Bleak statistics for media censorship and political pressure


In its Freedom of Speech Barometer, the Institute for Mass Information reports that in February there were 14 cases where journalists were obstructed in carrying out their professional activities. 6 cases of censorship were also recorded and 5 cases of political pressure and law suits against media publications and journalists.

Telling examples where journalists were obstructed in their work were seen on 22 February when President Yanukovych held his “Dialogue with the Country” by television. In three cities journalists tried in vain to get to the places where the broadcasts were taking place and put questions to Yanukovych.  The police gave absurd explanations as to why the journalists could not be in the particular place.

The Lviv newspaper “Express” reported that two burly men in plain clothes had used physical force to prevent their journalist Olha Pilishchuk from attending the direct broadcast from the village of Pnykut in the Lviv oblast. She says that she had previously shown her journalist ID to police who unofficially told her that they had been told to only allow people in who were on their list.  IMI reports that a police officer told Ms Pilishchuk that this was private land, the equipment was expensive and it was possible that she wanted to disrupt the event.

In Odessa Bohdan Osynski, journalists from the Internet publication “Vzglyad iz Odessy” was prevented from entering one of the venues – Kindergarten No. 195. He was told by the Deputy Head of Police for the Odessa oblast that there was quarantine at the kindergarten and that he needed to get a medical certificate in order to be allowed in.

Other journalists were met by a woman who claimed to be a nurse and said that all those present had come with their medical records.

(more details here )

In Kakhivka a journalist was also prevented from attending the event.  The Kherson Regional Council’s Press Service, asked by journalists why they weren’t being allowed inside, responded that the event was not for journalists, but for people.

Another telling example of the President’s attitude to journalists was his participation in an extended meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on 27 February. Not even the photographers and cameramen who are normally present at these meetings were allowed in, although before the event it had been announced that they could be present.

Cases of censorship included:

the email sent from the Press Service of Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov with recommendations to the media on coverage of the gas conflict. It recommended quoting as much as possible the statement from Prime Minister Azarov about a review of the gas contract with Russia and to put all responsibility on the Prime Minister. The email also suggested quoting the statement from Foreign Minister Kozhara on prospects for European integration and the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Another case of censorship occurred during the press conference given by President Yanukovych and EU leaders after the EU-Ukraine Summit on 25 February.

As reported,  journalists accused the President’s Press Secretary Daria Chepak of breaking their agreement to give journalist from Korespondent, Iryna Solomko, who had not come as part of the President’s select journalist pool, the chance to ask the only question permitted from Ukrainian journalists. During the actual press conference, the microphone was given to one of the pool journalists from the ICTV channel. Chepak positively instructed the person delivering the microphone who to place it in front of.

Ukrainska Pravda noted at the time that for this reason no question was voiced at the press conference about the retreat from democracy in Ukraine.  The ICTV journalist’s question was about visa liberalization and addressed to the EU leaders.

The UNIAN conflict

Please see UNIAN management takes responsibility for fake opposition statements and the links below that text for details about this case.  While raising concerns about censorship in one of Ukraine’s largest information agencies, it did demonstrate cheering refusal to be cowered by editorial staff.  In the light of last week’s scandalous court ruling stripping MP Serhiy Vlasenko of his mandate, it is worth pointing out that the fake statements were supposed to be from Vlasenko and another opposition MP.

The trend already seen in January continued in February of defamation suits lodged by representatives of the authorities against journalists and media publications with large amounts of compensation demanded.

The most active claimant in February was Vitaly Zhuravsky

See Yet another Party of the Regions MP demands compensation for libel

In a number of suits, IMI says, Zhuravsky has demanded 700 thousand UAH in the defamation suits lodged so far.

IMI also highlights another case reported here, involving the newly appointed Defence Minister Pavlo Lebedev.  Please see New Defence Minister flexes muscles in defamation suit

The full Barometer report for February is available in Ukrainian here

Another development in February which unfortunately appears to already be putting end to attempts to achieve greater objectivity and balance at the Inter TV Channel was the sale of the channel to Dmytro Firtash, millionaire known for his close links with the present regime and Serhiy Lyovochkin from the President’s Administration (see Firtash and Lyovochkin’s Inter rejects balanced coverage safeguards

Another worrying precedent in February was reported here Court orders Ukrainska Pravda to refute comment left by reader

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