Freedom of Speech Barometer - August 2013
In August, Ukraine saw an insignificant decrease in the level of physical aggression against journalists on the background of growing economic and political pressure. This month, the major violation of the journalists’ rights was impeding lawful professional journalism activities – 9 instances (at the same level as in July). At the same time, the number of instances of beatings and assaults went down – 5 (for comparison, in July there were 10 such instances, in June - 5, in May – 8, and in April – 1 instance). These data were presented in the monthly monitoring by the Institute of Mass Information’s Press Freedom Barometer.
But it cannot be said that the level of freedom of speech in August improved compared to July. In August, 4 instances of political pressure, and economic pressure, search and interrogation one instance each were recorded, while in July only 1 instance of political pressure was recorded, and there were neither searches or interrogations nor economic pressure at all.
The high-profile event of August was the «transfer» of the UNIAN website editors, who in 2012 made a statement about censorship pressure by the director general Vadym Osadchy. The editors Oleksander Volynsky, Lubov Zhalovaha, Valentyna Romanenko, and Roman Romaniuk, as well as the head of the economy department Tetiana Maidanovych were informed about the order to transfer them to the newly-established department for television monitoring. The journalists got locked in the room and were kept there for several hours as they were forced to sign the document that they familiarized themselves with the order of their transfer to another department. As it turned out, this department is located in Darnytsia, in the territory of a plant. The building (halls, bathrooms and other public spaces) is poorly lit. The counterceiling in the hall immediately near the door of the rented office is partially disassembled; it has uninsulated wires and other elements of communication equipment hanging down from it. The UNIAN website editors regarded this decision as persecution for their opposition against censorship and their criticism of the agency executives.
/Dynamics of the level of violations of journalists’ rights in 2013
January / February / March / April / May / June / July / August
Violations recorded in August of 2013
Impeding lawful professional journalism activities
Access to information/
This month, journalists were mostly attacked by private individuals, security guards and the so called «titushkos» (young athletic men that do the underhanded bidding for the authorities and oligarchs, like beating activists or forcing businesses out of their premises. Named after Vadym Titushko, who was sentenced to pay a fine for attacking journalists on the opposition event on May 18, 2013 – Translator’s note). For instance, on August 25, in Kyiv a camera crew of Channel 5 was attacked by young athletically built men. They demanded to give them the microphone and threatened the journalists, who were filming how a square was being cleaned after the Independence Day gala concert. In Odesa, the security guards of the open-air market «Siomy Kilometr» assaulted the camera crew of the Nova Odesa TV channel – the journalists were filming a story about the excessive fees for small business owners, and the administration officers tried to disrupt the journalists’ work, hit the camera several times and pulled the headphones off the camera operator. The bystanders called the police, which eventually failed to come.
Concerning instances of impeding of journalism activities, in Donetsk journalists were told to bring their passports with them to the meeting with the President, Victor Yanukovych, but were not allowed to attend the meeting itself. The President was supposed to visit the chapel of Barbara the Great Martyr, and then move on to the local drama theatre for the solemn meeting to commemorate the Day of the Miner. Only accredited journalists were allowed to enter the chapel. Later, the accredited journalists that came to the drama theatre for the President’s meeting with miners were closed in a small room and were not allowed to the theatre hall, where the meeting was supposed to take place. The journalists were offered to follow the meeting by watching it on the monitor.
In the meantime, in Brovary the deputies of the town council adopted a decision to forbid journalists to move around the hall during plenary sessions. Deputies from the Electoral Association «Svoboda» voted for this decision together with the faction of the Party of the Regions and the rest of the ruling majority in Brovary town council.
This month, the Institute of Mass Information recorded 4 instances of political pressure, and 3 of them were connected with the online media outlet Kerch.FM. Firstly, the session of Kerch city council adopted the decision to rescind the lease of the land lot, on which the retroreflector tower of the television and radio broadcasting company «Bryz» is located. The outlet’s journalists claimed they were subject to pressure and accused the city mayor, Oleg Osadchy, of retaliating against them for the investigation of the corruption schemes developed by the officials of the executive committee of Kerch city council. Secondly, representatives of the local authorities submitted several complaints to different institutions against the TV and radio broadcasting company «Bryz» and the Kerch.FM website. In particular, the editorial office received a letter from the Communal Rayon Electrical Grid as to unjustified energy consumption on Teatralna Street 15 (location of the editorial office of Kerch.FM - Editor's note). Thirdly, a complaint concerning operation of the Kerch.FM website was received in the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine, as well.
