Time for Answers

An Open Letter to the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration in the light of her assertion that critics are commissioned, biased, have shady motives etc and her stated willingness to answer all questions. The latter, concerning disturbing trends away from media independence and towards manipulation of public opinion and unacceptable behaviour by enforcement bodies have long required response.

To the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Anna Herman

Dear Ms Herman,

The author of the following lines is unashamedly biased. Not commissioned, not through party affiliation, simply a convinced democrat. It is experience of life in various democracies which drives my wish for all Ukrainians to live in a law-based democratic state. For this reason I cannot fail to be concerned by those trends which are increasingly causing concern among media and human rights organizations.

In a recent interview on Glavred you accuse critics of bias and state your readiness to answer all questions. I therefore look forward to your response to the following.

The issues are of concern to many and the “answers” thus far, including those on the new section of the President’s site, have failed to satisfy not only myself. The questions are therefore asked publicly and specific answers would be much appreciated. These will be made just as public. This first letter must of necessity cover only a part of the questions now accumulated. All of them concern constitutional rights and are therefore of direct relevance to the President and his Administration.

Creation of Public Broadcasting / Role of the First National Television Channel
- Why have media specialists with experience in preparing not only concepts, but also draft laws on public broadcasting not been involved in the work of creating public broadcasting? The recent response that “the makeup (of the Humanitarian Council) includes the Director of Interfax – Ukraine, Oleksandr Martynenko and TV STB journalist Olha Chervakova seems somewhat strange given the clear complexity of the task. Why reject the assistance offered by specialists?

According to the President’s / Humanitarian Council’s concept, public broadcasting is to be built on the basis of the First National Television Channel (UTV-1). On the one hand, the public are promised a channel independent of the government, on the other, we see a television channel which with each passing day is becoming more staunchly pro-government. This is not my biased view, after all the Director of the channel, Yehor Benkendorf, sees nothing odd in the fact that he personally created a eulogistic film about President Yanukovych to mark the latter’s 60th birthday. Benkendorf’s Deputy, Valid Arfusz actually states that UTV-1’s role is to provide pro-government, positive coverage of events and processes within the country. Benkendorf was appointed in March by the new Cabinet of Ministers, and he appointed Arfusz as his deputy.

- Do those now in power consider that independent broadcasting and pro-government coverage of events are compatible? If not, then when can we expect the dismissal of UTV-1’s management for actions entirely incompatible with independent television?

This is not merely a question of dubious utterances and a sycophantic film though both would be difficult to imagine from the management of the BBC or any other public broadcaster. Even more inconceivable on any of these would be the selective and biased coverage of events coming to us from the First National TV Channel.

One flagrant example was seen in the coverage of the visit by Kyril, Head of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and failure to even mention the violation of freedom of movement of believers from the Kyiv Patriarchate. The extent and tone of the coverage of the Patriarch’s visit could be compared only to the visit to Poland in 2003 of John Paul II. On that occasion it was clear that this might be the last visit of the elderly and frail Pope to his homeland where the majority of Poles are Catholic.
- The situation in Ukraine is, of course, very different. Do you consider such concentration on one Church alone acceptable, especially given that many of the Patriarch’s statements were profoundly offensive to very wide groups of Ukrainian society?

In fact, though, those days in July are important for another, much more disturbing, reason. The following words from a news report on 28 July, Festival of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus, are difficult not to see as cynical mockery: “Neither rain, nor heat wave, nor the hundreds of kilometres journey, stopped the pilgrims who came to the Holy Liturgy at the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra” http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2010/07/28/914

No direct untruth here, after all it was officers of the traffic police who stopped pilgrims, and not those believers heading to the Moscow Patriach’s liturgy in the Lavra.

- Did the reports of such obstruction from various regions of the country not warrant a full check by the law enforcement bodies, not merely a blanket denial issued that very same day (which given the number of complaints over the spread of the country seems less than convincing)? It should be stressed that such reports had been received earlier, in May, wtih activists trying to reach an opposition rally in Kyiv apparently obstructed.
I find it difficult to imagine how such complaints, coming, I repeat, from different regions, could have not been considered of public importance. Would you not agree?
If you do not think that the above is in accordance with the Constitution and standards of information coverage by a State television channel, please inform what measures were taken to:
1) check likely incidents where believers’ constitutional rights were infringed;
2) ascertain why there was no thorough check into such allegations;
3) hold to answer those who obstructed the believers and / or those who failed to check the reports;
4) ensure objective coverage of events in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution

Virtually all news programmes on this channel arouse concern as does the fact that in the monitoring reports prepared by “Telekritika” and the Institute for Mass Information, UTV-1 is constantly competing with the Inter Channel for the dubious honour of being the TV channel which most frequently infringes journalist standards and avoids information of public importance.
This is not a matter of biased research – anybody who feels the desire can watch or read the transcripts of the broadcasts.

