Ukraine’s National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting has revoked the licence of Priamyi FM, an opposition radio station, and continues to pressure its sister broadcaster, Priamyi TV. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the harassment of this privately-owned media group for nearly a year and calls for Priamyi FM’s licence to be restored.
The station’s licence was withdrawn on 3 September on the grounds that it did not comply with a requirement to begin broadcasting with a year of being issued broadcast frequencies. It is true that Priamyi FM did not use two of the frequencies it was assigned but that was because they were defective, as the radio station reported in December 2019.
Reputedly close to the government, the Council ignored Priamyi FM’s request for new frequencies and has instead now rescinded the radio station’s licence without any warning – a first in the Council’s history. The Priamyi media group has announced that it will appeal against the decision.
Priamyi TV has meanwhile been subjected to three inspections by the Council within the space of six months – in January, April and June of this year. Each inspection had a legal justification – insults on the air, for example. But other media guilty of similar violations have not been inspected.
The National Bureau of Investigation (DBR), which polices the police in Ukraine, has also had its sights on Priamyi TV since the summer of 2019, when it began investigating its owner, Volodimir Makienko, on suspicion of embezzlement. The DBR searched his apartment in November 2019 and was given permission by a court in the Kiev district of Pechersk on 18 February 2020 to seize administrative documents from Priamyi TV. They were returned after no incriminating evidence was found.
Priamyi TV producer Svitlana Orlovska says a new raid on the TV channel is due to be carried out soon while DBR chief investigator Oleh Koretskyi said on 8 July that he had been under considerable pressure from his superiors to ensure that Priamyi TV stopped broadcasting.
“In the run-up to local elections in October, the withdrawal Priamyi FM’s licence is an initial, dangerous step towards censorship,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The repeated, arbitrary inspections of Priamyi TV constitute unacceptable political pressure. All these ploys violate article 5 of Ukraine’s broadcasting law and threaten the media pluralism that is necessary for democratic debate. We call for the radio station’s licence to be restored and for an end to the harassment of the TV channel.”
A TV news channel that is critical of the current government and has many viewers, Priamyi TV is itself receiving a great deal of criticism nowadays because of the favourable treatment it gives to former President Petro Poroshenko, and its hostility towards his opponents. A former pro-Poroshenko parliamentarian, Priamyi TV’s owner insisted in 2017 that he would not interfere in its editorial policies.
The broadcast media in Ukraine are extremely polarized by the country’s divisive politics. Ukraine is ranked 96th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.