December 15, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Spy chief’s vice closes on two TV stations

Ukraine’s administrative supreme court began yesterday to examine the appeals of privately-owned TV stations TVi and 5 Kanal against the withdrawal of their over-the-air broadcast frequencies and licences. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for the two stations. If they are denied of the ability to broadcast, it will be the most dramatic example so far of the new government’s harassment of Ukraine’s media. TVi and 5 Kanal are appealing against an 8 June decision by a Kiev administrative court stripping them of their frequencies in response to a complaint filed by Inter Media Group challenging the National Broadcasting Council’s allocation in January of 33 frequencies to TVi, 26 to 5 Kanal and only 20 to the IMG’s stations. Ukraine’s biggest broadcasting group, IMG is owned by Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, who also happens to head the government’s main domestic spy agency, the SBU, and to be a member of the Judiciary Supreme Council, which appoints and dismisses judges. The concentration of so much power in one man’s hands constitutes a major conflict of interest that threatens media independence and judicial impartiality. The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly deplored this situation on 25 November, while the European Parliament, in a resolution the same day, condemned the withdrawal of frequencies from TVi and 5 Kanal and voiced concern that it was the result of a conflict of interests. Journalists from TVi, 5 Kanal and STB sent a joint letter to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Ukrainian president and prime minister on 13 December urging the Ukrainian authorities to heed the resolutions of these European institutions and to relieve Khoroshkovsky of some of his positions. These privately-owned TV stations have been subjected to other forms of harassment. SBU agents began following TVi director-general Mykola Knyazhytsky in June and continued until TVi journalists succeeded in filming an SBU surveillance vehicle outside the station. Oles Doniy, a parliamentarian, is currently trying to get the parliament to set up a special commission to investigate the case, while Knyazhytsky has asked the attorney general to investigate the surveillance to which he and his news editor, Vitaly Portnikov, were subjected . Ukrainska Pravda reporter Mustafa Nayem was meanwhile arrested on 13 December near 5 Kanal’s headquarters. Police escorted him to a nearby police station after ordering him to get out of 5 Kanal journalist Tatyana Danylenko’s car to check his identity papers. They said they arrested him because he seemed from his appearance to be from the Caucasus. After taking his mobile phone, they released him two hours later. Reporters Without Borders condemns the harassment of TVi and 5 Kanal journalists and urges the Ukrainian authorities to heed the resolutions issued by the Council of Europe and European Parliament on 25 November. It is vital that Khoroshkovsky should not longer be in a position to interfere in judicial proceedings or use the secret services to harass rival TV stations and thereby further the interests of his own media group, IMG. Finally, Reporters Without Borders urges the administrative supreme court to take account of all these factors when reaching its decision.