Channel 5, TVi See Threat To Free Speech In Court Ruling On Frequencies

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two independent television channels have renewed accusations that top government officials are harassing them. Journalists and management at the stations, Channel 5 and TVi, are calling on President Viktor Yanukovych to intercede in the conflict over broadcasting rights.

Two independent television channels have renewed accusations that top government officials are harassing them.

The conflict started off as a commercial dispute, but eventually politics got involved, turning it into another clumsy attempt to stifle independent journalism and re-impose the unquestioning, uncritical coverage of government prevalent during authoritarian President Leonid Kuchma’s decade in power from 1994 to early 2005.

Satisfying legal complaints made by Inter, the nation’s largest group of channels, an administrative court on June 8 annulled the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting’s Jan. 27 award of frequencies to the two stations. Channel 5 and TVi said they would appeal the Kyiv court’s adverse ruling.

The day before, on June 7, Channel 5 published an open letter accusing Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) chief, Valery Khoroshkovsky, of meddling in the dispute. As a co-owner of the UA Inter Media Group, Khoroshkovsky has a clear conflict of interest in the case.

Khoroshkovsky, however, denied the charge. “I read with amazement the letter accusing me of pressuring your television station, and I reject categorically everything in it,” he said in a statement.

Executives from both stations repeated the charges at a press conference on June 8.

“The SBU contacted the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting and requested documents submitted by TV companies in the competition,” TVi director Mykola Kniazhytsky said. “The Inter Group used these same documents to support their case in court.”

The contested bandwidth would ensure further development and bigger audiences for both TVi and Channel 5. TVi is currently mostly broadcasting through the satellite and regional partners.

Channel 5 director Ivan Adamchuk said if the additional frequencies are cancelled, the regulatory council could revise its license agreement with the channel or cancel it. The council is composed of eight members appointed for five-year terms, four by the president and four by parliament.

Council decisions can be taken if six council members are present. However, only five were present at the TV and radio council meeting when the new frequencies were awarded to TVi and Channel 5, and the lack of quorum was the official reason for the court appeal by Inter.

Recalling attempts by authorities to muzzle the channel ahead of the pro-democracy 2004 Orange Revolution, Adamchuk added: “Channel 5 TV’s continued existence as an informational broadcaster is at risk. We lived through 2004. We could not imagine that those times would return, but they have.”

Specifically, Judge Nataliya Blazhivska’s ruling invalidated the national council’s awarding of 33 additional broadcast frequencies to TVi and 26 to Channel 5. Blazhivska is the daughter of deputy prosecutor general Yevhen Blazhivskiy, who is a member of the High Council of Justice, along with Khoroshkovsky. The members control judicial appointments.

Blazhivska said the frequency allocation was illegal because of the lack of a quorum on the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. Moreover, Blazhivska found that a ban on assigning analog frequencies went in effect on Jan. 1 as the digital era starts.

Roman Chaika, a Channel 5 anchor, said the judge was biased.

“[Blazhivska] went as far as to instruct National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting representatives how to file papers in a way to justify invalidating the council’s allocation of new frequencies,” Chaika said. “The next step will be to cancel Chanel 5’s broadcast license altogether.”

The case is the latest flap over what journalists say is a resurgence of attempts by government officials to rein in the media. Employees of two other television stations, STB and 1+1 TV, last month claimeds that pro-government censorship was being introduced at their channels.

TVi managers and staff were among first to complain about government harassment in April, publishing an English-language ad in the Washington Post on the occasion of Yanukovych’s first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

“We have grave and deep concerns that the SBU has been hijacked by the private interests of the agency’s chief and members of his family,” the paid advertisement said. “TVi has been subjected to significant and unwarranted pressure from the SBU. There is no disguising the clear aim of the pressure: monopolization of the Ukrainian television market by the holding company controlled by Khoroshkovsky and his wife.”

However, Petro Poroshenko – the major shareholder of Channel 5 – has been conspicuous by his absence and lack of public comments.

Natalia Ligachova, the editor of Telekritika, a media watchdog, said there are grounds for concern that the commercial dispute over frequency allocation can be used as a tool for political pressure on broadcasters who try to give balanced information.

“The desire of the new power to control and monopolize television is visible through many of its actions and through the quality of the news we have,” she said. “TVi and Channel 5, together with Tonis are effectively the only three channels with a more or less independent information policy.”

TVi began broadcasting in Ukraine in March 2008. The station is backed by Konstantyn Kagalovsky, the former Yukos oil vice chairman.

Channel 5 is a joint venture launched in 2003 between NBM, a family oriented channel which began broadcasting from Chernivtsi in 1997, and Express Inform, a news agency with a small television company.

Neither channel is among the nation’s top 10 most-watched channels, according to GfK Ukraine, a market survey company that tracks the popularity of more than 150 Ukrainian television stations. According to the GfK’s May survey, Channel 5 ranked 12th and TVi 16,th according to viewer preference and viewing audience.

