Предлагаем вниманию читателей англоязычный перевод нашей резонансной публикации "Адвокаты беспредела. Кто и как помогает властям давить на украинские СМИ", которая вышла на "Стране" 21 марта.
"How long the tax service, SSU and others are going to drag out a question about Vesti and Strana? Three years aren’t enough?" - Natalia Ligacheva wrote these words in her Facebook a year ago. She’s a well-known critic and expert in the field of media positioning herself as the main censor of journalism standards.
Strana and Vesti are two mass-media that have been repeatedly attacked in recent years by law enforcement officers for criticizing authorities.
International organizations usually take into consideration the monitoring compiled by Ukrainian public organizations to rate the level of freedom in our country. There are two organizations in Ukraine working on this. They are the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) under the leadership of Oksana Romanyuk and Detector Media (the former OO Telekritika) led by Natalia Ligacheva.
They declare themselves media experts and watchdogs of the Ukrainian media. Their main tasks include monitoring of the situation with freedom of speech in the country and observing journalistic standards.
The activity of these organizations has risen many questions long time ago among a large number of Ukrainian journalists. They noted that these experts do not notice and sometimes directly justify the authorities' pressure on the media meanwhile they point at the violations of journalistic standards only in opposition media.
Latel, the position of the "media experts" is becoming more and more frank and aggressive apparently in the run-up to the elections.
Last week, the structures of Ligacheva and Romanyuk organized a real baiting of the leadership of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine represented by Sergei Tomilenko for protecting all media and all the journalists from attacks by the authorities regardless of their editorial policy and without dividing them into patriots and non-patriots. Tomilenko also regularly draws attention to the blatant situation of physical violence against journalists.
Strana tried to find out what IMI and Detector Media are in reality, which support authorities instead of defending journalists.
Parallel reality of IMI
IMI was established in 1995 as an independent public organization to monitor and conduct research on the media. Since the former head of IMI Victoria Syumar (now she’s the head of the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech and one of the key figures in the pro-governmental People’s Front Party) left the public sector after Maidan revolution, Oksana Romanyuk became the executive director of the organization. The budget of IMI is quite impressive and it’s around 11 million UAH (official data for 2016).
The main product of IMI activity is the so-called Barometer of Freedom of Speech that monitors the number of murders, beatings of journalists, obstructions of professional activity, censorship and threats. European partners of IMI analyze the level of freedom of speech in Ukraine using this information. Nevertheless experts say that not all the cases were included in this monitoring in the last few years.
Interlocutors of Strana in the media environment believe that IMI hushes up many facts of pressure on journalists, thereby distorting the current situation.
IMI is a Ukrainian partner of the international human rights organization the Reporters Without Borders, a member and Ukrainian representative of the global network of IFEX media organizations. The Council of Europe, OSCE, USAID also cooperate with IMI. All of these organizations first consult with Oksana Romanyuk before issuing a statement in support of a particular media on which the Ukrainian authorities exert pressure.
“IMI convinces its Western partners that all the statements on violations of journalists' rights are fabricated by media oligarchs. IMI quite often suggests that they are allegedly pro-Russian. They say that these are all the insinuations and it’s done by the periodicals, whose owners benefit from damaging the reputation of Ukraine. Or they say that it's just about ordinary criminal offenses, so the initiation of criminal proceedings against the media and their leaders is not the pressure, but the usual work of law enforcement agencies. Therefore, they do not include all these cases in their monitoring and report to the West, “Don’t worry, it’s OK", interlocutor from the media environment explains Strana the principle of IMI work with Western donors.
The head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NSJU) Sergei Tomilenko confirms the existence of unspoken filter in IMI for monitoring threats to the media. Due to the fact that IMI do not reflect the situation of pressure on the media objectively, the NSWU even implemented its own alternative Physical Security Index for monitoring attacks against journalists.
Tomilenko says, “In 2017, we recorded 90 cases of violence. Do you know IMI statistics? We have 90 attacks, they have 29. It seems as if we say, “Look, there is a problem.” And IMI say, “Everything is fine, there is no problem.”
There is a logical explanation for such selective standpoint of IMI.
IMI is a regional representative of the international journalist organization the Reporters Without Borders. A number of physical attacks is the main factor for the Reporters that influences on the place of the country in the rating on freedom of speech. That’s why IMI are very exceptious about this.
They screen out all the cases that can be eliminated from the monitoring. One of the tricks is to place facts into a less important category not concerning violations though they are formally registered in the Barometer.
For example, in November, the operator of the Georgian television company Rustavi 2 Tamaz Shavshishvili was deported from Ukraine with obvious violations. Tamaz described in detail his deportation in the interview to Strana: 15 people wearing black masks with machine guns cuffed him, wrapped a piece of a scotch tape around his eyes and kicked him. According to Shavshishvili, the head of the department of state security Valery Gelethey led the operation to banish him from the country.