For more detail on instances of violations of freedom of speech, read the Barometer:
Threats, intimidation – 1
August 13, 2013. An unknown woman threatened the editorial office of the online media outlet Vpoltave.info with a lawsuit because of the article about stray dogs «Runaway Dogs Killing About Hundred of Domestic Birds.» This article was about a local woman in Poltava, who complained to the editorial office of Vpoltave.info about her neighbors that kept stray dogs. These dogs, as the woman claimed, would escape their open-air cages at night and «hunt» poultry in neighboring yards. The woman who owns this private animal shelter claims these dogs are not hers, but the neighbors saw how four-legged «criminals» would flee to the shelter's gate. People called the police to take care of this.
An unknown woman called the editorial office and, without giving her name, started to accuse the journalist Victoria Kozub, who picked up the phone, that the article contained recipes how to poison stray animals. After saying, «Girls, I will sue you and then sue you some more! I I have already submitted a complaint to the police!», the woman began to threaten the journalists and to cuss. The editorial office called the local police and learned nobody submitted any complaints against them. Victoria Kozub assured the woman that in that article nobody published any recipes on how to poison animals. The woman insisted that all comments should be deleted as well as the article itself. All the while she kept hurling swear words at the journalist.
Beatings, assaults – 5
August 19, 2013. In Kyiv, during a rally near the Kyiv City Council Ksenia Verkalets, a journalist of the TVi Channel, got injured in the disturbances. The Channel's camera crew was recording the appeal of the rally participant to the police lieutenant colonel. In that moment, someone pushed the journalist hard in the back. «I have no idea who really pushed me, but there were only Berkut special police guys behind me. Then I felt a strong push to my back and flew forward, if somebody of the activists hadn't caught me I would have fallen for sure,» - said Ksenia.
For the context, on August 19 the session of Kyiv City Council was held, and the opposition deputies were trying to make their way to the assembly hall through a tight crowd of government employees (people that work in public institutions, like schools, hospitals and plants – Translator's note), Berkut officers and "titushko's".
August 19, 2013. In Kharkiv, a drunk passenger of a car that caught fire tried to punch the camera operator of the Obyektiv-Novosti program of the local TV channel Simon Borys Butsevych, cussed at the employees of the TV channel, and broke the camera tripod.
August 21, 2013. In Odesa, security guards of the open-air market «Siomy Kilometr» assaulted the camera crew of the Nova Odesa TV channel - journalist Dmytro Dolmatov and camera operator Oleg Shpak. The journalists were filming a story about the excessive fees for small business owners, and the administration officers tried to disrupt the journalists’ work, hit the camera several times and pulled the headphones off the camera operator. The bystanders called the police, which eventually failed to come.
As the news production editor Katerina Yerska stated, she personally agreed upon the recording with the market administration.
August 23, 2013. In Sevastopol, security guards of the Russian singer Mykola Baskov beat the reporter of the youth television Gorod Onlain Oleksander Kashyn. The incident took place after the concert in downtown Sevastopol, which was organized to commemorate the Day of Independence of Ukraine. Baskov also participated in this concert, and, after the event was over, at this location the shooting of the film, in which the singer was playing a role, was resumed.
As Kashyn related, he was recording Baskov on his camera, when he was approached by security guards. “We were standing there and recording this star on a square of Sevastopol. He was singing and making his film. And we were just recording it on our camera. Then some guy came up to us and started to grab at the camera. We asked him his name, and he answered that if we keep asking questions they would bury us,” - said Kashyn.
According to him, he showed his reporter's ID: ”I was showing him my ID, kept repeating that we represented Sevastopol youth television, and he answered, I am sorry, but this is a direct quote: I don't give a shit, you can be even the President, for all I care.” After that, as Kashyn stated, this man pulled the microphone out of the camera and then broke the lens. “They also wanted to get the memory card, but I ate it and got punched in the jaw,” - said the reporter.
