Stop Censorship’s New Agenda for a New Administration
Under Viktor Yanukovych journalist day in Ukraine was marked by journalists’ efforts to hold peaceful protests outside the president’s sumptuous residence at Mezhyhirya and the use of the courts and Berkut riot police to stop them. On Feb 22, when Yanukovych fled leaving the residence open, Ukrainians and the world media understood just what he had to hide.
This year Journalist Day came on the eve of Petro Poroshenko’s inauguration and the movement Stop Censorship took the opportunity to put forward a list of key priorities for the new president with regard to the media and freedom of speech. Perhaps to ensure that the movement itself, which emerged in reaction to Yanukovych’s assault on freedom of speech, becomes redundant.
The open letter begins by speaking of the huge price paid over the last 6 months for the right to information. Two journalists were killed, almost 200 injured, and around 40 were or have been taken hostage. Dozens have been forced to leave their homes through attacks and threats. “We urge you to take the investigations into these cases under your personal control and to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account.” Almost 200 attacks were carried out by former, possibly current, members of the enforcement bodies. Stop Censorship stresses that Ukraine’s development as a democratic country will not be possible journalists’ safety and protection are not guaranteed.
They await systematic steps from the President and Verkhovna Rada on safeguarding freedom of speech and development of the media sector.
The agenda must include the following:
There should be regular meetings with members of the press; press conferences at least every three months; and reports to the public on a regular basis. The new government, they hope, will prioritize transparency and accountability.
2 Public broadcasting
They welcome the adoption of the relevant law, but stress that what is needed is not just a change of sign on Ukraine’s National TV Broadcaster, but a powerful broadcaster free of political pressure.
3 An end to state ownership of mass media
They stress the need for real reform of state-owned and communal press financed by the state or local budgets which they call a relic of the Soviet past.
4. Transparency of media ownership
5 Abolition of the Public Morality Commission
6. An independent and competent National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council
This body, they say, has discredited itself as an independent regulator, and ask the government to support the candidates from journalist organizations: media lawyers Taras Shevchenko and Tatyana Kotyuzhynska. The Council, they stress, needs to be formed in a transparent and democratic manner.
“We would like to believe that your election as President will herald new prospects if Ukraine. If you really plan to build a ‘new country’, as your election slogan put it, you must implement media reform, become open and accountable, to ensure the public’s right to information and the right of journalists to work without obstruction.
We invite you to meet with journalists from our movement in order to discuss the issues raised here.”