On February 3, President Volodymyr Zelensky approved the Defense Council decision providing for the shutdown of broadcasting of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZiK TV channels for a period of five years. The move caused a mixed reaction in Ukrainian society. More than enough has been written and said about the reasons for the ban, therefore I propose to pay attention to the challenges and risks faced by other countries, where they block TV channels and restrict freedom of speech.
Attacks on TV channels in India
The Indian authorities have repeatedly blocked television broadcasts under the pretext of a threat to national security. In 2012, the authorities blocked the Peace TV channel of the Muslim theologian Zakir Naik, and in September 2020, his mobile applications. The channel broadcast lectures on religious topics. The project proved to be very popular in Muslim countries. In 2015, the King of Saudi Arabia Salman ibn Abdul-Aziz awarded the journalist a gold medal and a $ 200,000 prize for service for the benefit of Islam.
New Delhi believes Naik's programs inspire Islamic extremists and accuses theologian of supporting terrorism. Over the past 30 years, ten terrorist attacks have occurred in the Indian city of Mumbai, where Naik was born and founded the Islamic International School. One of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) in July 2016 liked his lectures. Sri Lankan authorities followed India's example and blocked Peace TV following the April 2019 attacks in major cities across the country, which killed at least 250 people.
Some television channels were blocked by the government as punishment for covering confidential information. In November 2016, the Ministry of Information and Television and Radio Broadcasting of India ordered the shutdown of the NDTV India and News Time Assam TV channels for one day, since in their reports on the terrorist attack at the Pathankot airbase in the state of Punjab, journalists disclosed data on warehouses with weapons and ammunition, aircraft, helicopters, tanks, artillery, missiles on the site. The Indian authorities believed that this information could be used to plan new terrorist attacks. According to Indian law, it is prohibited to broadcast anti-terrorist operations.
The terrorist attack at the Pathankot airbase demonstrated the vulnerability of the Indian Armed Forces to the United Jihad Council terrorist organization. In January 2016, up to ten Islamic extremists disguised in Indian military uniforms infiltrated the airbase and killed seven security officials and injured another 25 people. The oversight was made by the command of the military base, which should not have allowed press workers to the scene of the attack. However, journalists were made guilty in order to save the reputation of the elite of Indian society.
The Broadcasting Association of India viewed the authorities' actions as a violation of the freedom of the media, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. The one-day broadcast ban of NDTV India and News Time Assam has been criticized by other Indian media. Times of India journalist Himanshi Davan expressed concern that if the authorities were allowed to close media resources at least once as a punishment, this would happen again.
Davan was right. Four years later, Indian authorities blocked Asianet News TV and Media One for two days because they covered scenes of violence during the February 2020 riots in northeast Delhi, which also violates Indian law. The reason for the clashes was the adoption in December 2019 of amendments to the law on citizenship. People from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, who profess Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, have simplified procedure for obtaining Indian citizenship.
Muslims perceived this step as an infringement of their rights. The Indian police were particularly brutal during the suppression of the riots. A total of 53 people died. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has stepped up security cooperation with the United States, does not benefit from accusations of infringing on the Muslim minority. For this he was criticized by President Joe Biden during his election campaign.
India, with 364 million people (28% of the population) in poverty, is notorious among human rights organizations. Journalists Without Borders focuses on the persecution of press workers and the problem of pressure on the media by the ruling conservative Indian People's Party. Human Rights Watch, Article 19 put India on a par with Russia, Turkey, China, Iran and Bangladesh, where freedom of speech is grossly violated.
Mediaphobia in Pakistan
Pakistan has not gone far from India either. Eccentric Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket world champion and fan of London's noisy hangouts, has stepped up pressure on the media since coming to power in 2018. He perceives the press coverage of the trial of his opponent, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as journalistic support for the Pakistan Muslim League opposition party. According to the prime minister, the Pakistani media are used to whitewash corrupt politicians who often cross the line of what is permitted and even put pressure on his government.
