28th January was a bit of a strange day for Ukrainian media and the rule of law in the nation with regards to international commentary.
In what was an absolutely foregone ruling, Aleksie Pukash was quite rightly jailed for life for his part in the murder of Gregory Gongadze – something hailed as a “milestone toward justice” by the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists.
I have to say “milestone towards justice” seems a little overenthusiastic when it comes to metaphors, considering those who gave instruction to Pukash to carry out this heinous act remain free and were not implicated in the Pukash court ruling. Plus, as I say, the verdict was never in doubt.
On the same day, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) issued its “State of Media Freedom in Europe” report in which there are significant issues concerning Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the UK, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Serbia, FYR Macedonia and of course Ukraine.
82. Regarding the investigations of the murder in 2000 of Georgiy Gongadze, an investigative journalist
and founder of the Ukrainska Pravda (Ukraine Truth) website, the trial began in April 2011 against Olexiy
Pukach, a former Interior Ministry official, who had reportedly confessed to playing a direct part in the murder
of Gongadze. As journalists and other members of the public have been barred from the proceedings, the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the secrecy and irregularities in the Pukach trial and the
previous failures to deliver prompt and impartial justice as significant setbacks in the fight against impunity.
The CPJ reported that in 2011 journalists in Ukraine continued to face persistent danger from threats and
physical attacks, and suffered censorship.
83. In March 2010, Vasyl Demyaniv, the editor of independent newspaper Kolomoyiskiy Vestnyk, suffered
a fractured skull and knee injuries when he was attacked in a public street. Two defendants were convicted
and the motive was said to have been robbery, but Demyaniv stated that the two convicted men were
innocent and that he had been attacked in retaliation for critical reporting on local government issues.
84. The Institute of Mass Information, a Kiev-based media monitoring organisation, reported that at least
25 physical assaults took place against journalists because of their work during the period from 2010 to
2011. The IMI disputes a claim by the Interior Minister that the great majority of those attacks against
journalists are unrelated to their work. The IMI says that in at least ten cases the perpetrators were law
enforcement agents or other public officials.
85. In Ukraine, the presidential election of January and February 2010 was marred by blatantly partisan
coverage by various media favouring one or other of the two main rival candidates, Viktor Yanukovich and
Yulia Tymoshenko. TV channels allowed candidates to pay to appear and to place pre-recoded material on
news and current affairs programmes, undermining the principle of media independence and objectivity. The
ODIHR election observation mission noted that regional media consistently showed a bias in favour of the
regional party or parties in power in each case. ODIHR recommended that rules on coverage of government
ministers or others holding public office should forbid broadcasters from giving them privileged treatment in
coverage during campaign periods. It also called for the state National Television Company of Ukraine to be
transformed into a public service broadcaster. The government has initiated moves to do so and every effort
should be made to implement the proposal without delay and in line with Council of Europe standards on
impartiality and independence.”
Not much surprising in any of that – other than how little content there actually is relating to Ukraine.
Will any of what was written about Ukraine by the CPJ or PACE change the way media operates in Ukraine despite their encouragement? Of course not. What will change the way media operates in Ukraine is the split of the oligarchy from “the family” within the Party of Regions when it comes to media manipulation – at least for the time being.
As the 2015 presidential elections get closer, you have to foresee a situation where “the family” will be forced into the backseat once again in favour of the oligarchy media assets as fas as President Yanukovych is concerned – thus their inclusion back to the inner, inner circle is likely to begin in 2014.
Hopefully by that time, the oligarchy will have been left out in the cold slightly too long and will have found a horse they prefer to back other than Yanukovych.
Time will tell.