This fact wasn’t registered in IMI in the category of Physical Aggression (Beatings, Attacks), that would be logical under the circumstances of the case. It was included in the Legal Pressure section although the special forces used force against the journalist, wrapped a piece of a scotch tape around his eyes, kicked him, then secretly and violently removed him from Ukraine and banned entry without giving any reasons.
IMI did the same with a fact of violation that took place last year in July in Nikolaev. The deputy slammed the door on Andrei Prokopenko (the journalist of the online media Svidok.info) trying to kick him out of the office. The case was included in the category of Obstruction of Journalistic Activities.
IMI often uses another way to avoid including attacks on journalists in the monitoring. They point out that people allegedly suffered not as journalists but as public activists. Even if someone was beaten, it was treated as a private showdown, not concerning journalistic activities.
Oksana Romanyuk ignores numerous facts of violence against journalists. Thus, IMI did not consider it necessary to include an incident in the Khodosovka village in the rating of crimes against the press, despite the fact that the unknown persons beat the journalist of the Stop Corruption project while conducting journalistic investigation. Doctors diagnosed a 24-year-old journalist with a soft tissue bruise of the head, a neck injury, a closed chest injury.
IMI works selectively with cases of some journalists and the media, paying attention to them only when the situation draws public attention. For example, there is no information in the Barometer about the attack on the journalist of NewsOne Ruslan Kotsaba in May 2017, when the nationalists tried to break his camera and microphone in the Mariinsky Park. IMI included in the monitoring the case when the fighter of the extreme-right organization the Right Sector Alexei Byk hit Kotzaba in carrying out his journalistic duties in December 2017.
IMI does the same way with the news related to Strana even if it gets to the international level.
The editor-in-chief of Strana Igor Guzhva’s arrest in June 2017 on fabricated criminal charges of extortion, as well as an illegal search conducted at the same time (without any court sanction) in the editorial office, were not included in the monitoring. The incident about searches carried out at the editorial staff's apartments in August 2017 was added by IMI to the Barometer of Freedom of Speech only when the situation with pressure on Strana drew huge public attention so it was impossible to ignore it any longer.
Oksana Romanyuk tried to explain her selective point of view in her comments on social networks just the other day. "We did not include detainment of Guzhva, because there really was a violation on the part of Guzhva," Romanyuk wrote. But when Strana asked her to clarify grounds of her conclusion about violation, Romanyuk began to justify herself: "Of course, we can say about the violation only after the case will be decided by the court. It was impossible to include this case in the Barometer, taking into consideration the charges against Guzhva, which were not directly related to his journalistic activities."
IMI often publishes the news about a severe beating of a journalist, but doesn’t include this case in the monitoring for the current month. For example, IMI did this way when a camera operator of 20 Minut Zhitomir periodical Ruslan Moroz was brutally beaten on June 10, 2017. He’s got numerous moderate body injuries and a concussion. In addition, the journalist was also robbed. The criminals stole his equipment: a video camera, a camera and memory cards. They didn’t take neither a wallet nor a mobile phone so the investigation conclusion stated professional activity as the motive for the attack. But for some reason, IMI did not consider it necessary to include the incident in the Barometer of Freedom of Speech.
Actually, if you look hard enough you can find a reference to the beating of Moroz in July 2017 in the Barometer (although the beating was in June). But it isn’t mentioned about the attack. It is only said that “Zhytomyr journalist demands from the police to qualify the attack on him as an attack for professional activity". This case is included in Reaction of the Journalistic Community category but not in Beatings, Attacks category.
Such a selective treatment of IMI is absurd in this case. For example, it was reported about the beating of Moroz by their own regional journalist whose task is to monitor local issues of freedom of speech. IMI directly said about it in the news.
The most surprising thing is that such a distortion of reality really helps IMI to improve Ukraine's positions in the international ratings. So, in 2017 Ukraine was on 102 place out of 180 countries in the rating of freedom of speech done by the Reporters Without Borders. At the same time, Ukraine gained five places compared with the results in 2016. The director of communications of the Reporters Without Borders Ulrike Gruska said that the improvement of Ukraine's position was explained by the "reduction of violence against journalists".
If IMI manipulates the freedom of speech ratings concealing attacks on journalists from its western partners, then the other grantee "media expert" organization Detector Media has another task to harass disagreeable mass-media.
The King's Pet Dog
The ancestor of Detector Media, Telekritika was the first specialized Ukrainian media about media. It was founded later than IMI, in 2001, financially supported by the US Embassy in Ukraine and international public organization the Internews Ukraine. In 2004, its creator, Honored Journalist of Ukraine Natalya Ligacheva established the same-name public organization to support the site.
