On elections day, IMI registered 5 cases of violation of freedom of press and endemic issues with access to information
On the day of local elections on October 25, 2015, the Institute of Mass Information registered 5 cases of violation of freedom of press in connection with the election process. These are the results of the freedom of press monitoring IMI is conducting on a regular basis.
Three cases took place in the Western regions of Ukraine – in Lviv, Lutsk, and Novovolynsk, and two more cases were registered elsewhere: one in Vinnytsia and one in Dnipropetrovsk.
According to IMI executive director Oksana Ronamiuk, such low number of violations is connected, among other things, with low involvement of journalists, who were reluctant to visit troublesome polling stations and instead retold the information from the briefings.
At the same time, IMI’s regional representatives recorded endemic issues with journalists’ and observers’ access to information related to the new legislation on local elections.
According to IMI’s regional expert Zoia Krasovska, «because of the new law, nobody was able to find out about the turnout of voters. There were issues with openness of information about elections preparations, organization and results of the vote counting – this data was not published on the website of the Central Election Committee; moreover, contact information not from all district election committees was available. As a result, journalists were forced to believe observers and politicians’ teams as no editorial office was able to have a journalist at each polling station.»
IMI experts emphasize the issue with the informational backing of the election process. Basically, the new law on local election contains a norm on openness but there is no actual mechanism for enforcing it. «For instance, in regard to the polling records at polling stations – voters are entitled to see the results of the voting. But it is not specified where or when. Eventually, everything depended on the election committees’ goodwill. In Lviv, the oblast election committee published all results openly in a Google-doc, and in Dnipropetrovsk, the city election committee placed some of the results on paper on the information stands (let alone its website, which lacked even the declarations of the mayor candidates)», says IMI expert Zoia Krasovska.
For the context, on the parliamentary elections on October 26, 2014, IMI registered 9 cases of violation of freedom of press, on the presidential elections on May 25, 2014, – 7 cases of violation, and during the previous parliamentary elections of 2012 року – 18 cases.
Detailed information about violations of freedom of press:
In Lutsk, at the notorious district election committee No. 071075 observers of the Civil Network OPORA, the journalist of the media outlet «Tochka OPORY,» the journalist of «Hromadske.Volyn,» and councilor candidates to Lutsk city council from the political party «Hromadsky Rukh «Narodny Kontrol» Yuriy Fetysov and Maryna Plotnykova were not allowed to enter the premises of the district election committee. The head of the district election committee commented the situation that no one had a right to enter the room of the district election committee as they were holding an evening session. This statement was supported by the head of Lutsk city election committee Leonid Budtsev. Besides, he submitted a proposal to Lutsk city election committee to vote that the district election committee would not change their decision and just keep observers, journalists, and candidates behind the closed doors.
A member of Novovolynsk town election committee (Volynska oblast) Larysa Bondar («Batkivshchyna») and the committee head Larysa Sinitsina («Association Samopomich») in oral form requested police officers to escort out of the room the journalist of the online media outlet «BUH». Larysa Bondar said that the journalist was "a person who is not authorized to be present at the session, as she is not a committee member, not an observer, not a journalist and is not registered according to the procedure." In her turn, the committee head Larysa Synytsyna made a motion to escort the journalist out, as the journalist, according to a committee member, was an ‘outsider.’
In Vinnytsia, at one of the polling stations a confrontation between a journalist of Vlasno.info and unidentified individuals took place. School No.36, located in the end of Pyrohova street, hosts two polling stations, and journalists decided to visit both. At the polling station No.051673 in one hour before the elections were to be over everything was calm. Although, the observers told the journalists that during the day they noticed several violations, even shared the photos when there were two persons in the polling booth. The journalist was pushed out of the polling station and her equipment was taken.
Officers of Boryslav police station (Lvivska oblast) opened a criminal case under part 1 Article 171 (obstruction to lawful professional activities of journalists) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. According to the law-enforcement agency, a man came to the town police station with a written statement, who informed that around 8.15 he came to the polling station No.461704 (Electric workshop of the oil-and-gas production department) for journalist coverage of the election process. According to the complainant, he registered according to the legal requirements but the head of the district election committee kicked him out of the polling station by which, the journalist believes, obstructed his professional activities. Based on this fact, a criminal case was opened and listed in the register of court decisions.
In Dnipropetrovsk, a journalist of the media outlet "Dniprohrad" came to a session of Babushkinsky district election committee to cover the session after the polling stations closed. The committee began its session around 8 p.m., and the journalist arrived around 10 p.m. The committee denied him access to the session referring to the fact that he had to get registered before the session began, but journalists do not have to register.