5. In Kyiv, young men attacked the Channel 5 camera crew
August 25, 2013. In Kyiv, on Independence Square a camera crew of Channel 5 was attacked by young athletically built men. They demanded to give them the microphone and threatened the journalists. They also damaged the journalists' camera. The incident happened near the stage. The journalist Anna Grishyna and camera operator Andriy Verstiuk were filming how a square was being cleaned after the Independence Day gala concert. When they went behind the opened railing around the stage, they were assaulted by young athletically built men. “We were filming a story on Independence Square. At that moment, two young athletically built men sprang on us. They started to push us around, pushed us behind the railing, tried to pry the camera from us, and forced us to delete the video. They were pushing the camera operator and twisting his arms, they took away our tripod, and broke off a part of the camera. I said that I would call the police, called them indeed, but they took 40 minutes to arrive,” - said Anna Grishyna. According to the camera crew of Channel 5, the police outright refused to comment the assault on camera. They composed the administrative protocol.
Impeding lawful professional journalism activities – 9
August 5, 2013. The head of the public affairs office of Kherson City Council Olesia Mikheyeva did not let the journalist of the online outlet Khersonskiye Vesti Yevhen Pryhodko to the operational meeting. Mikheyeva explained her decision by the fact that the outlet is not a registered media outlet, as well as that the operational meeting is closed. The head of the public affairs office said that the Khersonskiye Vesti was not accredited with the City Council. But, according to its editorial office, all its journalists were officially included in the list of mass media allowed to attend events at the city council. The editorial office also pointed out that journalists from other online outlets without any problems entered the assembly hall where the meeting was to be held.
August 8, 2013. The Gazeta.ua reporters Alina Stryzhak and Kateryna Tsybenko were detained by the security guards of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, who would not let them go from the monastery's territory. The journalists were preparing a material about the candle plant of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, which is located on the territory of the defense tower of Kyiv fortress. According to Stryzhak, they were approached by two men in uniform, who started to demand to stop video-recording. Security guards behaved rudely and by force tried to pry phones from the journalists. The uniformed men represented the NGO "Kozatstvo Zaporozke." The journalists were let go only after 45 minutes.
August 14, 2013. In Kharkiv, a drunk driver of a Mazda, who caused a traffic accident with three cars involved, pushed a camera operator of the ATN TV channel Volodymyr Borokha. The camera operator together with the TV channel journalists arrived to the site of the accident to record the story. Kharkiv prosecutor's office started an investigation based on the statement of the ATN camera operator about impeding of his professional activities by the drunk driver of the Mazda. "The incident was recorded in the Unified register of pre-court investigations in regard of Article on intentional impeding to lawful professional activities of journalists", - stated Kharkiv prosecutor Yevhen Popovych.
August 19, 2013. The journalists were not allowed to attend the unscheduled session of Kyiv City Council. At first, the representatives of mass media were promised they would be allowed in at 9 a.m., but eventually nobody was allowed in. According to the head of the public affairs office of Kyiv police, journalists were not allowed in because the deputies blocked the entrance doors from inside. For the context, on August 19 in Kyiv the unscheduled session of Kyiv City Council was supposed to be held. The opposition claimed that the power of this convocation expired as early as on June 2 and that is why Kyiv City Council was not legitimate. Kyiv authorities claimed that it was exactly because the opposition blocked the session of Kyiv City Council that government employees were not receiving the funding.
August 22, 2013. In Odesa, during forceful reappropriation of a store its owner obstructed the camera crew of the local TV channel Nova Odesa - he forbade them from video-recording the incident and pushed the TV channel journalist Vadym Shpachenko. The editorial office of the TV channel received a signal about the forceful reappropriation of premises of a store. The dispute of division of property emerged on the household grounds: a husband and a wife were divorcing. The husband's representatives broke into the premises, dismantled the door knobs and blocked themselves from within.
As Vadym Shpachenko related, “We were performing the editorial task and they applied force to us and impeded our lawful activities. All this was taking place in front of a police captain, but he did not respond to it in any way.” The TV channel also stated that the man that “pushed the journalist and previously presented himself as the store owner, when he saw another video camera turned out to be just a bystander.” When asked by the journalist, what for he pushed him, the man answered, “Nobody pushed you, it was you who bumped into me”.