Later the site was funded by various Western donors such as the National Institute of Democracy (USA), the Renaissance Foundation and others.
The Telecritika team states its mission this way, "To help TV journalists work better and resist censorship by criticizing and analyzing their work." Grant scheme supporting the organization must have guaranteed independence from the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians.
However, Telekritika could not last long without Ukrainian oligarchs. In 2010, it became a part of 1+1 group of companies, owned by Igor Kolomoysky (previously it was a member of Glavred Media holding, owned by polician Alexander Tretyakov).
In 2015, Telecritika team headed by Natalia Ligacheva left the project. At the same time 1 + 1 media holding did not agree to give OO Telekritika a website having the same name and Dusya subsite. Therefore, in April 2016, OO Telekritika changed its name to Detector Media. Soon, the same-name Internet edition was created positioning itself as the main watchdog of Ukrainian mass-media and an independent source of the news about the media market in Ukraine.
If Romanyuk works with a focus on European structures and partners of the Reporters Without Borders, then Detector Media reports to its sponsors. A list of international donors financing Detector Media is extensive. Among them are SIDA, DANIDA, NED, the Internews, the US Embassy in Ukraine, the Netherlands Embassy in Ukraine.
These institutions use ‘correct’ information from Detector Media about the level of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
The work of Detector is organized according to a simple principle. They multiply good news, limit bad news, ignore absolutely unnecessary ones for the main goal of convincing sponsors and diplomats that everything is fine with freedom of speech in Ukraine, or the situation is not as bad as it is said about.
There are many examples of determined silence. Strana gives only some of them. For example, the edition ignores the statements of the National Union of Journalists about the pressure on freedom of speech and attacks on journalists. The news of this kind is more often in a focus of national media than in the newsline of the specialized edition as Detector Media positions itself.
In general, it is obvious that Detector employees analyze more meticulously the work of the mass-media (most critically judging the authorities) searching for manipulations and violations of journalistic standards. Meanwhile activities of the other mass-media (often pro-government ones) are either hushed up or praised. Critics of pro-government media do not exist at all, on the contrary.
For example, in February the edition published the material "Tete-a-tete" on the Pryamyi TV Channel as a Reflection of Ukrainian Elite", an analysis of the television programme on the Pryamyi channel associated with President Petro Poroshenko.
“The program does not cause any negative emotions. Moreover, the communication between TV presenter and her guests immerses the audience into cozy world of humanity and empathy. People, I mean presenter’s guests are really nice and worthy. In addition, they are all ready to bare their souls to a beautiful presenter. In February 18th, for example, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs Shkiryak arranged a sincere striptease with the help of presenter." The columnist of Detector Media writes in such manner about the TV programme on Pryamyi channel.
The rest of the material is devoted to "duke origin" of Zoryan Shkiryak, the guest of the programme. Thus, the text says that presenter "coquettishly asked who addresses him Your Grace. The guest replied that now it wasn’t the right time to emphasize the noble origin."
“This answer showed that adviser to the Minister of the Interior Affairs, unlike the Ukrainian politicians of the Kuchma’s times, who tried so hard to prove their noble origin [...], as Martin Borulya, ... realizes that neither a coat of arms nor contributions of ancestors can’t grant the descendants of the noble family any preferences here and now. That is, by the way, is quite a common behavior of the descendants of the ancient gentry in Western Europe," the author infers in his article on Detector Media.
Even a cursory glance at a content of the website leads to the conclusion that most of the news about pro-government channels is positive. For comparison here is a quote from Ligacheva's blog about Dmitry Gnap's investigation on Gromadske TV channel about President Poroshenko’s offshores, which he disclosed during the fierce fighting in the Donbass region: "Any parallels to the story on Ilovaysk are absolutely manipulative ... They apparently needed it to justify somehow the very appearance of such an "investigation."
Or here's another quote from Otar Dovzhenko's column on Detector Media about "the inadmissibility and manipulations of comparing offshore schemes of Poroshenko companies to the fightings in Ilovaisk. The authors of the investigation and some of their colleagues are outraged that critics stuck to the form without paying due attention to the subject of the investigation. Well, sorry, we stuck to it because such Kiselev manner of reporting used to attract attention and keep in suspense causes vomiting reflex among the intelligent audience."
And here is Detector’s opinion on "Ukrainian Format" programme broadcasted on the opposition NewsOne TV channel in February 21, 2018: "This programme is the absolute leader of numerous manipulations, imbalances and unprofessionalism. The TV presenters managed to make this painful subject even more dramatic and tragic...