In 2018, more than 2,000 Pakistani journalists were unemployed following the closure of Jang Group's newspapers.
In July 2020, the state body regulating the activities of Pemra electronic media abolished the broadcasting license of the 24NewsHD TV channel, as it consideredillegal to rename it, broadcast news about the latest events in the country, and not entertainment programs, as it was originally. Previously, the media resource was called Value TV. Under the pretext of quarantine, the Daily Aaj Kal, the ROHI TV channel, which employs 600 people, and a number of other media outlets were closed.
The leadership of the Karachi City Press Club public organization is confident that under the current government, the Pakistani media are going through the worst crisis, and journalists are experiencing financial difficulties. The Pakistani Federal Journalists' Union regards the closure of media as a violation of labor laws. A spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, Marim Aurangzeb, believes that Imran Khan is shutting down media resources because of criticism.
The Movement for Justice Party won the 2018 parliamentary elections thanks to slogans about fighting corruption and turning Pakistan into a safe state. But the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic was too tough for its leader and new face in big politics, Imran Khan, who was supported by a significant part of citizens. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of about 12,000 Pakistanis. The lockdown and the economic crisis resulted in a loss of a third of revenues and a 50% cut in Pakistan's exports.
The Khan government has been criticized for insufficient attention to the problem of malnutrition in Pakistani children. According to Pakistani Planning Minister Asad Umar, one in four Pakistanis had to cut their diet due to the socio-economic crisis. In total, up to 50% of Pakistanis are undernourished. Inflation and unemployment are on the rise in the country. Of the 68 million able-bodied citizens, only 1.5 million receive unemployment benefits.
Last year's "sugar scandal" added fuel to the fire. It became known that people from the inner circle of the prime minister were involved in a cartel agreement of 88 sugar producers, who, for the sake of enrichment, exported it in large quantities in a lean year and thereby provoked a deficit and a rise in prices within the country. Fear of criticism forces Imran Khan to shut the mouth of the "fourth estate", but by doing so he irritates the society tired of the crisis even more.
The media in Poland
Restrictions on freedom of the media take place in Poland, one of the most successful countries in economic transition, a member of the EU and NATO. This year PKN Orlen, the largest Polish petrochemical company, acquired the Polska Press publishing house, which includes about 200 print and online publications. Prior to this, the German company HKM Beteiligungs GmbH was a shareholder. The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said that the majority of the media should belong to Poles. He accused Polish publications owned by German businesses of demoralizing Polish youth.
Mass media criticize the government for unpopular decisions, cover the protests of Polish women against the abortion ban. There have long been disagreements between Germany and Poland over compensation for Nazi crimes. The EU accuses Poland of limiting the independence of the judiciary, criticizes it for its unwillingness to accept Muslim refugees. Apparently, the ruling party decided to close the information space for points of view that do not fit into their vision of the country's development.
Conclusions for Ukraine
All of the above reasons for the government's blocking of TV channels abroad fall on the Ukrainian realities. The prohibition or restriction of freedom of the media negatively affected the reputation of their leaders, became the reason for accusations by the international community of authoritarianism, violation of fundamental freedoms enshrined in international law.
Blocking TV channels does not guarantee that they will disappear, since modern interactive means of communication allow you to keep in touch with viewers even without cable broadcasting. The forbidden fruit is sweet - and the popularity of media resources objectionable to the authorities will grow.
Ukraine runs the risk of burying its reputation as an open and tolerant country, where everyone's right to their opinion is respected. Our opponents have a reason to accuse us of double standards. Russians are choking on criticism. There is no single opinion in the West: if the embassies of the United States, Great Britain and Canada supported the closure of three channels, then the head of the EU External Relations Service reacted very restrainedly and stressed that protection from information manipulations should not be carried out at the expense of media freedom. The European official noted that the decision of the Ukrainian authorities should be studied.
This is the price of the confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition.