Victoria Syumar: Censorship as it is

The last political season brought Ukraine a fair number of new changes while at the same time clearly demonstrating how weak the achievements of the last five years had been in the area of democracy, rights and liberties. The sliding back is happening in areas where change still recently seemed irreversible – freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and of the press. And although the authorities continue to reiterate their commitment to democracy, the reality stubbornly suggests that censorship is returning to Ukraine.


The system of censorship

When pro-regime politicians constantly imply that censorship in Ukraine is a figment of the imagination of journalists overly removed from reality, the impression is unavoidable that these people simply do not understand what censorship is.


Throughout the world censorship is understood as being control by the authorities over the content and circulation of information. What is involved is action by the State aimed at restricting information which the given State considers dangerous or undesirable. The Ukrainian definition is somewhat narrower, it envisages direct interference of the authorities in order to restrict or ban the circulation of information.

Censorship is divided into several times, as well as preventive or consequence-based.


Preventive censorship is the creation of conditions under which freedom of the press, as well as business in the information sphere, is seriously hampered. This involves first and foremost licensing, registration, and other permit systems by means of which the State can regulate access of this or that play to the information market.


The story with TV 5 and TVi was telling. Effectively, with the help of the State regulator, the court removed the possibility of extending their broadcasting from two television channels which do not belong to media owners loyal to the regime, and which have an independent information policy. Furthermore the law suit in this case was brought by a company directly linked with a high-ranking functionary of the present regime – the head of the SBU [Security Service] Valery Khoroshkovsky who is at the same time the owner of 9 television channels in the country.


This story demonstrated both the presence of serious problems with conflict of interest in the system of the new authorities, as well as their wish to influence the information sphere.


An important instrument for such influence is the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council [the Broadcasting Council] which is the main regulator of electronic media. This body is formed by the President and Parliament half and half, and when the President and coalition represent one team, you can forget about pluralism in the Broadcasting Council.


The recent appointment of the parliamentary foursome gives grounds for the opposition to state that this body has now come under the total control of the authorities and personally Mr Khoroshkovsky with whom several of the people there have direct links.


We can add the fact that it was Khoroshkovsky whom the President instructed to look into cases of censorship; his influence on the Broadcasting Council; the actions of companies close to him regarding review of licences; the appointment of Inter manager [Inter is the largest of Khoroshkovsky’s channels – translator] Yehor Benkendorf as President of the National Television suggests the existence of a single centre of influence on the information realm within the present regime’s system.


There is also censorship, a form of pressure arising as a consequence of the appearance of some material or other.  Journalists from the central TV channels 1+1 and STB have encountered this and come out publicly with a statement about censorship.


The internal editorial “kitchen” is never easy however today there is plenty of testimony from journalists of a ban by top managers of certain subjects or the editing by them of particular features related to the leaders of the country. Over recent years there had been nothing similar on television channels.


All of this is naturally reflected in the country’s information realm with considerably less criticism now appearing of the government, less presence of the opposition and more of a complementary nature.

Monitoring and facts


“Telekritika” which monitors the news broadcasts on television channels has thus summarized its findings: “The channels are carrying out two campaigns in parallel: “the good government” and the “bad opposition”. The censors give most effort to propaganda of the “successes” and “correct course” of “the good government”. To this end, internal and foreign policy actions of the regime are actively covered, and their position stated. The channels do not report on the opposition, still less about the views of the opposition regarding the key events of the month. They are mentioned only in those cases which illustrate the line about their being “divided”. They carefully select either purely emotional views by members of the opposition or those relating to unimportant aspects of any subject.

In other words, this simple methods is designed at formulating an attitude to the opposition among their audience of people who “themselves don’t know what they want” “can’t agree among themselves”, etc.






Statistics on infringements of professional journalism standards



Infringement of balance of opinions

Infringement of standards regarding full information

Failure to separate fact and opinion

Infringements of standards of accuracy

Infringements of standards of exactiness

























Novy Kanal












Channel 5













These figures suggest the following trends:

Failure to report information which is a sign of censorship in the definition of Article 45-1 of the Law on Information – impeding the circulation of information, with information being manipulated through the failure to provide a balance of views and to separate facts from commentary and opinions.


It is most often the top managers of TV channels who exert pressure regarding information policy. For example, during the week from 11 May the General Director of 1+1 Oleksandr Tkachenko directly ran the newsroom, claiming that he himself had a lot of questions to some journalists regarding journalist standards.


Such actions can be seen as obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of journalists – Article 171 § 1 of the Criminal Code since he is not authorized to run such processes.

Then the Deputy Head of the Board of STB on information broadcasting, Oleksy Mustafin, stated that the channel would in future not cover issues regarding the property and expenditure of politicians since “these topics are hard to cover so as to avoid suspicion of double standards”. This is despite the STB charter stating that the channel should help cover all events of public importance.


There are a number of entirely specific cases of censorship which presently fail to receive any adequate reaction from the law enforcement agencies, especially in the regions.