The journalist wrote a complaint about impeding of journalism activities and about the police's failure to act.
August 22, 2013. In Donetsk, journalists were forced to bring passports with them for the meeting with the President Victor Yanukovych, but eventually they were not allowed to attend the very meeting. The President was supposed to visit the chapel of Barbara the Great Martyr, and then move on to the local drama theatre for the solemn meeting to commemorate the Day of the Miner. Only accredited journalists were allowed to enter the chapel. Later, the accredited journalists that came to the drama theatre for the President’s meeting with miners were closed in a small room and were not allowed to the theatre hall, where the meeting was supposed to take place. The journalists were offered to follow the meeting by watching it on the monitor.
August 28, 2013. The journalist of Vesti newspaper Pavlo Fedosenko was not allowed to be present at the defense of a thesis by Kharkiv mayor Gennadiy Kernes, which was taking place in the National Academy of Public Administration under the President of Ukraine (NAPA). The journalist, who was staying near the audience, where the defense of the dissertation was held, was approached by one of Kernes' security guards with a request to leave the premises. "We are not letting you into the assembly hall no matter what," - said the security guard of the mayor of Kharkiv. At that he acknowledged that the journalist had lawful grounds to be present there.
August 22, 2013. Brovary town council adopted a decision to forbid journalists to move around the hall during its plenary sessions. Deputies from the electoral association «Svoboda» voted for this decision together with the faction of the Party of the Regions and the rest of the ruling majority in Brovary town council.
August 29, 2013. In the town of Shepetivka in Khmelnytsky region, a medic was preventing the TSN news camera crew of the 1+1 TV channel from recording a story in a children's polyclinic. Children's parents asked TSN for help because of the chief medical officer at the children's polyclinic, as she would not sign the medical examination certificate for pre-schoolers that have no vaccinations. The journalists of the TV channel together with the spearhead group were trying to find out why the CMO would not sign the medical examination certificates. But the camera crew was impeded by the chief medical officer of the polyclinic for adults. «The infuriated doctor was trying to punch the camera operator and pushing the children out of his way,» said a TSN representative. The man stopped impeding the camera operator only when it was suggested to call the police.
Censorship. Access to information
Censorship — 2
August 14, 2013. Tetiana Koval, the director of Chernihiv puppet theatre named after Dovzhenko, prohibited the online media outlet Vysokyi Val to write about the theatre without informing her first. Koval phoned the editorial office and started the conversation with the words: "Without my knowing you cannot write anything about our theatre!"
The director phoned because of the story “Have the authorities forgotten about the Dovzhenko puppet theatre?”, which was about the 150 thousand UAH allocated from the regional budget to develop the project of reconstruction of the building of the theatre, but this has not yet been done. The phone call came immediately after the conversation with the substitute of the theatre director.
“In the conversation, we almost agreed on two things – that no advice concerning our editorial policy should be made by those who do not plan to invest in us and that the directorate of the puppet theatre would provide an official comment on their position and send it to the editorial office's email firstname.lastname@example.org. The major issue they had with this story was the claim that ‘the authorities have forgotten about the Dovzhenko puppet theatre’ in the story's title. But the theatre directorate must have been blind not to notice the question mark at the end of the title. “What right did you have to publish this material without my consent?” - she kept fuming on the phone, “According to the legislation, approval is needed only for the interviews, and this story has two authors, we explained”, - shared the website editors. With the words, "Everything is clear now", the director ended the phone call.
August 27, 2013. In Brovary, the local authorities were trying to obstruct the screening of the documentary almanac "Open Access." The screening was initiated by the team of the online media outlet «You Have The Right To Know.» The screening was supposed to be held in the Peremoga park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., but in a couple hours before the screening people from the community facilities started to wash the MIG-15 aircraft, near which the screening was planned.
Also, the utilities workers crossed the central part of the park with the barrier tapes and brought there municipal equipment, which was observed by dozens of police officers, officers of the Security Service of Ukraine in private clothes and two buses full of Berkut officers, the outlet informed. Also, the police officers handed the screening organizers a decision of the city executive committee that forbade the political party «Social-Patriotic Assembly of Slavs» from conducting any events in the Peremoga park. But the screening still happened.
