his or her legitimate activities).

Media experts pointed out that UNIAN had already suffered considerable damage to its reputation due to its change in editorial policy with this undermining readers’ trust in the resource. A year ago UNIAN was in the first five in terms of most visited news sites according to various ratings. It is now seventh or eighth.

As reported, five UNIAN editors initially spoke out publicly on 25 October accusing General Director Vadim Osadchy of censorship. They stated that Osadchy had told two editors – Lyubov Zhalovaha and Valentina Romanenko – that on the basis of an official note from the head of the UNIAN Internet project Mykola Kondratenko each was to be fined 200 UAH (roughly 20 EUR) for posting a news story.  This was preceded by an order to remove the news item about a picket outside the President’s Administration in defence of the Bilichansk Forest.  They assert that the conversation with Kondratenko and Osadchy boiled down to the question: “Why are you getting at Yanukovych?”

 “We were aware that with the change of management the rules of play would also change, however tried as much as we could to maintain the face of the site in the hope that the situation was temporary and of better times. We hope that with this statement we are doing precisely that – bringing better times closer”.

A little later that addressed an open letter to the UNIAN General Director in which they gave examples of censorship by management.

This states that management has banned negative coverage of President Yanukovych’s activities. It also forced them during the election period to give coverage to the leader of the Communist Party Petro Symonenko and to one of the candidates in single-mandate electoral district No. 218.

The editors assert that they have received letters from Mykola Kondratenko, head of the Internet projects department where he gives direct instructions to “follow the activities of the Communist Party and the leader of the proletariat, and pay close attention to their news.”  The coverage referred to is of Symonenko’s trips around the regions during the election period.

With respect to the candidate from electoral district No. 218, they say that in October alone they posted 37 of his commentaries.

They also allege that the names of three opposition single-mandate electoral district candidates (Doniy; Aryev and Bryhynets) were taboo on the website.

Several examples are provided of news items removed on the instruction of Kondratenko who, the authors say, agreed this with Osadchy:  “The opposition reports the appearance of a fake interview with Turchynov”; “The Party of the Regions’ interests in district electoral commissions will be represented by 13 out of the 18 members”, and others.

The editors say that they were stopped from covering the events at the World Newspaper Congress (held in Kyiv) when colleagues from Ukrainska Pravda were assaulted, and assert that Osadchy himself placed a taboo on the subject of the journalist protest action (they stood up when Yanukovych began his opening address with placards about censorship in Ukraine – translator).

The open letter was signed by the Senior Site Editor Lyubov Zhalovaha and editors Oleksandr Volynsky; Valentina Romanenko; Natalia Ovdiyenko; Roman Romanyuk and Natalia Nehrei. 

Information about the roundtable and the photo from here

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