EU following struggle for freedom of speech in Kharkiv

The Press Secretary of the EU Mission in Ukraine, David Stulik took part in the fact-finding visit to Kharkiv aimed at investigating the situation which has led to the removal from air of TV ATN and two other channels which until two weeks ago broadcast ATN news – Fora and A.TVK. 

 "I came to better understand what is going on with these three TV channels and to see whether it is not of a systemic nature. For the European Union press freedom is a fundamental principle. A democratic society cannot exist without an independent press." He adds that in the EU they try to find out what is going on and draw conclusions which are made public in the reports on Ukraine’s fulfillment of its obligations.

Mr Stulik stress that he was present as an independent observer. He could not answer whether the situation involving removal from air of the Kharkiv channels constituted an encroachment on freedom of speech.  He said that once they had collected information and had a more or less full picture, they would prepare an internal report. This report would also be sent to the embassies of EU member states.

He mentioned also that in the near future Kharkiv was to receive a visit from the EU Ambassador together with EU member ambassadors (from the Czech Republic and Germany).  It was possible that the situation with Kharkiv television would be discussed then at meetings with the Kharkiv leadership.

A roundtable to discuss the situation with the removal from air of ATN news – Fora and A/TVK was attended by activists from the civic movement Stop Censorship, media specialists from Kyiv, as well as Kharkiv journalists and providers.

Natalia Kovalenko from Stop Censorship said that on their return to Kyiv, she and her colleagues would be sending a number of information requests to various bodies involved in the situation. She also expressed support for the journalists from all three channels.

Spokesperson from the international NGO Internews Ukraine, Yevhen Radchenko said that he could not exclude the possibility that the Kharkiv situation was part of a large centralized game aimed at getting rid of broadcasters not loyal to the regime.

After receiving answers to their questions, Stop Censorship and the media specialists intend to issue a joint statement reflecting all the aspects of the situation.

As reported, on 13 September the staff of TV ATN made public an open letter to the President in which they accused the Mayor of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes of "unprecedented pressure" and abuse of his official position. This, they said, had led to the channel being deprived of its ability to broadcast.

On 14 September the channel A/TVK  stopped being broadcast, and the channel Fora which had previously had its broadcasting time reduced to 6 hours a day, was removed from air completely. Both channels broadcast ATN news.

The Director of Ukrainian Digital Communications, Maxim Tsyan, which provides the signal, asserted that A/TVK had been removed because of problems with documentation, while Fora supposedly was 36 thousand UAH in arrears, and had a problem with the contract.

There have been pickets and other protests since the channels went off air.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group expressed concern and called for immediate resumption of broadcasting.  Last week, President Yanukovych instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office to get to the bottom of the situation.

ATN has lodged a suit with the Kharkiv District Administrative Court against the local Sanitary and Hygiene Service, which it asserts unlawfully blocked the channel’s signal.

At the moment ATN News is available only on the Internet and in an audio version on the local radio station "Nova chwylya" [New Wave]

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