Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of the Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine Hanna Herman and a journalist, TV host of Pershiy Nezaleznhiy (First Independent) TV channel Diana Panchenko, on behalf of work collectives of illegally closed Ukrainian media, addressed an open letter to the leadership of the European Council, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. In the letter, the journalists informed representatives of the European Union about the illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities towards independent media.
Below is the full text of the letter:
Mr. President of the European Council,
Ms President of the European Commission
Mr High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
On 12 October, Kyiv will host the European Union-Ukraine Summit.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is based on fundamental principles, in particular respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
On 1 September 2019, the media component of the joint EU-Council of Europe project "The EU and the Council of Europe working together to strengthen human rights protection in Ukraine" was launched. As the Council of Europe portal states, "Since the EU and the Council of Europe have been working together to support media freedom in Ukraine".
In its resolution of 11 February 2021 on the implementation of the Association Agreement, the European Parliament clearly expressed its concerns and reproaches regarding the freedom of the media and journalists in Ukraine:
- "Expresses its concern about the deteriorating working environment of media representatives, in particular investigative journalists reporting on corruption and fraud; deplores any acts aimed at limiting the work of journalists, including limitation of access to information, criminal investigations, pressure to reveal their sources and hate speech, including hate speech against independent media".
- "Urges the establishment of a democratic, independent, pluralistic and balanced media environment in Ukraine, which would put an end to politically motivated persecution of media channels, including in the form of withdrawal of licenses, ensure the protection of journalists, dissenting voices and local opinion-makers from harassment and intimidation, allow non-discriminatory access to information online and offline as well as meaningful participation of citizens, protect human and civil rights and ensure their respect Stresses that journalists, human rights defenders and defense lawyers should be able to work independently, without undue interference or intimidation".
We know the importance of the voice of the European Union, of its political leaders and non-governmental organizations, on the issue of freedoms, and more particularly that of the press and journalists. We also know the EU's attachment to our country, Ukraine, and the attention and efforts it is making in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy.
As journalists in Ukraine, we would like to take this opportunity to address you directly, and through you to all those in Europe who share these concerns. We strongly hope that these fundamental issues will be given the place they deserve in the EU's words and demands at this summit, in the hope that they will concretely improve the situation of the Ukrainian media and journalists.
Indeed, since President Volodymyr Zelensky's decree in February blocking the popular 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK TV channels, we, like 1,500 colleagues and fellow journalists, have been unable to exercise our profession of information. More recently, President Zelensky banned “First Independent” TV channel and the influential news websites strana.ua and shariy.net. These decisions were made directly by the executive branch in violation of the principle of the rule of law and out of court, because in Ukraine only a court, not the National Security and Defense Council or the President, can decide to revoke media licenses.
As in most of the EU Member States, most Ukrainian media are privately owned. In Ukraine, as in the EU countries, their different editorial orientations reflect their cultural, linguistic and political environment. The editorial line of the media in which we did our work as journalists was clearly critical to President Volodymyr Zelensky, as may be the case, for instance, in France with media such as Le Figaro, Valeurs Actuelles or Cnews.
Our journalistic work called into question the political decisions of our President and their outcomes in many areas of Ukrainian public life: the economy, Ukraine’s place in the world, the fight against corruption and the failure of the peace process in Donbass. In Ukraine’s pluralistic media market, our critical voices provided balance to pro-Government media voices of equal popularity and reach, whose support had greatly contributed to President Zelensky’s ascent to the presidency in the first place. One can speculate as to the reasons behind President Zelensky’s decision to shut down critical media channels, but the decline in his personal popularity and that of his party, Servant of the People, are among the most obvious and compelling.
A pluralistic media landscape is essential in any free democracy because it helps to ensure political balance and the scrutiny of politicians of all stripes. In this context, the arbitrary muzzling of critical voices without any legal basis has aroused condemnation from many domestic and international observers.
Among those who have spoken out are the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, the UN Special Rapporteur on media freedom Irene Khan, OSCE representative Teresa Ribeiro, EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrel; Michael Abramowitz of Freedom House, Jeanne Cavelier of Reporters Without Borders, Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch, Anthony Bellanger of the International Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutiérre from the European Federation of Journalists and many others.
Together with our fellow journalists, we decided not to give up in the face of arbitrariness. First of all, we have set up the Freedom of Speech Foundation, whose mission is to defend freedom of expression and journalistic independence in Ukraine. Its aim is to protect the legitimate right of journalists and media professionals to exercise their profession without political interference, intimidation and threats.
