The team of President Zelensky does not know or does not want to know how to build relations with the media. During the short (so far) cadence of the sixth president, there have already been a dozen media scandals. A number of claims were presented to Yulia Mendel, the press secretary of Zelensky, who prevented the media from doing their job. Andriy Bogdan, the head of his office, came into view twice The next was MP from the Servant of the People Serhiy Shvets, who decided to teach the sharks of the pen “glossary of war” so that they correctly cover military topics. A separate short story is connected with MPs Maksym Buzhansky, who reacted to the words of a journalist with rudeness. We can also recall the sex correspondence of MP Bogdan Yaremenko.
The idea with the courts and the punishment of journalists of the presidential and cabinet ministers was obviously popular. Instead of being friends with the press, the government decided to shoot one at a time and the whole media, and their individual representatives. Ukraine's Minister of Culture Volodymyr Borodyansky and the representative of the presidential faction in parliament, Oleksandr Tkachenko didn't ignore this media topic as well.
Here's what they spoke about.
Make a profit
Tkachenko played a benefit at the parliamentary hearings on the safety of journalistic activities. Speaking from the rostrum, the former 1+1 TV channel CEO said: “Ukraine is not the only country in Europe where most private media are unprofitable. This creates suspicions that the owners' influence journalists (...).Yes, perhaps, as a result, we will have fewer bright shows, numerous series of many information channels. But it would be an honest business. All journalists will also be honest. The new law on media would reflect it."
Well, the unprofitable problem will be solved easily, says Interfax-Ukraine CEO Oleksandr Martynenko. “We can only guess how this will happen in Ukraine, given that no one is complying with the laws. That is, everything is very simple: the founders will support the media in a different way. That's all. If such a law is adopted, then unprofitable media would not exist in Ukraine at all,” Martynenko said.
The words of Tkachenko outraged Sonya Koshkina, the editor of Livy Bereh outlet. The attraction to financial transparency will turn into its opposite: large media market players will find a way to show the “correct” profitability of their media.
Meanwhile, while MPs are developing a new media code, the aforementioned Minister of Culture Borodyansky has come forward with the initiative to introduce “criminal liability for deliberately distorting the public opinion of the media”. But what is a distortion of public opinion? According to Borodyansky, this means bot farm management, information distortion and the distribution of various fakes.
At the beginning, the minister was very categorical and spoke of the criminal responsibility, but later he somewhat slowed down and assured journalists that he did not insist on this type of punishment. “Look, am I adamant about criminal responsibility? Why did the idea of criminal responsibility arise in the information war? Because I am deeply convinced that misinformation and this kind of relationship between a journalist and, for example, an orderer of fakes, is a threat to the national security of the country. I consider this crime comparable to treason, theoretically speaking. Or close to that," Borodyansky said in his interview with Novoye Vremya.
To protect the country's information space from throwing in false information is an intention, of course, is commendable. However, implementing it in the way that can be done in Ukraine is quite dangerous. For journalists, of course. Why? First of all, due to the lack of many clear definitions.
The same Borodyansky, responding to the interlocutor's request to give the definition of "information manipulation", answers as follows: "this is a very difficult question." "There's no a single and simple answer here," he adds in his interview with Novoye Vremya later. In general, the Minister repeats this keynote - in the absence of his ready decisions. “It's a complicated construct. It is necessary to describe all the elements of this construct, to balance it, but it is a phenomenon that already exists,” he says about misinformation.
In short, there is a desire to punish the press, but there is no clear idea of what to punish for.
“As for the initiative of introducing responsibility for journalists, I really want it to go through more than one round of public discussion. So that its participants answer the question: how will we distinguish between conscious manipulations in the media and random errors that arise in the work? But since we are talking about the media, it’s difficult to do it. Because there are a lot of border issues," Martynenko notes.
“Mr. Borodyansky, as an experienced practitioner, a long-term top manager of television channels owned by (Ukrainian oligarch, - ed.) Viktor Pinchuk, knows the boundary between informational diversion and free-thinking of pen and microphone employees. Why did he talk about toughening the punishment? Perhaps because he felt the trend, which is exposing journalists as an extra link in communication between the authorities and the people," Ihor Petrenko, an expert at the International Center for Advanced Studies, writes.
