Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern at the constant harassment of the privately-owned national television station TVi. Despite the dropping of tax evasion charges against its chief executive several months ago (see below), the station is under greater threat than ever.
On 5 September, Ukraine’s main satellite TV package, Volia, dropped TVi from its standard service. The station is now only available to viewers who subscribe to the most expensive package. This means TVi will have lost a large number of viewers. The standard service, which costs 25 grivnas (about 2.5 euros) per month, has 250,000 subscribers, compared with 78,000 who have signed up to the “Volia Vsesvit” package costing 80 grivnas (about 8 euros) per month.
The official reason given by Volia is technical requirements imposed by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council linked to the move to digital broadcasting. However, it is not an isolated incident. In recent weeks, TVi has been abruptly dropped from other satellite TV packages.
In late July, the Triolan cable network stopped retransmitting it “for technical reasons”, making it unavailable to more than 200,000 residents in 11 major cities. According to its management, TVi has lost a third of its audience since the start of summer. No other station has suffered similar action. TVi, one of the last national broadcasters to carry out investigative programs critical of the authorities, was among the stations that lost out in the disputed allocation of digital frequencies a year ago.
“We are struck by the number of such incidents that have built up in the past few weeks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While the Ukrainian media are more polarised than ever in the run-up to the elections on 28 October, this litany of misfortunes raises questions.
“It is all the more serious since diversity in the broadcasting sector is already highly restricted. We note that during 2011 the independent stations Fora and A/TVK in the city of Kharkiv were taken off the air and similar problems affected Krug TV in Odessa.
“Against this background, we urge the authorities in the interests of diversity in news and information to take legal steps and concrete action as quickly as possible and restore some balance to the broadcasting sector. Failure to act on their part would inevitably be seen as an admission of responsibility for the problems encountered by independent and opposition stations.”
Reporters Without Borders backs the call by TVi journalists and their supporters to hold demonstrations in a number of major Ukrainian cities tomorrow. In Kiev, the protest will be held from midday in Mykhaylovska Square.
In late July, the Kiev public prosecutor ordered the closure of an investigation into Mykola Knyazhytskiy, chief executive of TVi (also a parliamentary candidate on the list of the United Opposition party of Yulia Timoshenko). The prosecutor ruled that it did not have sufficient legal basis. However, the case against the station is still under way and the next hearing is due on 13 September.
19.07.2012 - Independent TV station boss facing "tax evasion" charge
Reporters Without Borders condemns the harassment of Mykola Knyazhitsky, the head of the privately-owned national television station TVi. Knyazhitsky is being investigated on a criminal charge of "tax evasion" following a raid on the station by tax inspectors on 12 July.
“This latest form harassment of the independent television station TVi is absolutely unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While we appreciate the importance of tax controls, we deplore the way the tax police raided TVi. We call for an investigation into the legality of this operation and we urge the authorities to respect media independence in the run-up to elections.”
During the 12 July raid, TVi interrupted its regular programming to provide live coverage of the tax inspectors examining its financial documents.
Knyazhitsky is being investigated under article 212 of the criminal code for allegedly evading more than 3 million hryvnias (305,000 euros) in Value Added Tax. He denies the charge and insists that he always submitted tax statements and paid his taxes to the Kiev tax department.
The dispute concerns the VAT on equipment that Knyazhitsky bought for the station when it was launched in 2008. Having paid VAT on the equipment at the time although it was exempt, because necessary for the station’s operations, he requested reimbursement, which he failed to obtain. When TVi proceeded to deduct this sum from its subsequent tax declarations, no objection was raised during tax inspections and the initiative seemed to have been regarded as legitimate.
However, on 14 April Knyazhitsky announced that TVi was being harassed by the tax department and that he had asked the interior minister and the Kiev city government to intervene. The station’s taxes were being subjected to very detailed inspections, the latest of which was ordered by the investigative police.
The station has been the target of various forms of harassment for several years. In 2010, its over-the-air broadcast frequency was withdrawn by court order as a result of an action brought by Inter Media Group, a broadcasting company.
The close attention being paid to TVi’s finances violates an undertaking by the tax department in February that its tax inspections would be suspended from 1 April until after the parliamentary elections.
Owned by Konstantin Kagalovsky, a former shareholder in the oil company Yukos, TVi is one of the two TV stations that compete with the pro-government station Pershyi Natsionalnyi. It is now facing the possibility of being forced to close.
Around 100 journalists demonstrated outside the attorney-general’s office in Kiev today to protest against harassment of the media and, in particular, to show their support for the staff of TVi.