Whose Vision of Public Broadcasting, Ms Herman?

The endless talk about public broadcasting multiplied by total lack of political will has resulted in a dangerous situation where people no longer believe that it will be introduced, and don’t especially understand why they need it, and the government apparently believes it can foist any imitation and people will not notice the difference.


On 2 July, the President’s site posted in Ukrainian and English an open letter “Herman to Kramer: ‘Ukraine will not step away from its democratic way’.  It is a real mental challenge to imagine how this “response”, or standard stock of selective facts and carefully presented assertions from Hanna Herman, Deputy Head of the President’s Administration could assuage the concerns expressed by David Kramer in his article Clinton to Kyiv: Speaking Truth to Power”  He is supposed to believe, for example, that the regime has learned “to rectify their mistakes” because a month and a half after the visit by a Security Service [SBU] officer to the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University and the effective claim by the Head of the SBU that such activities are justified, that same Head, Valery Khoroshkovsk visited Father Boris Gudzyak . Yet the President has not simply failed to respond swiftly to the understandable bemusement both in Ukraine and abroad over his appointment of Khoroshkovsky, who is not even a lawyer, to the High Council of Justice. He has failed to respond at all.  While even without the SBU approach to the National Broadcasting Council regarding the tender for frequencies from 27 January (which Khoroshkovsky’s media holding appealed against and won in court) and TV channel TVi, the clear conflict of interests when the Head of the Security Service has major stakes in the media is not just of concern to David Kramer.


 I will not list all the cases of pressure, including from the SBU, censorship and dispersal of peaceful gatherings which Mr Kramer is supposed to believe are nothing to worry about. He can read and there are more than enough of such reports.


It would, incidentally, be wise for Ms Herman to bear in mind that carefully edited versions of facts are of limited force when you can’t at the same time restrict access to information. However galling this may be, restrict it you cannot. Mr Kramer has clearly heard of “criminal proceedings over corruption”. Of the criminal investigations, for example, against the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other people linked with the opposition, whereas the criminal proceedings against former Minister of Transport M. Rudkovsky, as well as two figures who left the country after the Orange Revolution, have been terminated. If he doesn’t know of those, he will of others since he himself calls for real reform, not simply settling old scores.


            Assurances that they’re on the “right track” are even less convincing when the words are so at variance with actions. When you learn that during Hillary Clinton’s meeting with students, members of a picket against censorship peacefully standing with placards reading “This country has censorship” were detained.


Let’s consider the first of what Ms Herman calls the “crucial arguments which testify that President Yanukovych will not allow the rollback of democracy in Ukraine”  “Independent Public Television is becoming a reality – from once being an illusion”.  She is referring to the “adoption of the Public Television Concept prepared by the Public Humanitarian Council”.


Clearly any such achievement could only be welcomed however it’s difficult to feel great optimism. Firstly, because on that same day, 29 June, what became a reality, and in the very near future, was an even greater level of politicization of the media. This came with the election in parliament of its quota of proposed candidates to the National Broadcasting Council. Despite strong and professional candidates from civic organizations, the four were elected on the basis of the political makeup of the ruling coalition.


A week before the meeting of the Public Humanitarian Council, the civic movement “Stop Censorship!” asked the President to involve members of the movement in discussion of public broadcasting “since there are no representatives of the journalist community among the members of the Council”. They also made public their draft law on the creation of public broadcasting.


Both the request and the draft law were ignored. Ms Herman stated that the members of the movement had not been invited since they weren’t members of the Council, yet in her letter to Mr Kramer she boasts of the participation of “a well-known European expert who works with the European Commission and «Reporters without Borders», Mr. Jean Martin”. Work for them he may, however “Reporters without Borders” felt compelled to state publicly that they had not sent Jean Martin to Ukraine nor had they empowered him to give an assessment of freedom of speech.


It is not know why Mr Martin decided to take part in the meeting and what role he played in drawing up the Concept Framework. Neither journalists, nor civic society in general, know what guided the President and his Administration in choosing members of this Public Humanitarian Council.


In a matter of weeks (if not within one week) a draft Concept was drawn up and passed with lightening pace.  Ms Herman told members of “Stop Censorship!”, “this is our vision of the creation of public television in Ukraine, and you have the possibility of taking part in this process, you have the possibility of presenting your proposals”.


Who are we to understand when she talks of “our vision” and what “we” will do? In her letter, Ms Herman assures Kramer that “in September this year, the Public Television draft will be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada and will be supported by our coalition”.  One has the impression that the Public Humanitarian Council’s role was to pass “our vision” while the public have the opportunity to put their suggestions regarding “our vision”, although they might just as well enjoy the warm summer days since it won’t make a scrap of difference and “our” draft law will be passed in September.


            We have two documents – a draft law proposed by the civic movement “Stop Censorship!” which doubtless requires revision, yet is more or less in line with the generally accepted understanding of public broadcasting and clearly deserves attention.


            This draft law and its authors were ignored, and it was decided to begin from scratch with a Concept Framework. Like most such theoretical documents, it can be difficult to know what exactly to discuss. It is considerably harder to understand what any of it has in common with real public broadcasting. Specialists are probably already preparing a comprehensive analysis, so I will confine myself to what stands out a mile to anybody wishing to receive objective and independent information, and understanding the difference between proper public broadcasting and Russia’s first TV channel, ORT.


            It is totally unclear how independence is to be guaranteed, and by no means certain that this was the aim. This may be unfair, and all the hiccups will be resolved in the draft law. At the moment we read that:

            “Supervision over the activities of the National Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Corporation (the Broadcasting Corporation] is carried out by the Supervisory Council, made up of one representative each from: the President; each faction in the Verkhovna Rada; the Cabinet of Ministers; and national civic organizations: educational; scientific; religious, sport, media, human rights, creative, business, youth, women and for those with special needs, etc”.


            All is clear with regard to politically partisan members of the Council. How many representatives of civic organizations is not so, nor how the civic organizations will reach agreement. This is hardly a mere detail, since if they cannot agree, then the choice is made for them by other politicians –  the profile committee of the Verkhovna Rada. 


            Do we need to add that all heads of this specific phenomenon entitled “National Public Television and Radio Broadcasting” are selected by precisely the Supervisory Council?


This then is the achievement which Ms Herman speaks of in her letter, claiming that “it took us only a couple of months to create what previous Ukrainian authorities failed to do throughout its Independence”


Journalists, human rights activists, representatives of democratic countries and European structures are already sounding alarm bells over “achievements of the present regime”. With regard to the creation of public broadcasting, there are people more than willing to help further public broadcasting. Mistakes they will have to learn to correct themselves – for the sake of the country and its citizens, just as swiftly as they can.


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