We can’t talk about the balance of the guests, "the author of the text manipulates leveling the fact that two representatives of the pro-government parties were the guests of the broadcast. They are the People's Deputy from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc Olga Bogomolets and the member of the faction of the Radical Party Igor Mosiychuk." Despite the fact, that formally Bogomolets represented Petro Poroshenko Bloc she did not provide a balance of views. On the contrary, she shared the views of the other guests who blamed the president and the "oligarchic gang" in all the troubles of the country," Detector’s monitiring says.
In general, Ligacheva pays a special attention on NewsOne TV channel.
"It's difficult not to be ironic when the topic" Freedom of Speech in Ukrainian. Fighting Fakes is a Censorship or an Approach for Media Objectivity," is discussed on NewsOne. You know I mean NewsOne, that broadcast the US Congressional proceedings in the basement of the Capitol. In was NewsOne that announced its blocking, although activists said about a small picket of only one entrance," the article of January 26 analyzes "Ukrainian Format” broadcast.
Thinking about manipulations in other mass-media, Detector Media isn’t squeamish about using rude methods of manipulation in its own materials. The prime example is a way Detector Media publicized Natalia Vlaschenko’s scandal interview with Andrei Portnov, ex-Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration in the times of Yanukovych's presidency, broadcast on ZIK channel.
"Ashamed of the dead" - the network exploded with anger because of Portnov's interview to ZIK channel. Detector Media published different opinions of politicians, bloggers and experts under this title. None of 14 comments on the topic supported ZIK channel. Although in the network there were a lot of opinions in defence of the interview.
Commentators chosen by editor of the website predictably accuse the television channel "in supporting Moscow's interests", calling it "a repeater of Russian propaganda" and appeal for a boycott of ZIK. By the way, the day after the publication, a group of people boycotted ZIK's office in the center of the capital. Natalia Vlaschenko is sure, ”The action was ordered by Bankova street.”
The presidential 5 Channel is not criticized at all. There are neither jeans nor breaches of journalism standards in their content.
In general, the editorial policy of Ligacheva's website can be described in this way: maximum criticism of the opposition media and maximum PR support for the correct, pro-government media.
"They use a filter, only those who, in their opinion are worthy of it, are included in the data set. In other words, if they bully the objectionable media like NewsOne or Strana they don’t write about it or just give a short reply. If a journalist of 5 Channel is affected the information about this incident will be on the front page," Sergei Tomilenko says.
In general, Natalia Ligacheva does not hesitate to advocate authorities directly, including law enforcement agencies. She prefers to blame journalists in all the troubles. Sometimes it turns into a scandal.
For example, it happened after publishing Ligacheva's column about "Slidstvo.Info" film investigating the murder of Pavel Sheremet. Ligacheva criticizes it, suggesting journalists to inform the law enforcement agencies about new evidences instead of making movies.
One of the filmmakers Dmitry Gnap said, “There were suspicions about the involvement of law enforcers in the murder of a colleague, so they were not informed. In addition, journalists had imparted information to the police many times, including information about the corruption of Yanukovych officials, but these investigations went nowhere.”
“In general, it would be good if the media experts make as many efforts to ask authorities hard questions as they do catching fleas in the work of journalists. These questions are about the censorship in the media or about the situation when it's getting more dangerous for journalists to work in Ukraine. Media critics should be the real watchdogs of the Ukrainian media but not a king’s pet dog," Gnap summed up.
It is significant that Detector Media did not publish a public call of Ukrainian TV channels to authorities, including the President, with a demand to stop censorship in the country. The main watchdog that systematically monitors media market did not write even a short comment about the appeal signed by more than 60 Ukrainian journalists and media managers.
By the way, in the public call journalists also asked the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting to stop blackmailing the media editorial offices. "Actual duties of this body were reduced to censorship, constant unscheduled inspections, blackmail of editorial offices about license renewal," the call states.
After reading this paragraph it is clear why Detector did not consider it necessary to publish an appeal to the President. After all, Natalia Ligacheva, along with IMI, helps the National Council, which many experts call loyal to Poroshenko, to bully opposition media.
Commission on Morality
In December 2015, five media non-governmental organizations (the Institute of Media Law, the Institute of Mass Information, the Internews Ukraine, OO Telekritika, the Souspilnist Foundation) established the Independent Media Council and elected Natalia Ligacheva as a head.
The Independent Media Council also includes representatives of IMI (Elena Golub and Roman Golovenko).
In fact, this is an expert group of journalists and media activists who provide expert opinions on controversial media incidents responding to requests from authorities. The Council can also inspect the press on its own initiative, search for violations of Ukrainian legislation, international law, international journalistic standards and journalistic ethics in their content. Members of the Council consider complaints against media on a free basis. The body is not pro-government as it is said on the website. At the same time, the Council is neither a legal entity nor a public institution.
