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Khmelnytsky City Council withholds requested information from ZHAR.INFO journalist

19.09.2023, 17:06

The specialized department of the Khmelnytsky City Council refused to provide a ZHAR.INFO journalist with the structural subunits' conclusions regarding the draft decisions that were on the agenda of the September 24 City Council session.

ZHAR.INFO journalist Svitlana Rusina reported this to the IMI representative in Khmelnytsky oblast, Alyona Bereza, who attended an unscheduled session that day and prepared the material based on the results.

The City Council claimed that the decision was motivated by the fact that the conclusions in question are considered official internal correspondence. However, some media outlets were publishing screenshots of these conclusions on the draft decisions even before the session began.

According to Svitlana Rusina, after the session she went to the department for facilitating the work of City Council deputies and directly asked its chair, Viktor Babin, for information about the deputies who reported a conflict of interest during the vote; the infromation was provided to her immediately. Another request, however, posed problems.

"I asked them for the conclusions of the City Council's structural subunits on the draft decisions, in particular for the conclusion by the Legal Support and Representation Department. I was especially interested in the issues related to the interests of deputies engaged in the construction business. The official (Viktor Babyn. – Ed.) said that he could not fulfil my request because these conclusions were allegedly attached to the draft decisions, which are currently being signed by the mayor. He suggested I write a request asking for them. I replied that I was making a verbal request at that very moment and noted that I had to report on this session urgently. That is, I had to write the article as quickly as possible, otherwise it would lose its relevance. I kept insisting on receiving it and asked to either give me the conclusions or to tell me the official reason why I could not receive them right away," said Svitlana Rusina.

She added that after her request, Viktor Babyn talked to someone on the phone for a few minutes, then asked her to wait in the hall and walked out. In five minutes, he returned, and Lilia Demchuk, chair of the Legal Support and Representation Department, immediately came to see him.

"After she (Lilia Demchuk. – Ed.) left, Viktor Babyn invited me to his office and gave me a printed order by the mayor dated April 26, 2023 and explained that my request for legal opinions could not be granted, since the latter are considered official internal correspondence of the City Council which precedes public discussion or decision-making. I noticed that the voting had already taken place, so such information could not affect the voting result. To which Mr. Viktor replied: the legal department believes that it applies," the journalist said.

After the session and after hearing the details of this case from their journalist, ZHAR.INFO editors spoke with two officials and provided information to the regional representative of IMI.

According to Viktor Babin, the chair of the department for facilitating the work of deputies, he was guided exclusively by the order he provided while considering the oral request by the ZHAR.INFO journalist. He is also unaware of other media outlets having published these conclusions before the extraordinary session.

Photos by Svitlana Rusina

However, Lilia Demchuk, head of the Legal Support and Representation Department, replied that she did not have to explain anything and that she was visiting the department at that time to discuss other issues.

"It was a coincidence, I may visit them to discuss different work issues... I don't have to explain anything to you. Excuse me, please. Goodbye," she said.

Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, explains that, according to the current law, a document is not classified in its entirety and must undergo a three-fold check after the request.

"First of all, according to the law, not the entire document is classified, but the relevant part. Second of all, there must be a three-fold check that proves it needs to be classified. The mere fact that the document falls on the list of official information is not enough. On the other hand, making a verbal request does not necessarily warrant an immediate response, the standard term is five working days," said Roman Holovenko.

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