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UKRAINE : Setbacks to media freedom in run-up elections

24.07.2012, 04:26
 With just over than three months to go to parliamentary elections on 28 October, Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the steady decline in media freedom in Ukraine and deplores a series of incidents during the past six weeks.

“We are disturbed by the developments affecting freedom of information that we have been seeing in the run-up to the elections,” Reporters Without Borders said. “June and July have been particularly alarming. We are worried about the environment for journalists and about the future of pluralism in broadcasting. Independent media are subject to all kinds of harassment, including constant intimidation, raids and prosecutions.

“This situation is unacceptable in a country that is supposed to take over the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2013. We call on the authorities to do everything possible to guarantee and protect media freedom in the final months before these crucial elections.”

Pluralism threatened in TVi case

The privately-owned television station TVi interrupted its regular programming on 12 July to provide live coverage of a tax police raid on the station, showing inspectors in the process of examining all of the station’s financial documents.

The head of the station, Mykola Knyazhitsky, is now being investigated under article 212 of the criminal code for allegedly evading more than 3 million hryvnias (305,000 euros) in Value Added Tax. He denies the charge and insists that he always submitted tax statements and paid his taxes to the Kiev tax department.
TVi has been having difficulties for years because of its status as an independent broadcast media. A court withdrew its over-the-air broadcast frequency in 2010as a result of an action brought by Inter Media Group, a TV broadcasting company.

Owned by Konstantin Kagalovsky, a former shareholder in the oil company Yukos, TVi is the only national TV station that competes with the pro-government station Pershyi Natsionalnyi. It is now facing the possibility of being forced to close.

More information about TVi

Unprecedented complaint against news website

Ksenia Vasylenko, the editor-in-chief of the news website and two of her colleagues, Oleg Bazar and Maxim Levin, learned on 18 July that a criminal complaint had been brought against them by the parliamentarian Volodymyr Landryk.

He is accusing them of invading his privacy by taking a photo of him in parliament in November 2011 while writing an SMS message about his son, who was deeply embroiled in a scandal. Reporting that Landyk had persuaded Luhansk TV journalists and PR representatives to help repair his son’s image, the site posted the photo with the caption: “Lawmaker rescues son with help of spin doctors and ‘right’ comments on websites.”

The three journalists are facing the possibility of up to seven years in prison on a charge of “violating the confidentiality of correspondence” under article 163 of the criminal code. Their case is to be raised by journalists’ organizations, lawyers and international organizations at a special meeting of the inter-ministerial group on freedom of expression in Ukraine on 30 July, which the president is to attend.

As well as these two cases of fiscal and judicial pressure, there have been other signs of a hardening in the attitude of the authorities towards the media. Both interior minister Anatoliy Zakharshenko and deputy head of Kyiv City State Administration Oleksander Mazurhshak have publicly indicated their intention of tightening the vice on media freedom.
On 28 June, the interior minister announced that he would implement an alarming initiative under which the authorities would be able to “regulate” the public’s access to the Internet, until now the only medium of communication in Ukraine not subject to a great deal of surveillance.
In a threatening statement the same day, the deputy head of KCSA said he would sue any media that published or broadcast biased reports about the organization of the 2012 European Football Championship in Kiev.

Journalists with pro-government media also affected

After a series of incidents, Alla Petrova resigned on 13 July from her job as a journalist with Crimea, a pro-government radio station that focuses on the southern province of the same name. The last straw was the editorial board’s decision to cancel her Ukrainian-language programme “Dva Kolyory” (Two Colours) on the evening of 13 July.

In the programme, she had planned to comment on a demonstration by about 100 people on 7 July in protest against the passage of law under which Russian becames Ukraine’s second official language.Petrova said the grounds given for the programme’s cancellation were “non-approval of the script” and “poor quality of recordings.” She added that she regarded it as an act of censorship by the station’s management, which had accused her or promoting “aggressiveness” and “wanting to take political sides.”
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