МEETINGS, GATHERINGS, DEMONSTRATIONS: INFRINGEMENT OF CITIZENS’ RIGHTS. REFORMATTING OF TV AIRWAVES AND CONSOLIDATION OF POWER


І. Overviews of political events of the week

June 7
 

Yesterday, the March for Freedom of Speech took place on Journalists’ Day. Journalists handed out copies of a newspaper Ukrainska Nepravda (Ukrainian Lies) on a demonstration from the Cabinet of Ministers, the Verkhovna Rada and the Presidential Administration. 
The newspaper contained articles about oligarchs, politicians and cultural activists written in such a way that they seemingly passed through censorship. The organizers of the demonstration said in this way journalists wanted to show what the mass media will be in a few years.

NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen says the North Atlantic bloc will continue its cooperation with Ukraine, even if its government rejects membership in the organization. Rasmussen assured that NATO will respect Ukraine’s choice and that further cooperation between the two sides will continue within the framework of the joint Ukraine-NATO Commission.
 

Minister of Education and Science Dmytro Tabachnyk presented a new concept of a textbook on history for junior high schools. The minister proposes striking from the curriculum the events of the past decade in order to not alter the historic views of politicians. The minister is also convinced that role of Joseph Stalin as the leader of countries that won in WW II will remain incontrovertible 
Tabachnyk believes that the leaders of the OUN-UIA Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych will always be considered in history as nationalists, organizers of mass murders and collaborators.

Special envoy of the Russian president on international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi said during the Great Russian Word Festival in Yalta that Ukraineshould grant the Russian language official status.
In his opinion, Ukraine has historically been a bilingual culture and only bi-culturalism can be the pillar of forming a strong Ukrainian state.

June 8

 

The Kyiv District Administrative Court revoked the frequencies of two independent Tv channels – Channel 5 and TVi – that won the right to their ownership in a tender organized by the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council.
At the same time, the court satisfied the claims of the Inter group of TV channels owned by SBU Director Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy and this group is managed by his wife. Today, this holding company controls 30% of the television market in Ukraine.
As the editor-in-chief of Telekritika projects Natalia Ligachova commented, only three channels that conduct an independent information policy are left in the Ukrainian television space – Channel 5, TVi and Tonis. Two of them have already had their broadcasting frequencies revoked.

Employees of the Ministry of Education of Ukraine feel that advocates of the Russian language are in for serious challenges. Deputy Minister of Education Iryna Zaitseva made such a statement. She said during the period Viktor Yushchenko was in office a young generation of Ukrainians emerged that profess the principles of the “Orange Revolution” that will obstruct the fulfillment of the agreements between the ministers of education of Ukraine and Russia. Ligachova described the cancellation of independent testing strictly in the Ukrainian language and revival of the work of the Russian language and literature in the Junior Academy of Sciences a success.

Russia feels that Ukraine should strike the issue of NATO membership from its order of the day by holding a referendum. Deputy Chair of the Committee on CIS Issues in the Russian State Duma Konstantin Zatulin made such statement. He considers the passing of the law on foreign and domestic policy by the Ukrainian parliament a positive step.


June 9
 

Jouralists of the «1+1» TV channel reported that criticismoftheactions of the governmenthas again been banned on its programs.  All commentary about the negative actions of President Viktor Yanukovych in his first 100 days has been removed from the channel’s programs and the video footage of the Stop Censorship actions was not aired on the TSN news program.

Totalcontrolis being imposed on UkrainianTVchannels. Headofthe Independent MediaUnion Roman Skrypinmade this statement commenting ona court rulingto revoke frequencies from Channel 5 andTVi. Skrypin ispessimistic about thefuture destiny ofthese televeision channelsand says thattoday the TVairwaves in Ukraine are beingremonopolized.

