Silencing ‘hostile’ media? Crimean News Agency refused licence
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator has turned down QHA Crimean News Agency’s application for a licence. This comes just days after Russian-installed ‘prime minister’ Sergei Aksyonov made it clear that ‘hostile’ media who talk of a return to Ukrainian control, etc. have no place in annexed Crimea.
QHA Director Gayana Yuksel has said that they had anticipated something like this. As reported here, in August last year her husband Ismet Yuksel, QHA General Director and adviser to the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People was banned from entering Crimea for 5 years.
All media in Crimea have until the beginning of April to obtain a Russian licence. QHA applied for theirs in October, 2014. They were initially told that there was an inaccuracy which needed to be rectified. They consulted with lawyers and sorted out the problem, but the second time were told that their application had been declined. They have asked for an explanation which should come by March 12. Gayana Yuksel is clearly not hopeful, and points out that if they want to reject an application, they can always find some pretext.
It seems likely that the Crimea’s Russian-installed leaders have viewed QHA as ‘hostile’ effectively since they were brought to power. Since April last year QHA journalists have been refused accreditation for parliamentary sessions and other government events. The excuse given was that they didn’t have a Russian licence, however this is hardly credible since other Crimean media were allowed to work without re-registering until Jan 1 2015, with that period then extended to April 1 2015.
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Most Ukrainian TV channels were replaced by Russian channels soon after annexation. The opposition TV channel Chornomorska [Black Sea Channel] was taken off air at the beginning of March and then in August effectively prevented from functioning at all following enforcement of a questionable writ.
Aksyonov’s remarks on Feb 13 were mainly directed at the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR which has been under serious pressure since annexation, with this intensifying recently.
He spoke with journalists immediately after his meeting with members of the Bulgarian far-right Ataka Party. Asked to comment on the fact that Roskomnadzor is planning to prevent Crimean broadcasters from taking part in a tender for radio frequencies on the grounds that they have not yet received Russian registration, he said the following:
“We want all Crimean radio stations and Crimean TV channels to work systematically, normally, but we’re against the way that some TV channels cover events inaccurately, distort objective information, and sometimes openly lie on some points”. He claimed that an event has scarcely happened when ATR “has already turned it upside down”.
“And of course, media that stir up hysteria and give some citizens hope that Crimea will return to Ukraine, thus carrying out destructive activities – the actions of such channels and their work will definitely not be welcome on the territory of the republic. What do we need hostile media for - who stir up the population and untruthfully cover the situation?”
There was pressure on ATR from annexation onwards, however this began looking like a major offensive towards the end of January this year when the ATR headquarters was subjected to an all-day search by men from the Investigative Committee and counter-terrorism department, as well as masked men carrying machine guns. The pretext given was that the search was part of the investigation linked with a many-thousand strong demonstration outside parliament on Feb 26, 2014, the day before Russian forces seized control. Russia’s Investigative Committee claimed that the channel had refused to hand over material. This is vehemently denied, and in fact Budzhurova says that the fact that the channel had already handed over any material in their possession indicates that an order was issued from above to carry out this operation.
For the moment the channel is still broadcasting, however both Aksyonov’s words and Roskomnadzor’s refusal to grant QHA a licence make it difficult to feel any optimism about its future. Or for freedom of expression in general - a mere year after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.