Stop the Destruction of Freedom of Speech in Ukraine!
There is a limit to compromise which thinking members of society cannot afford to cross. That dividing line is marked by freedom of speech and press freedom.
Over the last two years we have seen a reduction in these freedoms in Ukraine. Television has become monopolized with a disproportionate amount of coverage given to the point of view of those in power and the critical voices of the opposition and independent public minimized.
However what is taking place with the TVi channel during the parliamentary election campaign is quite unprecedented.
The last television channel, TVi, where viewers can still see a critical point of view about events in the country, as well as news which independent experts consider the most balanced, is in danger of disappearing..
The fate of TVi is by no means only about its private existence as conceived by its owner, editors and journalists. One can disagree with these points of view. The systematic destruction of the critically inclined channel TVi is a much greater issue of principle and democratic European values.
In August alone more than 60 cable television companies removed TVi from their packages. Each day thousands of people in various cities and villages in the country are losing the possibility of watching TVi. From 5 September the largest cable operator in Ukraine “Volya- Cable” intends to move TVi from a popular base package to an expensive extended package accessible only to the better-off third of users of this cable network. Volya’s decision will result in over two thirds of those viewing the channel not being able to receive important information.
The government which should ensure observance of Ukraine’s laws and of its Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the public’s access to information has still not reacted to such mass exclusion of the channel from cable networks. Moreover TVi’s Chief Editor asserts that it is in fact the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council which is demanding that the cable operators illegally cut off the TVi signal.
The truly systematic persistence of the unlawful harassment and disconnection from cable networks of TVi suggests one thing alone – that it is being directed from one centre of influence and run by one director whom the cable operators, even such normally autonomous ones as Volya-cable” cannot afford to flout. This is about a determined policy of restricting free movement of information on Ukrainian television, destroying pluralism of information and purging the country’s television of criticism of the government once and for all. It is this that explains the failure by the government which should defend the interests of freedom of speech for Ukraine’s citizens. Without freedom of speech and the media, any talk of observing any other freedoms for each Ukrainian and the country as a whole are worthless.
It is the direct duty of the President as Guarantor of the Constitution to ensure freedom of speech. We have thus far not heard any clear explanation from the authorities about the unprecedented situation with TVi.
We are addressing an unequivocal demand to the President and executive, to the State bodies which hold responsibility. You must ensure that a stop is put to pressure on the television channel TVi which is at present effectively the only channel taking a critical stand. There are plenty of far more powerful television channels in the country to counter TVi’s criticism with the spoken word, and not authoritarian destruction by force. You must enable its unimpeded broadcasting by cable network operators and ensure that the latter obey the law and current agreements.
This is also an Appeal to the international community, representative offices of foreign countries, international NGOs during the World Newspaper Congress attended by well-known journalists from hundreds of countries. We would ask you to help in all ways possible to ensure that information is made known about the critical situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine, pressure on media publications which are not pro-government. We would ask you to regularly raise this topic at negotiations with members of the Ukrainian government.
The loss of freedom of speech means the loss of dignity of both the public and the country. We cannot allow this to happen.
The above appeal has been signed by a large number of prominent journalists, human rights and civic activists, writers and others (the list can be seen here.
You can add your voice at http://www.telekritika.ua/join/74604
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