Negative tendencies regarding the freedom of speech in Ukraine are reducing, but still trouble the society

It’s not a secret that in Ukraine, at least before the Orange revolution, mass media existed mainly for ensuring the state’s interests and asserting the position of media-holdings’ owners. The freedom of speech was oppressed by the state due to inexpediency, its problem was not actually elucidated by journalists due to impossibility. In the opinion of human rights activists, the new government will not practice total pressing mass media, but the problems in the sphere of freedom of speech will not disappear.

In the report of human rights organizations that has been recently presented at the Forum “Monitoring human rights”, the authors point out that in 2004 the work of mass media was limited by systematic measures of the government, what finished in a distinct and clear imbalance of information both on the local and national level, lack of alternative and critical viewpoints. That’s why mass media mainly didn’t play their important role in ensuring democracy. Due to partial reducing pressure of the government the situation with the national mass media was partly improved during the orange revolution.

In the opinion of Volodymyr Yavorsky, the director executive of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for human rights, the right for the freedom of expression remains secondary in our state first of all because the Ukrainian informational legislation for the most part inherited the Soviet way of regulating, which above all support the state’s interests. 

The situation on the Ukrainian media market after the Orange revolution cannot be called stable and unambiguous.

As the results of the monitoring of political news at leading Ukrainian TV channels presented by the Ukrainian Press Academy show, in March “bonuses” of attention between the branches of the government returned to the traditional distribution, there is an imbalance of attention in favor of the president and imbalance of broadcast – in favor of the team.  

However, recently the media picture changed for the better. Particularly, according to the Ukrainian Press Academy, there is less news without reference to the source of information, there is more information with two viewpoints, the conflict context of events’ discussion is broader, and journalists interfere with their commentaries into events more rarely.  

The Public Council for freedom of speech yesterday conducted the round table on the subject “The freedom of speech in Ukraine: establishing public society or returning to controlled democracy”, where it expressed its alarm with tendencies it called negative which have been observed recently in relations of mass media and the “new government”. “Closing, pressure and persecution of some mass media and journalists don’t honor the government, especially in view of the obligations on democratization of the society it undertook. The acquisition of the Orange revolution is under threat, since the new government doesn’t fulfill its promises regarding ensuring equality and freedom of speech in mass media”, – supposes the Public Council.

In the opinion of the political scientist of the Center of political values Oles Doniy, today instead of ‘temnyks’ of Kuchma’s regime, there ‘svitlyks’ which openly direct who will be the next victim of the revolutionary expediency. However, according to Oleksandr Paliy, the coordinator of the Secretariat of the public council for freedom of speech and information, at present there is no centralized pressure on mass media, “now everyone speaks of what one wants or of what one’s owners want”.   

Media-experts connect this situation first of all with the preparation to the parliamentarian elections. “The ‘cleanup’ and redistribution of media and reducing the influence of the opposition is the task of the government before the elections”, – considers the political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko.

Representatives of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for human rights consider that the reanimation of the freedom of speech is to be started with amending the Ukrainian legislation in accordance with the norms of the European democratic institutions. 

Among the immediate measures the human rights activists recommend for the government in the report “Human rights in Ukraine – 2004” are reforming the state mass media by means of changing their regulating and financing according to the recommendation of the European Council and OSCE. First of all it deals with establishing public television and radio broadcast.

Not less important step of the government on the way to ensuring the freedom of speech in the country is to become legislative and practical ensuring independence of the state body for regulation of the television and radio broadcast. The National council for television and radio broadcast is to be sufficiently financed for its independence and proper fulfillment of its functions.

The situation in the sphere of mass media is to be improved, in the opinion of the human rights activists, if to oblige media-owners to make public their editorial policy and introduce legal responsibility for not doing it, tardy making public or making public an editorial policy that is not true.

It is still a question whether the government will listen to the recommendations of the society now, when ‘chasing’ the corrupted is a priority. One can only state that human rights and other public organizations will thoroughly watch the government’s actions in the direction of ensuring the freedom of speech and will acutely react to violations of this inalienable for a democratic society human right.

Olena Holiuk


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