Khoroshkovsky’s Inter, meanwhile, topped the ratings with almost double the viewing audience of its closest rival, 1+1 TV. Deputy head of the Presidential Administration Hanna Herman told Interfax-Ukraine that no one has any intention of banning television broadcasts or obstructing their operations.

“Channel 5 employees can work undisturbed and viewers can watch their favorite channel undisturbed today, tomorrow and in the future,” she said.

Gilles Lordet, head of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, reportedly said it was “an unacceptable situation” when the chief of the nation’s state security services doubles as the owner of the country’s largest television group. “What we have here is an obvious conflict of interest," Lordet told a German news agency.

Source: Kyiv Post

Comments

wesley rodgers said…
UKRAINE MEDIA MEDDLING A PURE

DISGRACE--NO EXCUSE--DISGRACEFUL!!
___________________________________

I WILL BE FAIRLY BRIEF HERE!!..WHY ALL OF A SUDDEEN DOES UKRAINE HAVE TO USE CCURTAILMENT TACTICS ON ITS NATIONAL MEDIA.!!

EVERYONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS WHAT IS BASICALLY HAPPENING IN UKRAINE AND IT DOES NOT HAVE SOLID CREDIBILITY ATTACHED TO IT.

WHAT IS HAAPPENING IN UKRAINE WILL CAUSE THE COUNTRY TO PAY DEARLY FOR IT IN WORLD CREDIBILITY!! THIS IS 2O10 AND PEOPLE WORLDWIDE CAN READ BETWEEN THE LINES BETTER THAN THE LINES.

A FREE MEDIA IS THE CREDIBILITY OF THE COUNTRY AND UKRAINE CREDIBILITY IS SINKING LIKE THE TITANIC AND THAT MEANS NO ONE OF ANY INTEGRITY WILL BELIEVE WHAT COMES OUT OF THE UKRAINE ANYMORE.

SO FORGET THE DEALS WITH THE E.U. AND MANY OTHER COUNTRIES AND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA WILL COME DOWN HARD ON THIS ONE.

THIS HURTS ME TO SAY THIS BUT IT IS TRUE AND UKRAINE HAS SUCH A GREAT MEDIA....I HOPE THE NEW ADMINISTRATION REALIZES WHAT IT IS DOING AND THE RAMIFICATIONS.,...

IT IS A TOTAL FRAUD AND DISGRACE...THERE IS NO NEED FOR CURTAILMENT OF UKRAINE MEDIA..WHAT IS THERE TO HIDE AND WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT AFRAID OF--THE TRUTH!!!

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA IS ALREADY BANDING TOGETHER TO FIGHT THIS ONE
AND SEE IF ANY STORY GETS OUT WITH CREDIBILITY ATTACHED TO IT...MOST LIKELEY BY LUCK.!!

NO IT IS NOT THE MEDIA BUT THE INTERNATAIONAL JOURNALISTIC COMMUNITY REALIZES CONTROL IS SETTING IN AND THE PEOPLE OF
UKRAINE ARE BEING CHEATED AND REAL FACTS WILL BE DISTORTED IN MANY CASES.

UKRAINE WANTS E.U.MEMBERSHIPSHIP WELL DO YOU THINK OTHER COCUNTRIES CAN BELIEVE THE NUMBERS AND FACTS THEY GET ON IMPORTS AND EXPORTS AND OTHER INFRORMATION.

UNBELIEVEABALE!!!!!

I WANT TO BE A SUPPORTER TO YANUKOVICH BUT HE IS THE PRESIDENT AND IF THERE IS SOME MEDIA WAR GOING ON THEN HE SHOULD PUT AN END TO IT AS IT IMPACTS ON HIS CREDIBILITY!!!

UKRAINE STILL HAS NOT HAD A DECENT TRIAL FOR A MURDERED INTERNET JOURNALIST--NOT VERY EXPEDITIOUS!! OR JUDIOIOUS!!

IN TODAYS WORLD WITH SO MUCH OPEN MEDIA THIS IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE A NEW ADMINISTRATION CAN TAKE AND IT HAS BEEN MADE WHWILE NEW DEALS TAKE PLACE WITH RUSSIA.

THE SAME COUNTRY THAT WAS THREATENING UKRAINE WITH LIVE ARMED ICBM MISSLES LESS THAN A YEAR AGO.
THE MEDIA AND PEOPLE OF UKRAINE HAVE EARNED THEIR FREEDOM THE HARD WAY AND IF TAKEN AWAY THEY WILL RESPOND ACCORDINGLY.
MY HEART AND SOUL IS FOR THE UKRAINE MEDIA AND D CITIZENS OF UKRAINE!!
Wes Rodgers newsman007
PATRIOTSTV.COM
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