But the Council, though it is presented as an informal social initiative, actually has much more authority than it seems at first sight.
In recent years, the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting takes into consideration conclusions of this commission to decide whether to punish a particular media for violating journalistic standards, ethics or media legislation.
On the recommendation of the Media Council, the National Council can fine the media and even revoke licenses from TV channels and radio stations.
NewsOne TV channel experienced how this institution with unclear legal status and authorities can influence on the decisions of the National Council.
The National Council has already announced a warning to the TV channel four times. It is an extreme sanction before revoking a broadcasting license. Recently, there were unscheduled inspections on NewsOne TV channel on two cases.
One of the cases concerns broadcasting of the story about the hearing of the Committee on Financial Affairs of the US Congress on corruption in the National Bank of Ukraine. As it turned out later, this event took place actually in the premises of the US Congress and had no relation to the meetings of the Committee. It was called a "hearing of the Committee" by one of the organizers, Ukrainian politician Sergei Taruta, on whose opinion the channel relied.
In its expert conclusion, the Independent Media Council headed by Natalya Ligacheva (the conclusions are posted on Detector Media website) categorically claimed this story a fake without explaining, however, the criteria of such definition. The term "fake" does not exist at all in the Ukrainian legislation.
The Media Council experts state that the TV channel violated the "standards of accuracy, reliability and balance of presenting information," comparing the story of NewsOne with such fakes of Russian propaganda as "crucified boys". Although in that case it was about a fictitious event, while procedure about corruption in the National Bank actually took place though not in the framework of meeting of the Congress Committee. In fact, the National Council, basing on the conclusion of the Independent Media Council, first announced the TV channel an unscheduled inspection and then issued a warning to NewsOne.
Lawyers of the channel are puzzled about the grounds of conducting broadcast examination by the Independent Media Council.
“The so-called expert conclusions of the Media Council aren’t considered to be the expertise provided by the current Ukrainian legislation," the senior legal adviser of NewsOne TV channel Ivan Yekimov explains to Strana. “We have a justified conclusion of the Intellectual Property Institute explaining why expert opinion of this Council is not expert in fact. The so-called Independent Media Council de jure does not exist at all. It is not registered as a legal entity. They do not have the powers to conduct an expert examination of the media, there are no grounds, their conclusions have no legal effect. It is still a mystery why the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting relies on their decisions".
Now there are inspections of the TV channel on another case. NewsOne is charged with treason for systematical discussions in the broadcast about coup d’etat in Ukraine. It is interesting that the inspection was appointed by the People's Deputies of Petro Poroshenko Block Irina Gerashchenko, Maria Ionova and Irina Friz, an old colleague of Petro Poroshenko.
At the same time, the Verification Act says that violations of NewsOne have not been found, and the use of the term coup d’etat with regard to the events of 2013-2014 is not fomenting of war, national strife and hatred, and does not disgrace human honor and dignity.
By law, the commission cannot go beyond the subject of a specific unscheduled inspection. But in the case of NewsOne the National Council, contrary to this norm and in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine, went beyond the scope of the inspection and entered into the Verification Act such accusations: "Rhetoric of Yevgeny Murayev, which is linguistically and semantically analogous to the official political position and propaganda of the aggressor country-... has nothing to do with freedom of speech or journalistic activities". Then the National Council draws a conclusion that this can be qualified as treason under the Article 111 of the Criminal Code.
So far, the National Council has not decided on this case yet, but most likely, TV channel will be again announced a warning. They are accumulating in NewsOne in geometric progression. TV channel received the last one from the National Council on March 1.
The channel does not exclude that it won’t end only by the warnings. Soon they may try to revoke the license from NewsOne in order to stop its broadcasting.
They became the Ministry of Information Policy, that everyone was afraid of
In fact, the main task of Ukrainian media watchdogs was reduced to the single aim of embellishing the situation in Ukraine both for public opinion inside Ukraine and for the West.
"They abuse their status of media experts in order to divide journalists into patriots and non-patriots, right and wrong ones. Very often the journalists criticizing the authorities are wrong. While in fact they as public organizations should protect all journalists regardless of their editorial policy,” Sergei Tomilenko says to Strana.
The Head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine was publicly attacked by Detector Media and IMI because of his views. So, last week they, as well as a number of close to them organizations, published a joint vote of no confidence to the leadership of the NUJU. Ironically, they charged Sergei Tomilenko with the distortion of information about the real situation of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
In signatories’ opinion, it is expressed in overstating the number of cases of physical aggression against journalists as well as in playing into the hands of the oligarchic media.