Meanwhile, Zelensky, whose proteges are now offering tougher punishments for the media, knows a lot about manipulations. "After all, he himself mercilessly manipulated public opinion in his series and in his speeches. Some media might annoy Zelensky as a result of his own unprofessionalism," said Serhiy Vysotsky, a former deputy and former journalist.
The idea of holding a journalist accountable for false information seduces the minds of each MP. It is not included in their campaign promises, but nevertheless, they are trying to gradually realize it. The only difference is that in the current campaign, the initiators of legislative changes use the words “manipulation” and “fake”, whereas earlier they preferred to talk about “slander”. The conceptual content is somewhat different, but the tendency to increase pressure on the media is the same.
Slander as an obsession
Ukraine’s second President Kuchma tried to strengthen responsibility for libel (even criminal). In 2004, then-Kyiv mayor Leonid Chernovetsky was engaged in this.
Moreover, each time, such legislative initiatives have caused widespread condemnation not only by Ukrainian and international human rights and media organizations, but also by institutions of the OSCE, Council of Europe, and the UN Human Rights Committee. It would seem that this rake has already been quite danced, but no. Attempts to criminalize libel took place in the previous convocation of parliament. In 2016, MP Yevhen Murayev introduced to the Verkhovna Rada a draft amendment to the Criminal Code with the corresponding amendments. However, his document was not even submitted to parliament.
Representatives of the majority of the Verkhovna Rada of the eights convocation joined the then opposition. On April 18, 2018, Serhiy Pashynsky, the ex-head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defense, asked the committee to develop legislative amendments on criminal liability for disseminating false information that undermines the defense capability of Ukraine.
In the case of Pashynsky, it all started with a publication in the Novoye Vremya journal “Two Comrades Served,” which dealt with corruption schemes of defense officials. The chief editor of the media announced threats from Pashynsky.
In the days of the Soviet Union, liability for libel was criminalized, although under the conditions of then censorship it is difficult to imagine the conditions under which it would become necessary to apply the corresponding article. Nevertheless, the Criminal Code, adopted in 1960 and in force until the collapse of the Soviet Union, had such an article. Independent Ukraine does not know this kind of punishment, although our Western partners apply it.
In the United States, a fine of $ 250,000 will have to be paid for libel or spent in jail for a long time. In France, libel can be paid not only with a fine of up to 45,000 EUR or a prison term of up to five years but also with a ban on certain types of professional activity.
But there is one important nuance: law enforcement practice in the USA, UK or France practically excludes attempts to use the law for other purposes. They take special care of the rights and opportunities of the media. This means that both sides of the potential conflict are protected: both journalists and the heroes of their publications. In Ukraine, crossing the line does not cost anything to both “accused” and “accusers”. Our legal field is, rather, a mine, and the "undermining" on it in our practice is a common thing.
Currently, only a few selected persons are familiar with the draft media law. On November 21, at a closed meeting with media representatives, the document was presented by Deputy Minister of Culture Anatoly Maksymchuk and People's Deputy Oleksandr Tkachenko. The key points are: the regulation of virtual information space and the registration of online media; taxation of public service providers - Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and others; potential equating bloggers with the media; monitoring of content and introduction of the position of media ombudsman; monitoring of media income, which should be at least the amount of monetary support by its owner.
The favorite novel of the authorities - misinformation - wasn't left without attention either. The penalties will be as follows: for the first time - administrative punishment, and for the systematic dissemination of misinformation - criminal responsibility. However, neither the evaluative judgements nor criticism of misinformation will be equated and thus will not be punished.
In fact, the government did not keep its word on the draft media law twice. The first time it was when the lawmakers did not meet the deadlines set for the mid-November. And the second time, when a promised public discussion turned into a narrow circle of like-minded people - at least for now. All this does not inspire much optimism, however, the final conclusions will be made after the bill is submitted to the people's deputies. It is unknown when the battle between the authorities and the media to be expected.
"The new government sees media as a danger zone," Bortnik sums up. And it looks like he's completely right.