Ukraine continues to lose its positions in rating of media freedom

Author : Olena Dysiuk

Source : 112 Ukraine

The right for expression: history of freedom of speech in Ukraine
09:00, 10 December 2015

This year Verkhovha Rada obliged mass media to disclose names of owners – beneficiaries; in such a way they try to make information flow more transparent and to explain messages and meanings of certain mass media.

By the second media law Verkhovna Rada disallowed to public utilities and self-regulated authorities to create printed mass media so that journalists would have an opportunity to criticize such authorities and companies being independent from them.

Notwithstanding the eagerness of legislators, Ukraine continue to go down in the Press Freedom ranking and this is not only about what is happening on the territory controlled by Ukrainian government, all territories including Crimea and uncontrolled part of Donbas are taken into consideration by rating. For which we are still responsible. Moreover in view of the fight against separatism every withdrawn newspaper circulation by Security Service of Ukraine and every check of mass media influences index not in a positive way. Even if they are justified by the scopes of the national security.

Harshness of Kuchma, thaw of Yushchenko, recession of Yanukovych, temptation of Poroshenko

The rating of freedom of speech worldwide by Reporters without Borders has been published from 2002. And from that time Ukraine remains at the lowest positions. So at the very beginning in 2002 our country took 112 place out of 134 countries, by 2004 Ukraine went down to 138 position out of 158 rating’s participant, this is an absolute minimum to this year.

After 2004 freedom of speech index started to grow over the year. At the beginning of presidential term Viktor Yushchenko on the conference of Nasha Ukraina declared to grow a new ”kasta of journalists”,  he was disappointed by the national informational space, by the quality of information presentation,  by particular journalists.

This speech of Yushchenko could be named as crucial for the further destiny of mass media, there he reported as “outrunners of Armagedon” the ads of vodka and cigarettes on the TV, later on its ban hurt budgets of TV channels. “We will see competitiveness of the mass media, but what os the most important we will see independent journalist! We intend to nurture a special kasta of Ukrainian journalists – proud, honest, and brave. The best means of transmission of democracy would be the mass information” – concluded his speech the 3rd president of Ukraine. By 2007 according to Freedom House (FH) research, Ukraine was at 112 positions in the category of countries with “partially free” press. In 2008 Ukraine took 87 out of 168 positions according to “Reporters Without Borders”, FH put Ukraine to 110 position the same year.

In 2009 the country lost couple of positions and fall down to 89 position out of 170 countries (in FH rating Ukraine still the country with “partially free” press, 115 position), to sink in 2010 on 131 from total number of 173 in “Reporters Without Borders”rating. Slow and permanent deterioration of press freedom goes on in Ukraine from the moment of Viktor Yanukovich election as a president in February – explain “Reporters Without Borders” such a dramatic jump. In FH rating still the country with “partially free” press, 108 position.

In the following ratings Ukraine rises slightly, hanging out in the second hundred, the drop in the rating note two organizations, expressing concern that the situation of media freedom in the country will deteriorate. In 2013, the country occupies the 126th place in the rating of Reporters without borders, and for each year the position is decreased by 1 level, in the same year FH puts Ukraine on 131 place together with Zambia and South Sudan, on 132 place there are countries with not free media: Algeria, Armenia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay.

Thus, in the ranking of current 2015 year Ukraine is on 129 place according to Reporters without borders. In 2014, in the ranking of FH, Ukrainian media have moved into the category of "not free" and the country divided 139th place alongside with Madagascar. During 2014 six journalists were killed in the country, "this is the worst period in Ukrainian history since independence in 1991," - says the organization about the current situation in the country.

In 2015, Ukraine has returned to the category of countries with partly free media, according to FH, taking 126 place.

In the Reporters without borders the desire of the new government to establish independent broadcasters is noted, "but the threat of war and the early elections postponed consideration of the promised democratic reforms".

This had a negative impact on the indicators of freedom of speech and the creation of the Ministry of Information, which "demonstrates that "the government has the temptation to use the control of the media in response to the challenges in security matters. It is noted that some “draconian laws” were rejected in the last moment, but Reporters without Borders are afraid that these issues will be come back to over time.

