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Ukraine moving away from EU information standards: Europe seriously concerned over Ukrainian authorities’ pressure on independent media

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukrainian government by shutting down TV channels violates the principle of freedom of speech
13:43, 1 October 2021

The Ukrainian government under the pretext of protecting national security violates the principle of freedom of speech by shutting down TV channels. And this is really dangerous. This was stated in the story of Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel.  

This opinion belongs to the Honorary Chairman of the Vocal Europe Research Institute, the former president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Henri Malosse. He stated this during the roundtable "Media and Conflict: Freedom of Press in Ukraine," organized by EU Buzz in cooperation with Vocal Europe.

"Freedom of the media should be a key value and should not be restricted except by a court ruling. As in the case of Ukraine in a conflict situation, I see a possible restriction on the part of the authorities and it is wrong. We are used to observing bans on media and the lack of freedom of speech in countries with authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. Just think about China. But we also observe this in democracies, recently it happened in Germany when the authorities want to ban some media outlets because they believe that they convey disinformation, or, as they say, they are not politically correct," Henri Malosse said.

Experts expressed their concern about the persecution of opposition media in Ukraine. This is one of the main problems the EU enlargement countries are facing - long-term political interference in the work of the media, violence against journalists - Ukraine is moving away from the information standards that exist in the EU.

"Ukraine has a diverse and dynamic media sector, and significant progress has been achieved in some areas only in the recent years. And that includes issues that deal with transparency of the media, ownership, there is progress, development of public service broadcaster. There’s been a lot of progress progress in cooperating with the national broadcaster, and reforming the communal print media and access to public information in the country. However, we do acknowledge that Ukraine is facing serious challenges of propaganda and information disorder, including also disinformation. The Council of Europe has been looking at theses aspects carefully by addressing and providing support in transferring knowledge and skills," said, in her turn, Ardita Abdiu, Head of Division Cooperation on Freedom of Expression of the Council of Europe.

During the discussion, special attention was paid to the strengthening of the illegal actions by President Zelensky and the National Security and Defense Council, which closed three TV channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK, as well as Strana.ua and Shariy.net agencies using sanctions. All of these media outlets broadcasted truthful information, which the authorities did not like, and therefore the media fell under repression, just like several opposition politicians.

"I am probably a bit surprised, at Council of Europe talking about the improvements in Ukraine because and I have to argue. Only in February, Kyiv closed down three media outlets, accused of being too Russian-friendly. Then in May Kyiv placed a main opposition leader Medvedchuk under house arrest and in April 2021, Ukraine arrested 60 demonstrators Вthat were not even accused of engaging in violence but instead, for expressing sympathetic views towards Russia. I mean I’d be very worried about the lack of freedom in Ukraine for the press at the moment. And I’d also be very worried about the EU response to it and their failure to actually challenge Zelensky on what’s happening. Sadly, I see that the geopolitical games are going on as normal, and I don’t see the European Union calling a spade a spade when it comes to the lack of press freedom in Ukraine at the moment because of the Russian dimension," Member of the European Parliament from Ireland Mick Wallace believes.

In light of the fact that Ukraine has an Association Agreement with the EU, the expert advised Ukrainian journalists to jointly draw up a list of complaints and main claims regarding the harassment of freedom of speech in the country and submit them to the European Commission, to the Council of Europe and ask them to address Zelensky's authorities and demand an answer: what will he say about obstructing media freedom in Ukraine.

The conflict in the East of Ukraine cannot be the reason for the closure of media - the majority of European experts stated this. Oleg Voloshyn, an MP from the Opposition Platform - For Life party has to the same opinion.

"It is generally unacceptable from a European point of view to refer to the conflict as the reason why this or that agency is closed, not to mention forbidding to express all points of view on air, for example," Oleg Voloshyn noted.

According to him, there is a different common position in Europe, which is "whatever it may be, everyone should be allowed to speak out" on any point of view.

Representatives of the closed media also spoke out at the event. In particular, Nadia Sass, a host of Pershiy Nezalezhniy TV channel, is convinced that freedom of speech and media is one of the basic human rights and is aimed at building democracy, good governance and political accountability, and therefore journalists should not be prohibited from telling the truth.

"We try to do our best in the fight for freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I remember the words of one British MEP with whom I spoke on air of my show: "If anyone can restrict freedom of speech, then it is no longer freedom of speech." We, journalists, appeal to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the associations of European journalists to influence the Ukrainian government in order to ensure the restoration of the violated rights of the Ukrainian media, " Nadia Sass said.

"President is cleaning up the media landscape ahead of the upcoming 2024 elections, eliminating potential competitors. Recently, the parliament adopted the so-called law "on oligarchs."And again, the National Security and Defense Council will get to decide who will be recognized as an oligarch under this law. In Ukraine, the majority of TV channels and websites are owned by wealthy businessmen who can be deemed as oligarchs. That is, we can expect that even more media outlets will be closed. There is a risk that the law will be applied selectively in order to concentrate even more power in Zelensky’s hands. Therefore, in this situation, in our obligations to protect freedom of speech in Ukraine we look forward to the support of the international community. We ask you to urge the Ukrainian authorities to respect freedom of speech, stop pressure on our media and our journalists, and allow Strana.ua agency resume normal work," the journalist of Strana.ua online agency Oleksandra Kharchenko says.

A foreign colleague also spoke out in support of the Ukrainian journalists who fell under the repressions of the authorities. Journalist Geert Degrande assured that is media that should express and defend an active position.

"Alternative media don’t get the chance to express themselves when they are saying things that are not coping with the general narrative. I think in journalism we also as journalists have the responsibility to be more activists. For 40 years I have been a journalist I was always trying to say that journalist is only reporting. But the last few years I am aware of the fact that there’s a big need to be also an activist as a journalist. I think that the example of Ukraine show it very much that any good journalist is an activist for truth and in favor of transparency," Degrande said.

The experts concluded that Ukraine needs to develop a democratic, independent, pluralistic and balanced media landscape that could end the politically motivated persecution of media channels.

Earlier, on Monday, October 27, 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.

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.

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.

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