June10

 

The VR Human Rights Committee recommended supporting the bill that regulates the holding of demonstrations in its second reading. Non-government organizations in Ukraine protested the adoption of the revised edition of the law on peaceful demonstrations. The NGOs claim this document will legitimize the use of repressive methods against participants of meetings and demonstrations. The law will be considered in its second reading on June 17.

The European Commission is prepared to draft a plan of action for the introduction of a visa-free regime with Ukraine by October. This was announced after a ministerial meeting of the Ukraine-EU Commission on Issues of Justice, Freedom and Security.
As a reminder, Ukraine has been aspiring for the introduction of a visa-free regime by the EU since 2005, when then President Viktor Yushchenko approved the cancellation of a visa regime for citizens of EU countries. Despite these efforts, the EU did not take any steps in this direction for political reasons. Now that there is a political agreement between the two sides, this issue is purely technical in nature.

Commenting on the new edition of the law on peaceful gatherins, Ministry of Foreign Internal Affairs Anatoliy Mohyliov said acts of protest should not limit the rights of people that do not participate in them. As is public knowledge,e over the past month the police have blocked demonstrations by members of the politcal opposition.

Member of the Communist Party of Ukraine faction Leonid Grach said the Communists should pull out of the parliamentary coalition.  
The MP is not satisfied with the coalition’s plans to raise the pension age and increase the official working day to 10 hours. He said the Party of Regions is acting upon the directive of the IMF and that such innovations contradict the ideology of the Communist Party

 
June 11
 
 

The Verkhovna Rada voted down the attempt of the Prosecutor General’s Office to strip the immunity of members of the OU-PSD faction Yuriy Hrymchak and Andriy Parubiy. As experts commented, MPs will not risk setting a precedent of their colleagues being stripped of immunity.

The latest talks between the Ukrainian govennment and the IMF produced no results. Ukrainian government officials anticipated the renewal of cooperation with the IMF and receiving the first tranche of a loan in the amount of US $19 billion according to the new loan program. The next mission of the IMF to Ukraine is planned on June 21.
At the same time, Ukraine received a loan of US $2 billion from the Russian state bank VneshTorgBank. The loan was issued for half a year with the possibility of extension at an interest rate of 6.7% per annum. Experts feel this money will allow the Ukrainian government get by until it receives the loan it anticipates from the IMF.


Young students held a demonstration in Kyiv under the slogan “No to a police state!” The murder of a student by officers of the Shevchenko District Precinct of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was the occasion for the act of protest. Besides demands that the immediate culprits be punished, the student called for revolutionary changes in the government system, society on the whole and sacking the regime of internal occupation.


II. Analytical Reference

  • Legislation and human rights
     

МEETINGS, GATHERINGS, DEMONSTRATIONS:

INFRINGEMENT OF CITIZENS’ RIGHTS

 

Focusing on the issues of corroborating legislation that is convenient for the ruling powers, the team of Viktor Yanukovych continues to work in secrecy. Bill No. 2450 “On Peaceful Demonstrations” was the next move of the government that stirred up the indignation of the people. The bill went through a quick review and its content is quite contradictory and controversial. Ukrainian non-government organizations protested the approval of the new edition of the law claiming that it poses a threat to the freedom to organize demonstrations and gatherings.

 

Giventhis, is the government limiting the rights of citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations? Isitworth hurrying with the passing of such a law?
 

Ukraine needs alawthatwouldconciselyfixtherightsandresponsibilitiesof citizens and the government during peaceful demonstrations.

 The team of President Viktor Yanukovych continues to work at a quick pace practically in classified conditions and is focusing on legislative reinforcement that will buttress its position. In line with the tradition of the past three months, the government’s measures have incited widespread discussion among the public. The latest initiative of the government that caused a wave of indignation was Bill No. 2450 “On Peaceful Demonstrations”. Again, the bill is being considered at a fairly quick pace, the content is fairly contradictory and controversial and it poses a serious threat  to the freedom of holding acts of protest and demonstrations.

