Chronicle of freedom of speech, or its absence


Roman Kabachiy from the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) writes that the traditional circle of enemies of the Ukrainian press has widened. It now includes media owners, the top management and the increasing role of journalists’ own “internal censor”. The continuing assurances from the authorities that freedom of speech is intact are not only at variance with the ratings of international NGOs, he says, but also with the IMI’s Chronicle of Journalists’ Rights Violations.

Physical force is often applied while journalists are carrying out their professional duties. They are often not admitted to public sessions of public bodies, and threatened with reprisals over high-profile investigations. The result is clear: the information realm is becoming less and less critical and there are an ever increasing number of taboo subjects.

Independent and opposition media, especially in the regions, are under pressure from the authorities, the tax service, the law enforcement bodies. The local authorities have returned to the practice of treating the press as if they’re there to serve their needs.

There is conflict with municipal and independent media, according to surveys taken among journalists, with the Mayor of Lviv; the Acting Mayor of Chernivtsi; the Mayor of Odessa; the Mayor of Kharkiv, as well as representatives of a number of regional administrations.

Roman Kabachiy writes that it took a public statement from editors of Odessa media publications for the President to instruct that the situation be dealt with, and suggests that this was against the background of an overt worsening in Yanukovych’s attitude to the Odessa Mayor, Oleksy Kostusyev.

One trend which is, according to one of the founders of the authoritative weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Volodymyr Mostovy, worse even under President Kuchma, is that journalists’ information is simply ignored.  His daughter, the Chief Editor of the newspaper says that journalist revelations are only dangerous because the person’s immediate bosses may find out how much the person is not taking above.  “Other consequences which in any civilized country would be fatal for him are impossible here”.

Mykola Savelyev from the Lviv newspaper Ratusz says in this connection that the greatest enemy of the press is the passive society which doesn’t react to journalist investigations.

There are few mechanisms in place and many journalists complain that the police and Prosecutor generally refuse to prosecute in cases involving obstruction to journalists carrying out their duties even in fairly flagrant cases.

In Donetsk on the Day of Remembrance for the Heroes of Kruty on 29 January this year, the ideological opponents of the right-wing participants in a gathering fell upon journalists. They wrenched away equipment, videos etc. According to Alexei Matsuka from Donbass News, the police refused to initiate a criminal investigation under Article 171 (obstruction) and sent them to the Prosecutor who also saw no need to do so. Matsuka believes that this is because the regional authorities don’t even want formal mention of infringements of journalists’ rights in the region.

The author writes that the police do not only fail to “notice” infringements, but are themselves guilty of using force and remain unpunished.  There have only been a few cases over treatment when journalists were covering the trials of members of the opposition that they have received apologies.

There are also more systematic actions by the police aimed at intimidating independent media sources.  In December the Internet Publication Levy Bereg issued a statement saying that the Interior Ministry’s Central Department for Fighting Cybercrime and Human Trafficking had demanded full information about the person or legal entity in whose name the site was registered. Levy Bereg stated that this was a clear attempt to get a (critical) site to get some of its authors – Tetyana Chornovil (who has investigated, for example, dubious dealings around the occupation by the President of what was once reserve land at Mezhyhirya- translator), to shut up.

During the last year there has also been an increase in pressure on the owners and top management on independent journalists or heads of editorial boards. One of the most prominent was the conflict between the owner of the 1 + 1 group Ihor Kolomoysky and the Chief Editor of the newspaper Gazeta po-kievski, Serhiy Tykhy. There are also quite often such conflicts in the regions.  On 29 September the entirely editorial team of the newspaper Ostrov Svobody resigned over alleged pressure from the head of the holding, Valery Fomenko.

There has been an increase in the number of dismissals of journalists after they raise “inconvenient” subjects on central TV channels.  A typical case was the dismissal of the presenter of the Money Programme Oleh Deineka on 1 + 1.

Journalists are increasingly afraid of their editors, editors of the media owners, and the owners of those in power. Surveys of journalists found that an “internal censor” was becoming a major factor, what the Chief Editor of the site called the “greatest enemy of the press”.

Other journalists named journalists’ own laziness, lack of professionalism and infantilism. 

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