05 February 2021

A truly unhealthy situation with freedom of speech and the activities of the mass media has developed in Ukraine. The closure of three television channels, as well as the Nazi radicals' attempts to attack NASH TV channel, are an alarming signal to society that the practice of silencing of dissent, which was so actively harnessed during the Petro Poroshenko time, is coming back to the country. Journalists who have opinions different from the official ones are labelled as “separatists”, “vatniks” (sort of Pro-Russian jingoists) and “agents of Moscow”. The channels are accused of "working for enemy propaganda" without a court order and thorough examination. A new wave of “witch hunt” commences.

In this situation, the first thing attention should be drawn to is the basic principle of democracy – the principle of freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine. Whatever the pretext is, no matter how noble the goals are, it is obvious that the principle of freedom of speech is grossly violated.

NewsOne, 112 and ZIK TV channels were not exemplars of free journalism, as many experts admit. The practice of blacklisting, internal censorship, bias and subjectivity were characteristic of these media. However, they had their own picture of the world, they had their own position and their own journalist teams. And they had their own viewers too. One can argue with the owners and management about how objectively these media channels present information, but legitimate and market-based methods should be used in order to compete with them and fight for viewers. Such methods as creation and development of your own television channels and own television products. Fighting opponents with bans and sanctions is a weak position.

NASH TV channel is very uncomfortable for many because of acute topics raised by it, because of its sharp-word authors and its readiness to provide a platform for discussions to all political forces – without ideological restrictions. But this is not a reason to send crowds of "boys for hire" from a Nazi community, who have been serving the authorities for several years now as a tool to intimidate dissidents and disliked ones, to the walls of the television studio. Victory ought to be gained through a fair discussion.

Secondly, there is a concept of the rule of law. In Ukraine, the relationship of the state with media is thoroughly regulated by law. It is impossible to make such decisions with a stroke of the pen: there is a procedure, there are relevant institutions that are authorized to resolve controversial issues. I assume that the President had good reasons for taking certain steps, but this is not a reason to defy the law and violate the established procedures.

It raises concerns that the persecution of TV channels and journalists on social networks and in online media outlets has reached a truly threatening scale: the language of hatred is again heard in society, which, as it would seem, we began to eradicate two years ago. Ukrainians are again divided and opposed to each other. Last year gave us all an example of how society can unite in the face of a common mischief – the coronavirus. Then, there was no division by party affiliation, ethnicity or confession. Everyone was united in the fight against the epidemic. Why to revive the ghosts of war and confrontation again?

Many people do not like Viktor Medvedchuk personally. Yes, I do not accept his political methods either. But Medvedchuk should be fought against with the help of political tools, and not using administrative levers.

Why should ordinary citizens become hostages of the political infighting? Why should 1,500 journalists and TV channel staff members suffer, as they may be left without a livelihood? Are they also enemies of Ukraine? Are they all agents of the Kremlin too? Who is ready to be responsible for the financial situation of their family members? Most of them are young people with small children.

I consider the current situation in the media environment and around the television channels as extremely unhealthy and alarming. We are witnessing the practice of simple solutions, which, as a rule, leads to serious diseases in society.

Simple solutions are only an illusion of efficiency fraught with big threats. Simple solutions can bring temporary results, but strategically they turn into serious problems and defeats. That is why it is necessary to return to the democratic principles of the rule of law, legality, and respect for basic human rights. This is the only way out of the unhealthy situation that has developed in Ukraine which, if aggravated, can lead to devastating consequences.

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