Stop Censorship addresses letter regarding grave concerns and demands to Yanukovych

The civil movement Stop Censorship! has issued a statement in which it calls on President Yanukovych to reinstate quarterly press conferences, show journalists Mezhyhirya, his controversial residence outside Kyiv, and makes a number of other demands.

It states that over the last year the situation in the information sphere has significantly deteriorated. There are, it points out, a number of facts which demonstrate that this deterioration has been caused by actions of those in power.

Particular concern is caused by the situation on television channels. As evidenced by numerous monitoring studies, the TV news does not reflect the real situation in the country and basic journalist standards are not being observed. Some figures: a study by the Ukrainian Press Association and the Institute of Sociology found that in December 2010 63% of all mention of politicians concerned representatives of the ruling coalition; 30% – the opposition; and 7% – other politicians. In February this disproportion had increased with the figures 75%; 18% and 7% respectively. The lack of balance is especially noticeable on the State-owned First Channel, with government politicians accounting for 95% of the direct speech of politicians on that channel.

The topics most often muffled are those linked with a reduction in various elements linked with the level of prosperity of the public as a whole, or particular groups, as well as with public statements and actions by the opposition; information connected with encroachments by the government on business; with the assault by the authorities on freedom of speech and conflicts caused by the government’s actions in the humanitarian sphere (Monitoring by Telekritika).

We would note that over the last year a number of journalist teams have reported censorship regarding coverage of certain topics linked with the activities of the government; Holodomor; the Tax Code protest in Kyiv; your residence, etc. At the same time, during that period many journalists who made public statements about censorship have ended up off air or out of work, while the quality of television news has significantly worsened. There is often internal censorship in editorial offices, or economic pressure, including from owners.

The reform of the State-owned TV channel into public broadcasting which you publicly expressed willingness for is not happening. The draft law “On Public Broadcasting” has not been considered in Parliament. There has been no reform of the post-Soviet relic seen in State-owned and municipal media outlets with these having been eliminated in all other post-Soviet republics.

We would also draw your attention to the lack of investigation into numerous crimes against journalists. Despite the fact that you took the case of Vasyl Klymentyev under your personal control, there have still been no results of the investigation.
The letter mentions also the lack of punishment for the Presidential guard who used violence against STB journalist, Serhiy Andrushko and the treatment by the Prime Minister’s guards of journalists from Channel 5. There are a number of cases, they say, which demonstrate negligence by the law enforcement bodies in investigating such offences.

While welcoming the adoption of the Law on Access to Public Information however this has still not come into force whereas there are a lot of issues concerning government openness. Decision-making behind closed doors without the public and media being information can seriously damage both the government’s image and its public support, they warn.

There have also been a lot of problems with the formation and activities of the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council. Appointment of its members was marked by a scandal since they were not suitable for the posts, with all proposals from the public being ignored. We now observe how the Broadcasting Council is taking decisions which remove licences from those TV companies which broadcast programmes of TVi and “Chornomorska” which arouses suspicions regarding political engagement from this regulating body.

All of this indicates that there is no system of independent regulation in Ukraine and no free media market, with journalists remaining unprotected from physical harassment and pressure, while pluralism has been totally reduced.
The authors conclude from the appointment as Presidential Press Secretary of a member of the movement Stop Censorship!, that the President supports the principles and values of the movement. They therefore call on him to pay attention to the situation as soon as possible and take the following steps:
– promote openness of government in Ukraine, reinstating the practice of the President’s predecessors regarding open quarterly press conferences;
– carry out rotation in the journalist pool in order that members of various media outlets can cover foreign visits, not just those loyal to the government;
– promote reform of the Ukrainian media and ensure creation of a system of public broadcasting;
– draw up and submit a draft law on openness in media ownership;
– hold a meeting with members of the enforcement bodies with them providing an open report on crimes against journalists;
– make your position public regarding the disparity in coverage by television channels of the government’s activities and those of the opposition, with this disparity favouring the government;
– give a public assessment of the situation regarding the Broadcasting Council and around the television channels TVi; Channel 5 and “Chornomorska”, as well as the delay on announcing a repeat tender for the frequencies which these channels were stripped of;
– initiate discussion of these problems within the framework of the Public Council with the involvement of members of Stop Censorship! and independent experts;
– appoint as the President’s quota candidate to the Broadcasting Council somebody put forward by the public and supported by Stop Censorship!;
– Guarantee observance of media legislation regarding the powers of editorial councils within media outlets;
– honour the promise given a year ago and show journalists your property at Mezhyhirya.

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