112 Agency

Time of Kuchma, time of gag orders and mysterious deaths

At the beginning of the century Ukraine and the world was shocked by the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, connected with his professional activities, which is uninvestigated until now. And, executor Alexei Pukach and his accomplices are serving the term but there are no assassin's paymasters of such a loud murder and only rumors soar and statements of the convicted former police officer. It points out directly to the second President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma. The court and the investigation are silent on the matter.

In 2003, in Melitopol the head of the Independent Union of Journalists of the Zaporozhye region, Vladimir Karachentsov, was found hanged on the handle of the refrigerator. According to the OSCE, the death was called an accident and law enforcement agencies did not investigate a homicide.

In 2002 Ukraine a scandal related to gag orders took place.  In September, MP, head of the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech Mykola Tomenko released information about the existence of an anonymous memorandum that supposedly came from the Presidential Administration, and in detail instructed management of national channels about the key policies in the news coverage.

According to the report Human Rights Watch gag orders in 2001, received a few channels and radio stations is particularly associated with the Presidential Administration top officials of the time, and later the practice spread to other media, as reported by their employees. These investigations have shown that gag orders were 7-8 pages documents that edition offices received on the clean sheetsa, without signatures and addresses.

Structure gag orders: topic - comment which indirectly indicates the aspect that should be focused by media covering this or that event.

"In an Internet conference the president made several important statements. Their main points: Kuchma leaves the presidency in 2004, Kuchma is convinced that to Ukraine, as well as world widely the dictatorship is not needed; Kuchma said that the government is ready for dialogue with the public, but society is not ready for this. “The openness of the authorities - is a two-way street" - the text of one of the paragraphs of gag orders that hit the headlines. In addition, with respect to the events the comments could be, "please ignore" or “there is no comment” which meant that strong recommendation not to cover the event in the press.

In October 2004, seven journalists of TV News Service (TSN) reported the dismissal after dialogue with management and the failure of all the options "to abandon gag orders and censorship". Later on they were joined by other journalists of information programs of leading TV channels, of the country, even the First National -the state channel rebelled. It was the start of the Orange Revolution.

From one Revolution to another

The revolutionary events have affected many channels, broadcasting of Channel 5 was blocked in Zakarpattia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions. At the meetings in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions journalists were beaten, in these regions newspapers and the broadcast was stopped as well as of TV channel Era.

After that, when the presidency took Viktor Yushchenko, the OSCE didn’t have any claims to freedom of speech in Ukraine, the rating of the country began to rise slowly.

Among Ukrainian journalists the establishment of the National Commission on morality aroused debate. On the one hand, the agency pursued the noble goal to protect informational space from the bad influence on the younger generation, on the other hand the powers of the Commission have been expanded tremendously, and any question of morality is so subjective, that it leaves ample room for a reversal. Yanukovych intended to close this Commission, but could not overcome the resistance of the Parliament. In May this year the Commission was eliminated.

In addition, a conflict arose in late July 2005 between Yushchenko and journalists. Reporters in an open letter to President expostulated his numerous allegations of bias of the press, accused of trying to take a state control over the Internet publications, sabotage of public television and radio, and also reminded the changes to the election law, which prohibits to speak about the election programs in the press.

When the authorities’ term of Yushchenko came to an end, he said that he affected by the adoption in Ukraine of freedom of speech like anyone else. "How many tears I have seen on my wife’s face coming home at night ... how many times I explained that she is not an FBI agent, she is Ukrainian ... Don’t I understand how much hardship I brought to my family, my brother, my mother, but I can’t sit down, close them with my hands and say - you'll under such protection ... "- said Yushchenko.

In 2010 Viktor Yanukovych became president, and in April the OSCE with concern commented on his initiative to dissolve the Commission on creation of public television, but hoped that the reforms will continue.