Political pressure - 4
August 2, 2013. The Chernivtsi channel TBA was switched off from the cable networks. Tata Kepler, the acting director general of TBA, reported it. Earlier, on July 31, the TBA channel renewed its broadcasting in the cable networks «Vola Kabel» and «Open Svit.» But, according to Kepler, TBA was switched off from the networks due to «the phone call from above.» «They switched us off in a couple of days. The cable operators told us that they got a phone call and got informed that they had no right to broadcast us, as we are not on air. This entire story was phone-based. This is true for connecting us back, too. Everything could be resolved with one phone call», - said Tata Kepler.
August 5, 2013. The journalists of the Kerch.FM online media outlet made a statement about the attempts of pressure on the editorial office and asked the police to provide printouts of the threats allegedly made against Oleg Osadchy, the Kerch mayor, on their website, based on which the criminal case was opened according to part 1 Article 350 of the Criminal Code (a threat or violence against a public servant or a citizen that carries out civic duty).
“We believe that a complaint to the police, based on which this criminal case was opened, is nothing but a frame up by the Kerch mayor's office. It was made with the purpose of impeding our journalism activities. Such behavior of the public servants is caused by the results of journalist investigations published on the Kerch.FM website. These investigations concerned different corruption schemes developed by the officials of the executive committee of Kerch city council”, - said the statement of the website's editorial office.
As an example of it, the media outlet quoted the latest investigation into the public servants working in the executive committee – the case about spending of the budget funds in erection of the monument to paratroopers, and the case about violation of the intellectual property rights of the sculptor Victor Budyn.
Besides, the editorial office again insists that the comment section under the article «At night the Feodosia mayor was fired at, now in intensive care» contains no threats against Osadchy and thus deems ungrounded the police request to give them all IP-addresses and nicknames of the readers that commented under the article. Moreover, the journalists pointed out that the young man, who on August 1 came to the editorial office on behalf of the investigator Ivan Filippov and brought the request, wanted to unlawfully interrogate the director of the TV and radio company “Bryz.”
August 22, 2013. The editorial office of Kerch.FM reported again about the attempts of pressure on them by the local authorities – representatives of the local authorities wrote different complaints on the TV and radio company «Bryz» and the Kerch.FM website. According to the media outlet's information, the editorial office received a bunch of letters and messages.
In particular, the editorial office received a letter from the Communal Rayon Electrical Grid that they received a complaint as to unjustified energy consumption on Teatralna Street 15 (location of the editorial office of Kerch.FM - Editor's note). «But the owner of the apartment always pays timely both for the energy and for utilities according to the contract and by invoices. The letter to the Communal Rayon Electrical Grid came from T.Likucheva, the vice mayor of Kerch,» - pointed out the editorial office.
The complaint concerning operation of the Kerch.FM website was received in the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine, as well.
“The journalists do not understand what this is related to, as neither operation nor publications of an online media outlet have any connection with television or radio broadcasting. The editorial office believes that this complaint is just another attempt at censorship and pressure on mass media by the local authorities”, - explained the editorial office's statement.
At the same time, the Kerch tax inspection received a complaint on how the documentation for the land lot under the retroreflector tower of the television and radio company «Bryz» had been processed. The tax inspection sent to the Bryz a request to provide explanations. As the editorial office reported earlier, the Bryz has been paying the tax of using this land lot.
Also, the editorial office claim that the Kerch water and sewage service keeps acting against the law – they unlawfully tried to cut off water and sewage in the apartment four times in the last two weeks, but as the editorial office insisted that the owner of the apartment on Teatralna Street has been timely paying for water and sewage.
4. The authorities of Kerch rescinded the lease of the land lot, on which the retroreflector tower of the «Bryz» TV and radio company is located
August 29, 2013. The session of Kerch city council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea adopted the decision to rescind the lease of the land lot, on which the retroreflector tower of the television and radio broadcasting company «Bryz» is located. The decision was voted on under number 70 in a package together with 77 other decisions and was titled: ‘On invalidation of the decision of the 19th session of Kerch City Council of the sixth convocation as of March 22, 2012 «On Extension of the Lease of the Land lot for the Small Enterprise «TV and radio broadcasting company «Bryz» for allocation of the radio retroreflector tower on Chernyshevskogo Street 47 in the city of Kerch»’.