By the way, this statement appeared a few days after Strana sent requests to IMI and Detector Media for comments on this article.
We still have not received a response, but we are ready to publish it at any time.
Since the beginning of their establishment, they have assumed the role of a judge deciding who is an honest journalist and who is not. But firstly, who gave them this right? And secondly, they are not responsible for their words, in fact they do not carry any responsibility neither criminal, nor political, nor social. They write what they want, discredit whom they want not fearing the effects. What kind of objectivity can we talk about?" says Natalia Vlaschenko, General Producer of ZIK TV channel.
The so-called media experts have justified their activities by the war for four years.
Ostensibly, criticism of the authorities and law enforcement agencies will play into Russia's hands. So anyone who decides to criticize authorities automatically becomes a non-patriot and an agent, because such person destabilizes the situation and plays for enemy’s hand. Such media experts like Ligacheva and Romanyuk stand guard over the national security of Ukraine
For example, Ligacheva said in an interview with her own Detector Media: "I say now, "How can it be possible to blame your own country?" And then I think," Stop! In the times of Kuchma and Yanukovych we were frank and honest, telling international community the truth about censorship, harassment of journalists and the media, corruption, etc. And, let's say, the same Dmitry Kiselev, who had worked in Ukraine at that time, reproached us with destabilizing situation in the country. Today we often use these words. I think we often use them reasonably. One of my friends said, ”It is more important for me even corrupted Ukraine to be on the world map, than not to be at all. After all, we understand that any criticism of authorities, even fair, during the war is used by an external enemy. As for me, I am, probably, still more a citizen than a journalist in some situations."
This may be a good excuse. But only for those who do not know that ordinary political ties are behind this patriotism. IMI is connected with People’s Front and Detector Media is close to Petro Poroshenko Bloc. People’s Front and Petro Poroshenko Bloc are two pro-government parties that are interested in minimizing criticism, using also patriotic rhetoric.
In different years, IMI was headed by Sergey Taran (political technologist, working with the Presidential Administration of Poroshenko) and Victoria Syumar (ex-journalist, a member of the People’s Front Party). And when Syumar went to politics, after Maidan revolution IMI faced a choice. If they show the real number of attacks on journalists, then they have to admit that the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech, headed by Syumar, does not protect journalists as they should. The National Police, controlled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, headed by Arsen Avakov (also a member of the People’s Front), does not investigate crimes against the media. IMI chose to support its political supervisors instead of journalists.
IMI supports law enforcement agencies without hiding and directly advocates authorities. For example, at the OSCE Human Rights Conference in September 2017, Romanyuk moderated the event about successful investigations of cases of attacks against journalists completed by law enforcement agencies in Ukraine. On many public events and round tables she sometimes tells the police what to say. When police officers muddled up over the information then Oksana Romaniuk reminded them about a number of criminal cases.
As for Ligacheva, she criticizes journalists, but does not bash the government or criticizes discreetly although it should have been the other way around. Her policy of double standards can be easily explained.
Vyacheslav Chechilo, the editor of Capital.ua says, “As Poroshenko’s bots imitate the support of the President in social networks, so Ligacheva and Co. imitate the support of the media community. It’s the same style. I won’t be surprised if the sources of their funding are the same."
"Ligacheva can fall between two stools. On the one hand, her Telecritika existed on Western grants, but was a part of Kolomoisky Holding at the same time. Now Detector Media receives grants, though cooperates with authorities," Natalia Vlaschenko says.
The inner media circles have long discussed on the regular contacts of the head of Detector Media with the representatives of Bankova street, in particular, with political technologist and media manager Dmitry Nosikov. Mass-media call him connected with one of the closest associates of the President Igor Kononenko.
In his post in Facebook, People's Deputy and ex-journalist Sergei Leschenko describes an interesting story: "Leshenko and Ligacheva are next in Nosikov's phone book, so sometimes I get by mistake the strange messages sent to my neighbor in Nosikov's phone. I won’t publish them out of respect for the authoritative media critic, but I ask either to change my name in Nosikov's phone, or just be careful when sending SMS. So that I don’t think too much."
Later, Leshchenko made it clear that he received a text from Nosikov published by Ligacheva in the social network. "It does not look like the exchange of information, but rather a list of topics," Leshchenko wrote.
Natalia Ligacheva denies an influence of the authorities on her professional activity. Nosikov also denies his "supervision" over her.
However, it is known that Ligacheva maintains close relations with the Ministry of Information Policy. Detector Media website is even listed as an information partner on the Ministry of Information website. The Ministry of Information Policy replied to Strana that Detector is the list of media partners as an information resource covering media activities. When Strana asked to explain why in this case there is only one resource, but no other ones, the Ministry replied that they didn’t receive any other requests.