The challenges we face in this area go far beyond the repressive decisions of President Zelensky. Violations of media freedom are one of the main threats to Ukraine's fragile democracy today. In 2020, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) reported 229 cases of violations of freedom of expression. 171 of these involved physical attacks on journalists. Reporters Without Borders also believes that ьanipulation, attacks on the confidentiality of sources, cyber-attacks and excesses in the fight against disinformation remain major concerns.
Secondly, we are using all legal means to obtain the nullification of presidential decisions. First of all, in Ukraine, if the authorities do not prevent us from doing so by one means or another. We have also chosen to turn to Europe, by mandating a group of French lawyers specialized in constitutional and media law. They are currently preparing a legal opinion on the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the closure of the media targeted by President Zelensky's decisions. This report, which will be published in October, will enable us to consider whether to refer the matter to the competent European courts.
We recognize, as you do, the particular and challenging circumstances of our country and the geopolitical issues that shape them. It is our firm belief that they should not lead to the abandonment of the values we share. You have a voice that needs to be heard if Ukrainian democratic freedoms are to survive.
Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of the Charity Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine
Journalist, TV host of First Independent TV Channel, on behalf of work collectives of illegally closed Ukrainian media
In view of the approaching EU-Ukraine summit slated for October 12, journalists of the illegally closed media, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, Strana.ua and Shariy.net, wrote an open letter to a number of foreign ministers of the European Union countries, as well as ambassadors of the countries of Europe, America and Asia.
Earlier, on October 27 -30, a regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe started. The journalists of Pershiy Nezalezhniy worked at the site and informed its participants about the illegal actions of the Ukrainian authorities against independent media, such as 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, as well as Strana.uа and Shariy.net agencies. As part of the Assembly meeting, journalists handed over the letters, and brochures detailing the pressure on freedom of speech in Ukraine to hundreds of European politicians, in particular, MEPs, PACE delegates, Foreign Ministry officials, European politicians, ministers and officials from different countries.
On February 2, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on the imposition of sanctions against 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels. According to the decree, which came into force from the moment of signing, sanctions were applied to TV channels for five years. This provides for blocking the broadcasting of all three TV channels.
On February 26, journalists of the TV channels illegally closed by President Volodymyr Zelensky united and created a new TV channel - Pershiy Nezalezhniy. The founders of the new media are a group of journalists who previously worked on the 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK channels. However, within an hour after the start of broadcasting, Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel was illegally turned off under pressure from the authorities.
Former owner of the Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel Roman Lyubytsky spread a false statement that he had nothing to do with the sale of the TV channel to the Novyny media holding. Lyubytsky's statement is not true, as his authorized representative acted on his behalf, and Lyubytsky himself received payment for the sale of the TV channel.
On August 20, the sanctions were imposed on the editor-in-chief of the Internet portal Strana.ua Igor Guzhva, the publishing companies of Strana.ua, blogger and journalist Anatoly Shariy and his wife Olga. As a result, Strana.ua and Shariy.net were blocked.
Leading European politicians, international and Ukrainian experts and the world media criticized Zelensky's decree on the closure of the TV channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK.
In connection with the illegal actions of the authorities, the journalists appealed to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken regarding the introduction of total censorship and a serious threat to freedom of information in Ukraine, handed over an open letter to European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy from 2010 to 2014 Stefan Füle and ex-President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, and the Spokesperson of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado. And the Council of Europe recommended journalists of illegally closed Pershiy Nezalezhniy channel to appeal to ECHR.
At the beginning of September, the journalists of the illegally closed TV channels were visited by the Secretary of the Senator of France, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and the Armed Forces of the French Senate, member of NATO PA and member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Joël Guerriau and member of French Senate, member of the commission of Foreign Affairs and Defense Forces Nathalie Goulet. The senator said that their visit have started with the visit of the Embassy of France in Ukraine and meeting with the ambassador, during which, the diplomats were informed by the concern of the Union of Journalists of France and the OSCE about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine.
In addition, the journalists of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels, illegally closed by the Ukrainian authorities, Pershiy Nezalezhniy, closed by a letter from the Deputy Chairman of the Security Service without a trial, as well as Strana.ua and Shariy.net outlets came to the YES Brainstorming conference, which started on September 10 in Kyiv, to talk about the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine.
The journalists of the closed media sent a letter to the PACE delegates, where they told about the pressure of the authorities on the independent media in Ukraine and asked for their assessment. They were also supported by the Charity Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine, whose Chairperson sent a letter to US President Joe Biden in connection with the government's persecution of independent media in Ukraine.
Over the past four months, the world media, European politicians, and experts have published more than 96,900 materials on the persecution of the opposition and independent TV channels by the Ukrainian authorities.