The draft of this decision was not made public in 20 days before its official consideration, as stipulated by Article 15 of the Law of Ukraine «On Access to Public Information». Neither its draft, nor the adopted decision itself was published. The essence of the decision is known only from its title, as informed the Independent Media Trade Union.
As stated the editor-in-chief of the Kerch.FM online outlet Iryna Sedova, «The decision was adopted with brutal violation of the law, we will appeal it in court as soon as we get its full text». According to the journalist, this is one of the elements of fight against their media outlet.
Economic pressure - 1
August 28, 2013. The editors of the UNIAN website Oleksander Volynsky, Lubov Zhalovaha, Valentyna Romanenko, and Roman Romaniuk, as well as the head of the economy department Tetiana Maidanovych were informed about the order to transfer them to the newly-established department for television monitoring. The journalists got locked in the room and were kept there for several hours as they were forced to sign the document that they have familiarized themselves with the order of their transfer to another department. As it turned out, this department is located in Darnytsia, in the territory of a plant. The building (halls, bathrooms and other public spaces) is poorly lit. In particular, the corridors, the way to the bathrooms and the staircases have no lighting. The counterceiling in the hall immediately near the door of the rented office is partially disassembled; it has uninsulated wires and other elements of communication equipment hanging down from it. The editors of the UNIAN website regarded this decision as persecution for their opposition against censorship and their criticism of the agency executives. They also claim that they were not informed about their new job duties, what goes against the Collective Employment Agreement and the Code of Laws on Labor of Ukraine. According to the editors, the nature of their work as well as their working hours differ from their previous work, and they were not informed about this beforehand within the time period established by the legislation (Article 32, p. 2, Code of Laws on Labor).
Interrogations — 1
August 6, 2013. The police was conducting the door-to-door canvassing in the apartment building, in which the head of the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine Yuri Lukanov dwells. On Lukanov's request, Darnytsia rayon precinct of the Kyiv police confirmed that this precinct's officers conducted the door-to-door canvassing in the apartment building, in which he dwells, but did not gather information about him, as explained in the letter of the head of Darnytsia rayon precinct Oleksander Derkach in response to Lukanov's request.
In the letter, the police stated that “the officers of Darnytsia rayon precinct did not collect, use or proliferate confidential information concerning your private life.” Lukanov made his request after his neighbors told him that they were asked questions about him by a man in civil clothing, who showed a police ID. The neighbors failed to remember his surname. They decided to tell Lukanov about this after this very police officer even called them on the phone and again asked questions about the head of the Independent Media Trade Union.
«I am thankful to the police for the explanation but I still have questions. I am alarmed by the fact that a police officer was asking about me but did not contact me directly, even by phone. And this door-to-door canvassing was conducted shortly after the Media Trade Union together with the journalists' union demanded resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs and urged their colleagues to come and protest under the Ministry of Internal Affairs against the beatings of journalists on May 18», - pointed out Lukanov.
Searches – 1
August 23, 2013. The activist Alisa Ruban from the organization that coordinates the Chesno Movement, who was going to Berlin for the scheduled screening of the documentary almanac "Open Access", was detained during the customs control at the Boryspil Airport. The activist was detained for "additional thorough inspection" in the customs restricted area.
"The border patrol's attention was drawn to Alisa Ruban's personal laptop and a harddrive with the documentary "Open Access", one of novels in which is about the notorious residence of the President Victor Yanukovych - "Mezhygiria", - claimed in Chesno. "According to the customs officers, the goal of the inspection was searching for the "state secret," which allegedly was contained in the mentioned data storage devices," - shared the Movement representatives. The lawyer of the Democratic Alliance Party, Iryna Ivankiv, was supposed to go to Berlin together with Ruban but was also detained. "During the second inspection she pointed out that in the inspection log it was already stated that no violations were found, so this expert assessment had no sense," - stated the Chesno representatives.
According to their statement, the customs "expert" insisted that the expert assessment of the film would be conducted anyway to check it for state secrets, and "you would learn about its results when you come back." "Despite activists' protests, the customs "expert" reviewed all personal information on Ruban's personal computer and without consent copied the film "Open Access", by what violated the rights of intellectual property for it," - believe Chesno activists. Despite this delay, the activists were able to leave for Berlin.