It is interesting, by the way, that all the personnel of the Ministry and some selected experts were invited to the New Year party of the Ministry of Information Policy, including Natalia Ligacheva. Strana was told about this by one of the invited guests.
“In fact, these watchdogs became the Ministry of Information Policy, that everyone was afraid of, - says Sergei Tomilenko. They divide journalists, and the authorities benefit from it. Divide and rule. This scenario is obvious. They distort the idea of journalism when a journalist first of all must be a patriot, and then a journalist. The most brutal repressions can be easily justified by patriotism and concern for the country."
Media experts pass from hand to hand
Western partners still consider the opinion of such media experts as Ligacheva and Romanyuk. So far, they still use their reputation they gained in previous years of fighting against censorship in the times of Kuchma and Yanukovych.
But after Euromaydan their attitude completely changed. In the experts’ opinion, the media, that face the pressure of the authorities, isn’t mass-media at all, but the "fifth column", "Moscow agents", "accomplices of the separatists" and "violators of journalistic standards".
Political strategist Dmitry Raimov believes that the activities of IMI and Detector Media have nothing in common with journalism and observance of standards.”As it was used to say in the USSR, they are the fighters of the information front, a part of the ecosystem of the authorities’ information policy."
Similar to IMI and Detector organizations work in two directions in the US and Europe. They protect the rights of journalists in court, providing qualified legal assistance, and respond to complaints of violation of journalistic standards and journalistic ethics.
At the same time, all of them have a high level of trust among their colleagues. "In Ukraine, it's part of the information war in the country against disagreeable journalists. I would call it's a selective justice, as for some reason pro-government colleagues aren’t asked any questions," Dmitriy Raimov believes.
Natalia Ligacheva has called herself for a long time a media ombudsman, not only a media critic. In particular, she stands up for freedom of action of opposition editions, common standards of democracy in the media. Nevertheless, in recent years, Ligacheva called to stop and restrict media activities, so she became an outspoken cog in pro-government propaganda," Andrei Blinov commented. He’s a chief editor of Radio Vesti, a part of the holding that Ligacheva called the law enforcement agencies to set a year ago. By the way, that fact did not prevent her from appearing on Vesti air.
However, according to Vyacheslav Chechilo, in recent time Ligacheva and Romanyuk’s activities are rather focused on creating a warm atmosphere for the Ukrainian authorities rather than to the West. Allegedly they somehow influence the media with the help of Romanyuk and Ligacheva.
At the same time, Chechilo is convinced that such watchdogs aren’t popular any more among media community or society: "These elderly Komsomol members are no longer needed. That’s why they’re on the side of Poroshenko’s bots. Typical money-grabbing from their clients is what they do now. Poroshenko's environment was sold the past, the illusion that he can control the media, influence disagreeable journalists and set standards with the help of Ligacheva and Romanyuk. Of course, that’s not true any more."
In his opinion, IMI and Detector Media don’t influence journalists any longer. "Everyone is clear that these are just subjective assessments of individuals. They irritate, but not as much as a foul comment on Facebook," the journalist believes.
However, in a sense, such a position of IMI and Detector Media towards mass-media is a source of threat. Hushing up problems with freedom of speech in Ukraine in fact gives the authorities a free hand to persecute journalists.
"Hushing up the crimes against mass-media generates impunity. Almost a half of the cases taken to the court got a verdict of not guilty. The rest of the cases are adjudged suspended sentences and fines. The absence of precedents of fair punishment for attacks on journalists provokes new ones across the country," Sergei Tomilenko says.
However, the watchdogs start losing their authority both at the international and national levels. The media market participants have been treating them with condescension and even with some degree of neglect.
"They listen to the opinion of those experts who don’t support any ideology and try to remain independent. Natalia Lvovna is trying to prove to everyone that she is at the front, information front", Andrei Blinov believes.
Natalia Vlaschenko admits that as for her there aren’t such websites as Detector Media and such experts as Ligacheva and Romanyuk.
“My colleagues also have not taken them seriously for a long time. If earlier Telekritika site was interested by the media market, so now there is nothing to read on Detector Media. There is no lively, interesting, paradoxical journalism. There is a political order to persecute selected journalists and media, and they work it out," Vlaschenko says.
She has old and special relationships with Ligacheva. The scandal over the interview with Andrei Portnov, unilaterally and manipulatively highlighted by Detector Media is not the first and not the last. When Ligacheva was in charge of Telekritika, the media community was discussing elections to the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting. Vlaschenko and her colleague Lyudmila Dobrovolskaya supported Maria Burmaka’s candidacy.
