Yanukovych aide Hanna Herman, station’s general director deny interference allegations.
Kyiv Post Staff Journalists from 1+1 TV station, the nation’s second most popular channel, on May 6 accused the company’s top management and a member of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration of direct censorship and interference in their work.
Hanna Herman, deputy head of the presidential administration for media issues, denied the charges. “I will discuss the matter with them [the journalists],” Herman said.
Oleksandr Tkachenko, the 1+1 general director, released a statement on the same day, denying the charges as well and implying that the 15 journalists who signed the statement lack professionalism.
Journalists from 1+1 TV channel spoke out against censorship in a May 6 letter. Deputy head of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, Hanna Herman, (above) denied pressuring journalists, as did Oleksandr Tkachenko, the station’s general director. (Yaroslav Debelyi, tabloid.com.ua)
The allegations will support concerns – already rampant since Yanukovych took power on Feb. 25 – that the nation’s press freedoms will be curbed, as they had been before the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution.
The developments also fuel fears that after swiftly pulling Kyiv closer to Moscow’s orbit in recent weeks, Yanukovych may be trying to install Kremlin-style control over media and democracy.
Such a scenario would distort and limit the information the public gets about how their government functions, as independent and fair journalism gives way to flattering and uncritical coverage of top officials.
Solomiya Vitvytska, one of the station’s journalists who signed the letter, said that she and colleagues decided to act after the anchor of the station’s news program, Natalya Moseichuk, refused to go on air because she was told to limit coverage of the opposition.
“She’s been taken off air since then. Alla Mazur [another famous anchor] has also stepped down,” Vitvytska said. “Another anchor, Oleksiy Likhman, also refused to host the program. So they [editors] just put ‘a nobody’ to present the week in review news program. The bulletin came out with three stories appeasing the government.”
Most authors of this letter have hardly ever met with censorship in real life. It’s a different matter that because of the changes in political conditions in the country, many are starting to confuse their own political sympathies with the basic rules of journalism. But this issue has nothing to do with an editorial policy,”
– Oleksandr Tkachenko, 1+1 general director.
Moseichuk, however, denied any conflicts, saying she is simply on vacation. “I solve work-related problems at work.”
However, Telekritika, a media watchdog, reported recently that Moseichuk had been looking for a job.
Many authors of the letter are veteran TV journalists who defended their professionalism and fairness against charges to the contrary. “Freedom of speech for us aren’t hollow words, instead they are the foundation of our profession,” the journalists said in their statement.
Tkachenko, the 1+1 general director, was dismissive of his station’s own journalists – essentially saying they don’t know what they’re talking about.
“Fortunately, most authors of this letter have hardly ever met with censorship in real life. It’s a different matter that because of the changes in political conditions in the country, many are starting to confuse their own political sympathies with the basic rules of journalism. But this issue has nothing to do with an editorial policy,” Tkachenko said in a statement.
Natalia Ligacheva, editor of Telekritika, said “I would discount Tkachenko’s remarks that journalists at the channel may not be working professionally.”
Media experts have been ringing alarm bells ever since Yanukovych took power on Feb. 25. Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog, raised their concerns in an open letter to the president at the end of April.
“Your government’s behavior towards the media conflicts with what you told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, namely that reinforcing democracy was an ‘absolute priority’ and that ‘it is free, independent media that must ensure society’s unimpeded access to information.’ We are puzzled by the difference between your statements and the recent conduct towards the media.”
Igor Kolomoisky, the domestic billionaire who owns channel 1+1 and who has rivaled for assets with oligarchs strongly backing Yanukovych, was not immediately available for comment. One of his close confidants refused to discuss the situation.
But Yury Lukanov, head of the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union, said “the presidential team is pressuring media to limit criticism, to ensure positive coverage."
"Influential businessmen that own the channels could be either under pressure, or in on it,” he said.
“These brutal policies of the country’s new leadership put at risk one of the last democratic outposts with a free media in the post Soviet region, and could be tied to recent attempts to bring Ukraine closer with Russia,” Lukanov added.
Ligacheva said there might be more to the story than direct censorship, adding that rivalries within Yanukovych’s inner-circle could be to blame.
“It’s obvious from the letter that journalists at the channel feel they are being pressured. [But] there may be more to the story than mere censorship. For example, this may all be an attempt by presidential administration head Serhiy Lyovochkin to make his deputy Herman look bad.”