 

In Ukraine the rights of citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations is fixed in Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine. There are quite often incidents of regulation of such issues by Soviet legislation. In other words, passing a law that would clearly fix the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the government during peaceful demonstrations is imperative.

Bill No. 2450 was drafted by the government of Yulia Tymoshenko and was passed in the first reading by the Verkhovna Rada in 2009, despite the criticism of rights activists, international experts and the negative conclusions drawn by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Today, the team of President Viktor Yanukovych has again taken up reviewing this bill, made its revisions and the specialized committee is proposing the bill for consideration by the VR in its second reading on June 17

The bill conforms to international standards

After a detailed review of the bill the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) drew a legal conclusion in which it noted that the bill has been significantly amended after it was adopted in its first reading, it is adequately liberal and it conforms to the majority of international norms in the sphere of human rights.  Thepositiveclauses in the bill are the introduction of special notions of “contra-demonstrations”, “simultaneous peaceful demonstrations” and “spontaneous peaceful demonstrations”. As to the last notion, the exact meaning of a “socially significant event” during which a given form of gathering can be held is not clearly defined.

The UHHRU pointed to bill’s flaws and the unclear definition of many notions. The negative aspects are as follows:an unclearly written norm about places where peaceful demonstrations can be held; a 4-day term of informing about meetings, which is not defined in the Constitution; the procedure for submitting applications about holding meetings has become more complicated; the rights and responsibilities of law enforcement agencies during peaceful demonstrations are not stipulated; and a position of an authorized representative of the executive body of power that will review applications for holding a demonstration is being introduced.

The bill submitted for review by the parliament in its second reading recommends reducing the deadline for informing about the holding of a demonstration from 4 days to 2 days. The bill also envisages that in the future the necessary corrections and amendments will be made to improve the content of the law

The problem with the Ukrainian government

The UHHRU approved the bill from the vantage point of its conformity with European and international standards. Legal and civil rights activists point out a major difference between a democratic Europe and the Ukrainian government. The given law that stipulates the practice of banning demonstrations would have been acceptable to Europe without any problem, but such an undermining ban inevitably stirs up a scandal. In Ukraine the banning or dispersion of demonstrations has become a tradition and is reminiscent of the practice of the Soviet or Russian authorities. In Ukraine, where the government fears criticism of the people and bans and disperses such demonstrations, such a variant will not be effective.

 

Аnalternativeapproach

Human rights activists propose an alternative solution to the problem, namely postponing the consideration of the bill in its second reading and holding a parliamentary hearing. In this case, the issue is about regulating relations between two sides without the participation of the second party. Not a single parliamentary hearing was held in the Verkhovna Rada and human rights activists and the people are demanding the parliament to hear out their point of view. These activists have begun a hunger strike under the walls of the parliament and are planning flash mobile send outs in all provincial centers of Ukraine

Conclusion

Ukraine needs a law “On Peaceful Demonstrations”. The freedom to convene and hold demonstrations is the only way to show that people are satisfied with the actions of the government. Passing a law without allowing a second party to join in discussions is not right. Today, the government has all the possibilities of legitimately adopting the necessary bill as there is a pro-government parliamentary majority. By the same token, in this way the powers can demonstrate their undemocratic measures and intentions.

  • Media and communications
     

REFORMATTING OF TV AIRWAVES AND CONSOLIDATION OF POWER

Last week, the Ukrainian television channels TVi and Channel 5 were stripped of their frequencies as part of the latest restructuring in the media space. On June 8, the Kyiv District Administrative Court fully satisfied the claim of the U.A. Inter Media Group (Kyiv) concerning broadcasting licenses issued to TVi and Channel 5 on January 27 in a tender organized by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council (NTRBC). The tender for being granted these frequencies was the last one for the previous make-up of the NTRBC formed during the Orange Revolution.

The tender was held on condition of the absence of a quorum in the NTRBC, which is a collegiate body, and the presence of a court ruling on banning the holding of such a tender.