In August 2010 in Kharkov, the journalist disappeared, chief editor of the local edition of New Style Vasiliy Klymentyev. His murder law enforcers opened in 2012, employees UBOP Kharkiv are considered to be murderers and the motive is the publication of the investigation of corruption in law enforcement. This disappearance Yanukovych even discussed with German Chancellor Merkel and promised to supervise personally the investigation.

A year later, in September 2011, in Kharkov, scandal surrounding the company ATN inflames, the company was involved in the preparation of news releases. Its broadcasting and two more regional channels was stopped. The Prosecutor General's Office stated that the closure of the ATN is connected with the decision of Sanitary inspection. Work resumed at the end of February 2012.

In 2012 in the Parliament an attempt to introduce criminal liability for libel was presented, but the amendment was failed. Criminal liability was cancelled in 2001.

At the same time, in July 2013 the degree of tension in society is growing – there are attacks on journalists, for example, wound of Donetsk journalist of Traffic Control, Oleg Bogdanov. At a meeting in Kiev the journalists of Channel 5 were beaten. With this episode in the Ukrainian information space appeared the word "titushky" by the name of one of the defendants in the case of injuries of the TV crew, Vadim Titushko.

Since the beginning of the events on Euromaidan and especially during the military confrontation, violence against journalists by security forces cross the border several times, the bright vests with the words "press" didn’t save. So, during the protests on December 1, more than 40 journalists and Ukrainian and international media were affected.

In February 2014, after clashes at the Mariinsky Park, which took place on February 18-19 on the St. Michael street, the group of people in camouflage uniforms and sportswear, with helmets and shields crowded together. When a journalist publishing house News, Vyacheslav Veremey, tried to photograph them, they attacked him and his companion. As a result of the wounds the journalist died on the operating table. According to information released by the General Prosecutor of Ukraine, the killers of the journalist were the same "titushky" and immediately the one who shot at Veremey now is hiding.

According to the Institute of Mass Information, for the period from the start until early February on Euromaidan 136 journalists were affected and for the year from the beginning of the confrontations in the city center, according to the report of the OSCE, during the protests in Ukraine have suffered 200 journalists. "It is obvious that most of the above-mentioned 200 journalists suffered from explosions stun grenades and rubber bullets used by the police. In many cases, journalists have been targeted by law enforcement agencies, despite the fact that they clearly identified themselves as members of the press", - stated in the document.

To release the mass media under the conditions of war

Since the beginning of the Russian campaign to seize the Crimea, and then after the conflict broke out in Donbas, it turned out that the Ukrainian informational space was divided not less than the society itself for that time.

In March 2014 a campaign of the Ukrainian authorities and the security forces against the propaganda Russian began. Some Ukrainian journalists learned how to create fake, while others how to refute them, the first training on the media under the information war took place.

It would seem quite logical actions, but some even criticized government that these actions are not enough, but they have nothing to do with the freedom of speech, and the temptation under the pretext of the struggle for the country's security to use power resources in order to "put in place" unwanted media and then use them in competition with each passing day more and more.

Statistics is cold and unfeeling case, as long as the Crimea in the international legal field - part of Ukraine, as well as the Donbas, namely Ukraine is responsible for everything that happens there with the media: the closure of the Crimean Tatar and pro-Ukrainian media on the peninsula, abductions, torture and death of journalists in the east of Ukraine. Do not add pluses and the expulsion of journalists, even under the pretext of the interests of Ukraine, and the base of the Ministry of Information, the news of which was received with hostility in the world.

On the eve of the presidential elections in May 2014 in the area of ​​the ATO nearby Slavyansk, the Italian journalist Andrea Rokkelli and his interpreter were killed, the French photographer was wounded. An international scandal broke out after the death of Russian journalists in the Donbas (at least five persons). In parallel, the OSCE continues to insist on a rapid deterioration in the working conditions of journalists, it is often due to the fact that the Ukrainian military is not always awkward relationship with media covering the conflict, and militants have ignored all the rules of conduct for journalists in conflict zones. But during the military conflict it’s clear that journalists often become victims during coverage.

