International concern grows over situation at TVi
Reporters without Borders has condemned the sudden change in management at TVi, while the International Federation of Journalists has backed the strike by TVi staff and called for transparent and regulated media ownership in the country.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and its European member, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), have backed a strike by staff from Ukranian broadcasting station TVi and called for transparent and regulated media ownership in the country.
According to IFJ affiliate, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU), staff from TVi began the strike on Wednesday, 24 April, following an aggressive overnight takeover by the station’s new owner, America businessman Alexander Altman, and new director, journalist Artem Shevchenko, which journalists only learned about when they arrived at work to find the building surrounded by heavy security on Tuesday morning.
The IMTUU says the strike was also called because the new director forbid journalists at the station from producing any stories about the events of the takeover on the station’s evening programme. While the new management issued assurances that there would be no change to the editorial line, within 24 hours Pavlo Sheremeta, who heads up the evening news programme, was informed that his contract was terminated.
“It is shocking that an unknown group can take control of a major media company overnight and call in the police the following morning to protect the building before any of the staff have even arrived. Similar reckless treatment of media and staff are likely to occur if the principles of media ownership in the country remain unclear, ” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.
“We call for full transparency and regulation over media ownership in the Ukraine and the introduction of legislation that guarantees transparency, pluralism and limits on media ownership.
“The current situation is harming the reputation of the channel and is weakening freedom of speech within the Ukraine, so we also encourage the management to enter a dialogue with the journalists to settle the dispute and protect the reputation of this respected media organisation.”
The IMTUU, which has formed a branch within the TV station that will encourage discussion between the two parties, says the situation began when journalists were prevented from entering the station’s building by armed guards when they arrived for work last Tuesday, 23 April. The station’s previous owner and director were also prevented from entering.
Later that same day, the new owner and director called a general meeting with staff where the new director told journalists they could not comment on the situation in the station’s evening news programme. According to the IMTUU, it was this action that led to the decision to strike.
“Once again we see important media institutions, essential for the Ukrainian democracy, being treated as toys by the rich and powerful, ” said EFJ President Arne Konig. “ It is little wonder that the journalists doubt the commitments of the new owner to maintaining the same standards and editorial lines when they are greeted by armed guards and the first protests result in the termination of a leading news presenter’s contract.’
“We urge the new owner to start an immediate dialogue with the journalists and the IMTUU to resolve the differences and that will guarantee the continued rights and conditions of the employees.”
The IMTUU says it is observing the strike and will provide legal and political support for staff members if there is a violation of their rights.
26 APRIL 2013.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the sudden change of management at the opposition TV stationTVi, announced three days ago, and is disturbed to learn that ensuing internal disputes have resulted in broadcasting being suspended.
“We deplore the new management’s appalling treatment of this independent TV station’s journalists and we urge it to recognize the new TVi journalists’ union and to accept its demands, ” Reporters Without Borders said.
“These demands are release of information allowing the station’s new owners to be identified, restoration of the previous programming schedule, and revocation of the unjustified dismissal of one of the journalists.
“We also urge the new management not to try to divide its staff by exploiting personal disputes and to guarantee the editorial independence of the station’s investigative reporting and news services.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We are disturbed by the lack of financial transparency surrounding certain media owners in Ukraine and the increasing concentration of ownership in few hands, which threatens diversity in the provision of news and information.”
TVi’s press department announced changes in the station’s sources of financing and its top management on 23 April.
The new management said Alexander Altman, a US businessman of Ukrainian origin, had legally obtained a controlling interest, replacing Konstantin Kagalovsky, a British citizen of Russian origin and former shareholder in the Russian oil company Yukos, who founded TVi along with Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
It was also announced that Artem Shevchenko, one of the station’s presenters, had replacedNatalka Katerynchuk as its chief executive. The former management described these developments as a “raid.”
Altman and Shevchenko reportedly portrayed the changes as the only way to prevent the station from being sold to government supporters. Thanks to them, the stations would “remain out of the control of any political group, or business group or the present government” and would continue to be an “objective news source.”
The station’s journalists were denied access to their offices on 23 April and Shevchenko cancelled plans to broadcast a debate in which the various parties to the dispute would explain their positions. Following this decision, almost all the journalists went on strike.
Altman was not yet unveiled his business strategy for the station or explained the implications of an authorization that would allow its signal to be carried on national TV broadcast networks in the near future.
No information as to the identity of the people who are backing Altman has been provided by either Shevchenko or Mykola Knyazhitsky, a former TVi chief executive who is now an opposition parliamentarian and a member of the Freedom of Information Committee.
One of TVi’s presenters, Mustafa Nayem, told Reporters Without Borders he was concerned about the possible involvement of government officials in the takeover. “We want to know what is really going on and why the police have not reacted, ” he said. “For the time being, the suspension of programming seems to have bothered no one.”
TVi has until now been regarded as one of Ukraine’s two opposition TV stations. A court stripped it of its main over-the-air broadcast frequency in 2010 as a result of a case brought by Inter Media Group, a rival broadcasting company.
Last year, TVi was the subject of a tax audit and many cable TV operators were forced to drop its signal, causing it to lose a third of its viewers.
Ukraine fell 10 places in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index