Based on the results of the tender, which are often controversial, the television channels TVi received 33 frequencies and Channel 5 received 26 frequencies. In this tender, U.A. Inter Media Group won 20 frequencies.

Can pressure on channels that sympathize with the political opposition be united with censorship in the media space? Is this possibly a conflict of business interests?

The distribution of the frequencies for live broadcasting in Ukraine has always been controversial in nature. Back in the 1990s, the issuing of licenses to the television channels 1+1 and Inter caused a major dispute. The battle for frequencies between the TV channels that were closely tied to the orange or white-and-blue camps began immediately following the Orange Revolution.

In 2005, the revocation of 75 frequencies from the NTN channel that was associated with Edward Prutnik, who was close to Viktor Yanukovych, had wide media coverage. That same year the NTRBC took away 22 frequencies from the TET channel associated with the Surkis brothers, who supported Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election. The stripping of frequencies of TVi and Channel 5 can to a certain degree be described as political revenge of the Party of Regions.

Experts are inclined to attribute the current conflict to a conflict of interest in business. The Inter channel group, the plaintiff that won the case in the proceedings of the court of first instance, controls 30% of the Ukrainian television market and is planning to monopolize it. The fact that owner of the holding company is the head of the SBU Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy and the group is managed by his wife plays a key role here. Khoroshkovskiy’s high-ranking position allows him to put pressure on the NTRBC and creates a conflict of interest.

As a result of frequencies, TVi and Channel 5 are reducing their coverage of television signals across Ukraine. This will have a greater negative impact on TVi as it is currently in the stage of being established. The management of Channel 5 stated that under these new conditions the channel will be forced to give up broadcasting of information and restructure itself to airing entertainment and educational programs.

In-court battles

On the one hand, the judicial prospect in conditions of a monopoly by the Party of Regions does not look too optimistic for TVi and Channel 5. The executive and legislative branches of power the judiciary system, the prosecutor general’s office and the ministry of justice are all under the influence of the Party of Regions and its allies.

Proponents of Yanukovych with experience in the previous election campaigns that the Party of Regions lost in 2004, 2006 and 2007 will do everything possible to neutralize independent television channels that can rebroadcast to the public the views of the political opposition.

On the other hand, the fact that the TV channels tried to make the situation with frequencies public is a positive factor that leaves wide open an opportunity to successfully uphold freedom of speech on television. The judicial battle and the requirement to form a parliamentary committee to develop this situation have good chances.

Conclusionsandrecommendations

The situation regarding the pressure being put on TV channels in Ukraine that sympathize with the political opposition is a manifestation of consolidation of all levers of power controlled by the president, his parties and political allies.

The activeness of alternative and opposition forces will slowly be displaced in the Internet. However, the fact that 20-30% of the population of Ukraine uses the Internet does not give grounds to hope that the Internet will get even close to television in terms of the informational influence. Television will for long remain the most powerful instrument of influence over public opinion, particularly in regions with a low level of Internet penetration and in cities and towns in which the level of education of people and poverty is low.

In conclusion, the threat of monopolization of the influence of President Yanukovych and his political proponents in reformatting the television airwaves is sharply growing. Consolidation through journalistic solidarity, the activation of civil society, unbiased judicial review and hearings and the unification of democratic forces in the parliament can counter this threat. The actions of those that advocate and defend freedom of speech should remain public knowledge.


 
 

FocusonUkraine – a weekly publication of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation that offers insight into the main political events in Ukraine, as well as commentary and recommendations of experts in a narrow field.

 

This publication is party of a project that is realized with the support of UNITER. The content of the publication is the property of DIF and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of UNITER.

 

Experts:
Volodymyr Chemerys
Diana Dutsyk
Yevhen Zakharov

Analysts:
Volodymyr Kukhar
Natalya Yakymchuk(Project Coordinator)
Editor-in-chief: Iryna Filipchuk
 
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