Stop Censorship: a year of beneficial defeats
21 May, Georgy Gongadze’s birthday (the murdered journalist should have turned 42 yesterday), marked the first anniversary of the civic movement Stop Censorship. Katerina Lykhohlyad spoke with prominent journalists about the movement and what the year had brought.
In its original statement endorsed by hundreds of journalists and others concerned about freedom of speech in Ukraine, Stop Censorship explained:
This is an initiative by Ukrainian journalists and media organizations aimed at upholding freedom of speech and preventing the imposition of censorship in Ukraine, obstruction of journalists in their professional activities and infringements of professional standards in covering social and political issues.
The Movement “Stop Censorship!” is a response to a number of events which give grounds for asserting that there has been an increase in pressure and attempts to impose censorship in the Ukrainian media.
Over the past year Stop Censorship has issued around 30 statements, meeting with those in power in Ukraine, with foreign representatives as well as members of the international community, and held about 10 protest actions and events in Kyiv. This included a protest outside the headquarters of the Security Service [SBU] with participants making formal applications asking whether they were under SBU surveillance (http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1285798155). This followed intimidating and deliberately heavy-handed questions by the SBU of the Head of the Institute for Mass Information, Victoria Syumar’s concierge. There were also several trips to the regions with artists joining Stop Censorship in organizing an international competition of creative works against censorship, and the photo exhibition Under PRESSure.
One of the most significant achievements of the movement was the adoption of the Law on Access to Public Information which makes it much easier to gain access to information held by public authorities and bodies of local self-government.
One other demand of the movement – the removal of Head of the SBU and media magnate Valery Khoroshkovsky from the High Council of Justice was finally met although this did not help achieve a positive outcome to the case involving the frequencies of two [opposition] television channels, TVi and Channel 5. (see http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1283379391 and the links below)
The impetus for the creation of Stop Censorship came in part from the statements made by the television channels 1+1 and STB alleging the introduction of censorship in their editorial offices). The first report of “taboo subjects” came from Myroslav Otkovych from 1+1 http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1272657618.
There have been repeated denials from the President and his Administration. The problem is that however many examples are presented from journalists within Ukraine, and now from international media watchdogs, he simply repeats his demand to “see proof”.
A number of prominent journalists were asked 1) how they assessed the first year of Stop Censorship’s work and 2) whether they felt that they had succeeded in changing anything regarding freedom of speech and protecting journalists’ rights.
They also asked the President’s new Press Secretary who was a participant in Stop Censorship and say that they still hope to hear her point of view.
The journalists who gave their answers were: Natalia Ligachova (Telekritika); Victoria Syumar (Institute for Mass Information); Yehor Sobolyev (Svidomo), Serhiy Leshchenko (Ukrainska Pravda) and others. The following is just a summary of much longer responses.
Myroslav Otkovych from 1+1: The very fact that the movement Stop Censorship emerged demonstrates one thing – that there are many journalists in Ukraine capable of fighting for their profession.
He says that the forced surge of temnyky (instructions on what to cover and what to ignore) and directives that journalists experienced at the beginning of 2010 has somewhat abated. He believes that this is thanks to the active resistance shown by journalists.
Yulia Bankova from TVi says that the movement is undoubtedly effectively and mentions the important role of recording violations, and of alerting the international community to the situation.
She also mentions the Public Information Act as a major achievement.
On the other hand they have not succeeded in getting a real response from those they await a reaction from. She specifically mentions the President. There were specific violations – the assault by a Presidential Guard on Serhiy Andrushenko. Not only was the person never held to answer, but nothing was done and the guards continue to behave unacceptably.
Yehor Sobolyev calls this a year “of very beneficial defeats. I don’t think that we will stop censorship and in fact it has already spread much further than in May last year…” He explains that he uses the term beneficial because it is clear that when journalists show backbone and stand together, that they are very hard to oppress. He mentions STB as an excellent example. (In the depressing chronicle of silences and distortions on television news, STB has on the whole stood out as an exception – translator).
He says that the priority now is not to make statements and document violations, but to defend those journalists who are still holding out on television. There also need to be jobs created for those who get thrown out as alien elements from the territory of lies. He mentions various civic initiatives and the work achieved by Ukrainska Pravda.
Victoria Syumar assesses the movement’s work positively since it has been a civic movement which drew attention to the problem and human rights both within the country and abroad. With regard to its achievements, she says that without it the situation could have been much worse.
Natalya Ligachova mentions the movement’s importance for the develop of civil society in the country. While not idealizing the movement, she points out that it did demonstrate that for all the disillusionment, it was in possible to achieve civic apolitical protest, not linked with any political force and at the same time constructive.
Among achievements she mentions:
public organized measures at countering censorship and other forms of obstruction of journalists’ activities;
forcing media owners to reject blanket decisions by sacking en masse journalists who don’t buckle under;
providing an example of effective organization of constructive protest;
involving representatives of other civic organizations not linked with the media;
giving a clear signal to governments and civil society in western countries of a worsening of the situation in Ukraine. She stresses that the West’s opinion has more importance for the present regime than in Russia;
cooperation with the ruling majority and the opposition. She cities the adoption of the Public Information Act as a good example.
She reports failure, however, in not, as planned, creating an association of media NGOs, in not being able to involve in active work people working in television, or in fact to significantly broaden the number of activists of the movement.
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