“Soon Telecritika published a post of a blogger named Alexei Mazur. He wrote that we supported Burmaka, because we went together to the baths and in some boutiques. This is the way this man imagined female friendship. I was laughing loudly while reading. I called Ligacheva. I said, “Natalia Lvovna, what is this?” She calmly replied, "This is his opinion, and it has the right to exist." Since then I never applied to Ligacheva. It became clear to me, Natalia Vlaschenko recalls.
In addition, there is an internal crisis in the structure of these organizations. Two leading employees left Ligacheva over the past few months. They are the program director of the OO Detector Media Roman Shutov and the executive director Diana Dutsik, who held her position since 2014. They did not make any public comments on the reasons for their quit.
“Now the Ukrainian media community is in withdrawal. Journalists observe and note which experts and organizations protect them, and which don’t. Previously, every media stewed in its own juice, they were not so interested in this expert kitchen, and now, when a journalist finds out that there is no information about the attack on him in any report, he start thinking about who is his friend and who is his enemy," Sergey Tomilenko comments.
It is important to note that for all years of independence in Ukraine there has never been an alternative to such self-proclaimed experts as Romanyuk and Ligacheva. Over the last 10 years, some or other organizations in Ukraine have assumed the right to talk about media standards. But there is still no organization whose authority would be accepted by all the journalists. The organization mustn’t divide the media community, but, on the contrary, unite it. Its activities shouldn’t be reduced to sorting things out a la "who’s the most honest".
“It is the reader / viewer who decides whether a journalist is good or bad, - Dmitry Raimov says. - Anyone who buys a magazine pays for a subscription. As for journalistic ethics, there must be a commission. It should consist of professional journalists, who are highly respected in society. It is important that the commission cannot prohibit reading a journalist’s articles or, what is worse, persecute him by security forces. But it must exist as part of the ecosystem and be an internal arbiter. And now - it's not an ecosystem, it's a war against everybody."
Vyacheslav Chechilo recalls, "In due time, Telekritika really was an important part of the media community. But not because there was Ligacheva, but because de facto Telekritika relayed the position of grantors, embassies of Western countries.”
“Roughly speaking, they considered opinion of the US embassy, not hers. Now the embassies have other channels of communication with the media community, the mediators turned out to be unnecessary and passed from hand to hand," he says.
Ligacheva and Romanyuk are already skeptically assessed not only in Ukraine, but also abroad.
There is more anxiety in recent reports of international organizations, especially the ones that aren’t connected with IMI and Detector Media by partnership or grants. And they still include the cases hushed up by Ukrainian media experts.
So, recently, the statement of the director of the Freedom House in Ukraine Matthew Schaaf stirred the media circles. He said that political and economic pressure makes Ukrainian journalists avoid critical topics. By the way, this news was not published by either IMI or Detector Media.
The former head of IMI Victoria Syumar doubted Schaaf’s words. "I really want to hear from the authoritative Freedom House - which topics Ukrainian journalists avoid" because of the pressure? Exactly and without cliché? PS Otherwise, such statements look like political declarations in order to form Ukraine's negative image in the world," she wrote in her Facebook page.
By the way, this post was actively discussed in the social network. Oksana Romanyuk also commented a lot. She admitted that her behavior didn’t correspond journalistic ethics. At the last Poroshenko’s press conference she asked to sit apart from the editor of the Strana Svetlana Kryukova as a person non grata. Romanyuk sent SMS about this to journalist Nastya Stanko.
The authorities restricted freedom of speech in Ukraine, allegedly under the pretext of national security. But in most cases political issues are limited, and not those that can really threat national security. Attempts to increase control in the Internet are regarded as an intensification of censorship, "said Matthew Schaaf during the discussion about Threats to Freedom of Speech in Ukraine held at the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine. He added that he does not approve the situation when the restriction of freedom of speech is explained by considerations of national security because of Russia’s aggression.
By the way, when Syumar doubted the existence of self-censorship among Ukrainian journalists, Schaaf named specific topics that Ukrainian journalists avoided in articles. Among them are anti-terrorist operation, ATO (the speech about a possible violation of human rights by the Armed Forces of Ukraine), corruption in the military sphere, business interests of President Petro Poroshenko (his promises to sell property, offshore scandals, holidays in the Maldives, icons) as well activities of ultra-right groups as C14 and National Squad.
As you can see, Freedom House's position on freedom of speech in Ukraine differs from the one presented by Romanyuk and Ligacheva Authoritative international organizations are being informed by alternative sources about the pressure on the Ukrainian media by the authorities. First of all by the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.
Still, Ukraine is not separated from the rest of the world by the Iron Curtain. It is very difficult to conceal anything in the 21st century even under the pretext of taking care of the national interests.