At the end of April the newly appointed Head of the Sevastopol City Administration V. Saratov sent the Minister of Defence a letter sharply criticizing the editorial policy of “Breeze”, demanding that its management Mamchak be dismissed.  According to the coordinator of “Ukrainian Sevastopol”, the reason was that the TV company broadcast various views, including critical ones, for example over the “Kharkiv accords”, as well as about Russian military people in Sevastopol often violating previous accords and Ukraine’s legislation.


In Kryvy Rih the Head of the Department of Internal Policy and Public Relations of the Executive Committee of the City Council, Andriy Poltavets wrote a letter to the Chief Editor of the “Kryvbass Courier”, Volodymyr Honchar, in response to an article critical of the local authorities. “Please make sure such unverified information does not appear in future. Printed publications should circulate among the population of Kryvy Rih accurate information, instilling respect for their native city, popularizing the affirmation of principles of universal morality… “ This was a reaction to a survey of residents who were distrustful of the initiatives of the new Dnipropetrovsk Regional Governor.


It is interesting that some fairly natural situations should elicit actions from officialdom which entirely fall within even the Ukrainian definition of censorship. For example, the video where a wreath fell on President Yanukovych was not shown on such channels as ICTV, Inter and National Television I.

After a gust of wind knocked the wreath onto Yanukovych, the Head of the Central Communications Department of the President’s Administration came up to the journalist, and – in his official capacity – asked the journalist to not broadcast the occurrence.


This fact bears the mark of censorship as per Article 45-1 of the Law on Information since there are clear signs of trying to restrict the circulation of certain information which can be classified as obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of journalists – Article 171 § 1 of the Criminal Code.  It would be expedient in this case to carry out a prosecutor’s check of the facts outlined.

The same applies to the refusal to give accreditation for the Cabinet of Ministers of photographer from “Gazeta po-ukrainski” Andriy Shmatov who photographed the Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk when he was being helped to get out of his car by an assistant.


Legislative changes

Over the last few months several legislative initiatives have been registered or passed which could have a serious effect on the information realm.

This includes the latest initiative by Vasyl Kiselyov to return criminal liability for defamation which could be a serious step backwards for the development of free media in Ukraine (cf.


A draft law has been registered which envisages mandatory registration of information agencies (more information here:  There is presently concern that Internet publications could be classified as “agencies” requiring State registration. This would effectively spell an attempt to regulate the Internet which at present remains free.


Parliament passed the Law on Personal Data Protection envisaging criminal liability for divulging information about the life of politicians and officials if they don’t belong to the first category of civil servants. This means that if a journalist writes about the watches or profits of children of some well-known politicians, they risk ending up in prison.


On the other hand deputies did not vote for the progressive law “On access to public information” which envisaged the possibility of more transparent work by State bodies. The draft law submitted by Arseny Yatsenyuk which contained amendments to present legislation demanded by the journalist community, for example, extension of the definition of censorship, was rejected.


Public Broadcasting

At the same time the regime has begun actively using the theme of bringing in public broadcasting. The Humanitarian Council under the President has already considered a concept framework drawn up within the four walls of the President’s Administration.


The Humanitarian Council ignored proposals from representatives of the movement “Stop Censorship!” to consider the draft law “On public broadcasting” drawn up by civic organizations. (More information here:

At the end of the day the regime’s concept does not envisage a change in financing for public broadcasting which remains one hundred percent State funded. With regard to the Supervisory Council, this is proposed to be formed from representatives of the President, each faction in parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers and nationwide civic organizations – educational, scientific, religious, sport, media, human rights, creative, business, women’s, for people with special needs and so forth. If after a certain time, nongovernmental associations cannot reach consensus on a single candidate, the right of final choice is given to the profile parliamentary committee.


Thus, the main principles of public broadcasting – independence of the authorities, of financing and pluralism in the governing body are absolutely not reflected in this concept.

The situation gives grounds for speaking of the intention to simply change the sign from “State television channel” to “public broadcaster” with no real reform.


Pretence at “openness and transparency”

All of these “initiatives and reforms” are criticized by the public and journalists. However the main tactic of the regime now is to ignore comments and proposals.

The Verkhovna Rada ignored representatives of civic organizations supported by the journalist community as candidates to the Broadcasting Council, instead appointing people without the proper education and qualifications.


The President’s Administration ignored the draft law on public broadcasting.


The Department of State Security has not named the guard who beat journalist Serhiy Andrushko. The official investigation found no violations from the Special Force “Berkut” officers who used force against journalist from Novy Channel Serhiy Kutrakov.


Journalists complain that there are ever fewer substantive responses to information requests, as well as open public communication with the press by the first figures in the country.

All of this demonstrates a course towards the regime becoming closed and the passing of decisions without real public discussion and proposals.


Pressure from the enforcement structures and the lack of punishment of enforcement officers demonstrates the course towards a state based on force and not on democratic values.


Freedom of speech and of the press is only one part of the processes presently taking place in Ukraine. However this part clearly demonstrates the direction in which Ukraine is heading under President Yanukovych. And this direction, despite the declarations, has nothing in common with a Western course.


Censorship is a way of controlling the information realm. And this system has already been virtually created in the country. Whether the authorities will have the wish to use this system is a rhetorical question.


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