To avoid a surfeit of rhetorical questions, I am giving the URLs to just three reports. Selective presentation in these cases, as well as the lack of any coverage of criticism or related issues of public importance and concern, in my opinion, bear all the hallmarks of manipulation of public opinion.

http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2010/08/13/1128 “Yanukovych: In Ukraine the entire justice system needs reform”
http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2010/08/26/1302 On reform of the education system
http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2010/08/30/1360 On amendments to the Law on the Local Elections.
- Please give your assessment of these news stories, taking into account the fact that information about strong protest over recent changes in education under the new minister, the Law on the Local Elections, both before and after the amendments, and the Law on the Judicial System and Status of Judges, was at no stage reported.
Should our assessments differ radically, I propose translating the news reports and sending them, together with the relevant background information, to the appropriate international specialists or committees of the Council of Europe for their appraisal.

The focus here has been on the First National TV Channel since it is funded by the State, or more accurately, by the taxpayer, and because its present management was appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

As the above-mentioned monitoring demonstrates, avoidance of subjects of public importance is by no means confined to UTV-1. The fact that its questionable claim to first place is often surrendered to Inter, a channel effectively owned by the Head of the SBU, Valery Khoroshkovsky, elicits a whole range of questions not only with me.

In your interview, you stated the following: “Khoroshkovsky’s image is, in my opinion, being artificially demonized. And the reason for this may hide in the fact that Khoroshkovsky has stepped painfully on the tail of the mafia. He has virtually put a stop to smuggling and has inflicted several quite tangible blows to drug-trafficking. That they don’t forgive”

- Is there not some misunderstanding here? The Co-Rapporteurs on Ukraine for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] have no links with the mafia (as do not the numerous international organizations). They express concern not at some “demonized image” of the man, but at the entirely specific roles which this person is simultaneously playing as well as the activities of the SBU under his leadership.

Surely you would not deny these facts? In their report to the PACE, the Co-Rapporteurs state: “President Yanukovich has recently appointed Mr Khoroshkovsky to the High Council of Justice, despite potential conflicts of interest as it is the State Security Service that is responsible for investigating any allegations against judges in Ukraine”. http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/NewsManager/EMB_NewsManagerView.asp?ID=5727

On 12 August the High Administrative Court rejected the law suit brought by TVi asking the court to find the President’s decree appointing Khoroshkovsky to the High Council of Justice unlawful.

- Since the full court ruling has not been published, I would be grateful for an explanation as to what information the court found in Mr Khoroshkovsky’s curriculum vitae that could fulfil the requirements of the Law on the High Council of Justice which include: “a higher legal education and experience of work in the field of law of no less than ten years”.

Please also explain why such criticism which is, incidentally, endorsed by many NGOs is rejected by the President? After all, Khoroshkovsky remains Head of the SBU and a member of the High Council of Justice.

In response to a question about the report issued by Reporters without Borders, you called their representative here “biased” and assert that you asked them to postpone their visit so that it would be possible “to discuss all the issues which worry them”. You add: “I have grounds for speaking of their biased attitude to us, of the conclusions reached being made on the basis of consultants paid by the opposition”.

- Please provide proof of these allegations regarding “paid” consultants.
Would it not be better to simply publicly answer specific comments from Reporters without Borders, including with regard to the frequencies issue?
Against the background of that court dispute over frequencies between television channels belonging to the Head of the SBU and Channel 5 together with TVi, how, in your view, should an unbiased observer interpret the approach by the SBU in April to the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council demanding documents about the tender for television frequencies from 27 January, as well as the letter from the SBU to the regulating body asking that the satellite platform “Poverkhnost Sport TV”, be checked, with attention being drawn to the broadcasting of TVi? khpg.org/index.php?id=1270822965
Is this also one of the “so-called ill-considered steps of some SBU officers”?

This was more or less the line taken by the Head of the SBU’s Press Secretary, Marina Ostapenko. Supposedly, due to a technical error (the letter C getting lost somewhere), TVi’s name appeared, giving rise to a misunderstanding.

There would seem rather too many such “ill-thought out steps” and “misunderstandings”, however so many have mounted up, that they deserve separate questions.

I would not wish to take up too much of your time and will defer other questions, but would just note that when you spoke in your interview of the situation in democratic countries, you failed to take into account one vital difference. Whether “it’s all very brutal” in the USA, I don’t know, however there are doubtless law enforcement officers who resort to arbitrary lawlessness everywhere. Nonetheless, democracy is about defending people from lawlessness, and those caught answer for their acts. In those countries where democracy is seen in more than fine words, things are not, in fact, so brutal, it being understood that the greatest dangers for citizens and the country’s reputation lie in selective justice and impunity for those who flout the law and others’ constitutional rights..

Yours sincerely,
Halya Coynash

The Ukrainian version is here: http://www.telekritika.ua/media-i-vlada/2010-09-13/55778

14 September 2010

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Submitted by Terry Hallman on Sat, 2010-09-25 09:09.