On Friday October 22 STB channel journalists Ivanna Kobernyk (hosting the “Relevant Camera” program), Artem Petrenko (program editor), and Iryna Chemerys (STB press service chief) said that the channel is experiencing direct censorship by presidential aide Serhiy Kutsy.
Ms. Kobernyk told The Day that on October 20 Artem Petrenko and she were preparing a program with the participation of Mykola Kniazhytsky, member of the National Television and Radio Council and former STB president. The program intended to discuss problems of journalistic ethics in connection with the court litigation that took place on the same day between Mr. Kniazhytsky and Kievskie Vedomosti which had published last summer Mariana Chorna's (an STB journalist whose death was officially ruled a suicide –Ed. ) posthumous letters addressed personally to Mr. Kniazhytsky and chairman of the STB administrative board Syvkovych. However, early in the morning, Mr. Kutsy, who has long been consulting for STB journalists, expressed doubt about the necessity of inviting Mr. Kniazhytsky to take part in the program. Instead of the planned subject, Mr. Kutsy suggested that the program discuss the problem of Verkhovna Rada investigative commissions, and gave an unequivocal instruction, “You must say that these commissions exist, but they are useless.”
Kobernyk and Petrenko refused to obey the instructions of Mr. Kutsy's and his supporter, STB acting editor-in-chief Vadym Denysenko. However, at 19:45, two hours before going on the air, the latter officially confirmed that Mr. Kniazhytsky would not be allowed in. In the last moment, Mr. Denysenko himself went on the air and hosted the program on investigative commissions.
Mr. Kniazhytsky told The Day he had planned to raise what was in his opinion a very important problem on the program. The point is that Ukraine is now witnessing its first-ever court trial about the protection of constitutional human rights: the privacy of correspondence and the right of the individual to the confidentiality of his private life. Now, says Mr. Kniazhytsky, that all the media are full of mudslinging, it is very important for people to know that their rights are reliably protected by the Constitution and a number of Ukrainian laws.
The Day has learned that Mr. Kutsy's presence at STB became especially persistent after the channel's bank account was frozen. He directly interferes in the content of news programs and texts to be read out. However, while previously censorship only extended to how to cover Leonid Kuchma's activities, there have also been instructions in the past few days about a complete information blackout of the other presidential candidates.
The other option is to give information, by a special instruction, aimed at bringing the candidates in conflict with each other, especially if it is the question of the Kaniv Four. The subdued resistance by the bulk of journalists is attributed here to the fear of losing one’s job. In particular, many STB employees were afraid to speak to The Day’s correspondent, while those who talked about what was going on asked their names not be disclosed.
In essence, this is the struggle to privatize the STB channel management waged by individuals and structures directly connected with the President of Ukraine. At one time, the top authorities decided that the channel should be chaired by Vadym Dolhanov (Mr. Kuchma’s aide at the time). But the channel founders said they disagreed with this, so, according to Mr. Syvkovych, a compromise option was accepted: it was decided to co-opt Serhiy Kutsy, a governmental official, to the channel board, which a gross violation of the law.
What has happened became the last straw for STB journalists, which has helped them overcome their fear and stand up, above all, for their own dignity. This is the statement STB press secretary Ms. Chemerys made to The Day:
“When direct censorship is imposed, every journalist faces the problem of moral choice: to reconcile oneself to this or protest.
“As for me, what is now going on at my channel is simply a return to Soviet times, to the epoch of Brezhnev’s rule. And if I completely forgot the way it was at that time, I could perhaps opt for an allegedly temporary conflict with my own self. But I remember very well the atmosphere of moral oppression, when you know and understand the truth but are unable to utter it.”
As it seems to us, no other comments are necessary to all this. Ivanna Kobernyk, Iryna Chemerys, Artem Petrenko, Oleksandr Bohutsky, and Vasyl Prykordonny have so far written, as they said, applications for a vacation. “Relevant Camera” was hosted by Vadym Denysenko for two days in a row. And The Day is launching a call to all journalists, all human-rights organizations of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Union of Journalists, and People’s Deputies, to join The Day’s journalists who are expressing their protest against censorship in a country which is on the threshold not only of elections but also the third millennium.