Ukraine’s National Journalist Union names the profession’s enemies
Once again as Press Freedom Day on 3 May approaches, Ukraine’s National Union of Journalist [NJUU] has published its list of those officials who have obstructed freedom of speech. The Union has not only circulated the list among media outlets in Ukraine, but also sent copies to the International Federation of Journalists, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
With its statement, the NJUU draws the attention of high-ranking public officials; the Prosecutor’s Office; qualifying commissions for judges to cases involving violation of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine, as well as the country’s international obligations.
“We point out first and foremost extremely dangerous cases which due to their frequency and spread around the whole country do not have one face and require systematic changes in legislation and considerable effort from the authorities and the public. “
The letter, which is signed by NJUU Head, Ihor Lubchenko, also provides a list of the most prominent violations of journalists’ rights.
The statement welcomes the Order from the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] on Improving Cooperation between Internal Affairs bodies and the Media. This requires heads of police to ensure the safety of journalists and improve work with the media. For example, where offences have been committed against members of the press, or in the case of other prominent events in which journalists were involved the presence is required of heads of Central MIA Department or regional department, etc, and the relevant divisions on public relations, and the Minister of Internal Affairs must be notified immediately.
“However during the press conference in Ukrainian House on 8 April, the police did not intervene over the actions of private security guards who obstructed a journalist from Novy Kanal, Serhiy Kutrakov in carrying out his professional duties, using physical force and inflicting pain.
Furthermore, when journalists from the Novy Channel themselves approached the Kyiv Police Press Service, the Deputy Head Volodymyr Dmytrenko stated: “Journalists should be advised to not end up in a certain place at a certain time so that there won’t be any problems with the police. They poke their nose in and then complaint that they got beaten up. Don’t poke your nose in and you won’t get beaten”. Such “advice” to journalists from the press service reflects the real level of understanding by police officers of their role and function.
Another trend, that being for the police to be used in settling political or economic interests of certain individuals, is illustrated by the effective blocking of the editorial office of the newspaper “Yuzhnaya Pravda” in the Mykolaiv region due to checks on the publishing and payment for pre-election advertising. This came almost two months after the end of the actual campaign and is seen by the journalists as linked with the return to power of the former Head of the Regional State Administration. Another example was the removal of computers from the editorial office of the Nikopol newspaper “Prospect trybunykiv” carried out during the election campaign by the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Department on Fighting Economic Crime. After intervention by the public and a check by the Deputy Ministry of Internal Affairs, the computers were returned to the editorial office. The claim was that the check had been made by owners of software who though the editorial office might be using pirated software, yet the police removed the computers altogether.
Another State body which is often used by local authorities for unlawful intrusion in editorial activities is the Control and Audit Department. Despite clearly established powers on checking for frugal use according to designated purpose of public funding, issues regarding all the financial activities of local media outlets, including advertising, have been subjected to scrutiny by this department.
Such “planned checks” arise each time during conflict between an editor and the local authorities and cannot be viewed as other than pressure on the editor, aimed at his or her dismissal or to change the editorial policy of the publication. The National Union of Journalists finds at least five such violations a month.
At the same time, the question of frugal use of public funding according to designated purpose by officials themselves is not available to journalists’ scrutiny. Journalists are ever more likely to run up against refusals to provide them with information on the grounds that this is allegedly an invasion of an official’s privacy. This trend is most graphically illustrated by the increase in restrictions on access to information introduced by the Office of the Verkhovna Rada, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Regulation Issues, Deputy Ethics and Providing for the Work of the Verkhovna Rada.
Unfortunately, the very representative body of power which should be an example of openness of information which is increasingly restricting places in parliament which journalists have access to and where they have the right to receive commentaries from National Deputies, and to take video footage. The Verkhovna Rada Office ignores formal requests for information or journalists received a decision from the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Regulation Issues that the information sought, for example, about the car fund of the Verkhovna Rada is an intrusion in the private life of National Deputies. Excuses are given, yet the real motive is to restrict access by journalists to information about the real activities of the Deputies, about public sending on them which is unacceptable in a democratic society.
There is still a tendency to try to control the content of information. The most active State body in recent time has been the National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morality with it bringing in a permit system of accreditation, issuing numerous refusals to provide journalists with draft decisions, expert assessments, and concealing information about the experts who have carried out such so called expert assessments. The Head of the Commission Vasyl Kostytsky demonstrates the desire to control news about the Commission, the reports by journalists, with this leading to a complaint and judgment, not in the Commission’s favour, by the Commission on Journalist Ethics. In response the Commission on Public Morality decided to adopt its own code of journalist ethic and substitute this for journalist self-regulation.
This year’s list of enemies of the press include;
the Mayor of Dubno in the Rivne region, Leonid Dudko;
a Judge of the Chernihiv Economic Court, Serhiy Ivchenko;
the Director of “SV-Postal” [postal service], Iryna Kremin;
the Head of the Odessa Regional State Administration Edward Matviychuk;
the Head of the Vyshhorod District Council, Yaroslav Moskalenko;
a Judge of the Kyiv Regional Economic Court Artem Pryvalov;
the Deputy Head of the Security Service [SBU], Anatoly Prysyazhnyuk;
a Judge of the Simferopol Central District Court, Kateryna Tymoshenko;
National Deputy [MP], Oleksandr Tkachenko
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