"Neighboring countries faced with the problem of Russian propaganda, and were forced in some cases to resort to censorship," – explains Freedom House on what is happening in Ukraine, and gives an example - 15 Russian TV channels broadcasting of which is prohibited in cable networks. Later Security Service of Ukraine compiled a list of banned on coming to Ukraine foreign media, and when foreign policy has become clearer, they began to deal with domestic players.

In July 2014, unknown attacked the office of the newspaper Vesti, and in September the office of publication of searches came in Security Service of Ukraine. According to the authorities, the case related to the laundering of illegal funds.

Later, the conflict of the National Council on Television and Radio and TV channel 112 Ukraine began, that refuses to renew the license and issue warnings. The broadcasting of one of the leading news channels has been threatened.

On the other hand a clear violation is the fact that the President of Ukraine continues to be the owner of one of the most popular television channels, thereby breaking Ukrainian legislation, and worsening the Ukraine's position in the ranking.

Ministry of information policy was established with the formation of the current Cabinet in November last year. On the one hand his task was to resume broadcasting Ukrainian media in the occupied territories; on the other hand it had to establish communication between the Ukrainian authorities and the public. The Minister Yuriy Stets after a year of work, resigned, there are no visible results of his activity yet.

However, after a year of his presidency, Poroshenko was convinced that Ukraine is living in "an unprecedented freedom of speech". I would give everything for freedom of speech in this country ", - said Poroshenko before being elected. At the same time a guarantor of the Constitution has a Channel 5, which he openly refused to sell in an interview at the beginning of the cadenza.

The OSCE, with the Ukrainian president does not fully agree. According to the Speaker of OSCE Representative on Freedom of Speech Office, Gunnar Vrang, which he shared with, the situation in Ukraine remains difficult. However, the OSCE noted, and the dynamics of improvement, particularly in the adoption of laws, which are expected to organization help to make the media more free in Ukraine.

Vrang particularly highlights the problem of "impunity for crimes against journalists". "On the one hand, it has been well received and transparent laws to ensure freedom of expression and free media. On the other hand, the issue of impunity is still not properly addressed by the authorities and were put excessive restrictions that restrict the free movement of journalists," - he said, referring to the order of the General Staff of Armed Forces of Ukraine, according to which journalists in the area of ​​the ATO can now move when accompanied by a press officer only.

Even the amendments adopted by Verkhovna Rada May 14 that tough punishment for crimes against journalists during the performance of official duties or on the grounds of their professional work, is hardly an effective measure in view of inactivity or delay the security forces in these areas.

With special appreciation in the organizations they treated parliamentary adopted the law on November 24, which paves the way for the abandonment of state and communal ownership of print media. Also welcomed the law on transparency of ownership of media resources.

"This law will help the development of local print media in Ukraine. Its implementation will create a competitive environment for the media and to ensure the independence of the editorial policy and management from interference by the public authorities”, - said the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Speech Dunja Mijatović.

Path to Freedom

Unfortunately, in Ukraine between the adoption of certain laws and the beginning of the real execution it may take years, but still there is a chance that next year the country will move forward in the matter of freedom of speech.

Which steps could contribute to this? Vrang especially emphasizes on the strengthening of the security of journalists. Legislative resolution should happen of all issues of regulatory mechanisms for strengthening confidence and security of journalists, they must work in the country freely and safely, the speaker said. "In addition, impunity for crimes committed against journalists must end, and there is a need for rapid and transparent investigation of each crime committed against members of the media," - said Vrang. The basic rate of the OSCE in this campaign for freedom of expression tied for civil society in Ukraine.

However, it is not only in civil society, there are questions to the authorities and - delaying the creation of public television, the almost total absence of criminal proceedings, in which the medium of motives also indicate the professional activity. Perhaps we should start by getting rid of media assets that would be the one who guarantees the observance of the Ukrainians constitutional right to freedom of speech and thought, did not face a conflict of interest in the performance of the duties.

Related: Violation of freedom of speech in Ukraine: where are we moving?

Related: Censorship of media increased compared to former governance - Doniy

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