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A Ukrainian Journalist is Sacked for... Pessimism


In the second largest Ukrainian city of Kharkov a journalist is sacked as it is officially stated for pessimism and criticism towards the new Ukrainian Constitution Draft.

Vladimir Sobolevsky worked for the state-owned National TV Kharkov branch. He interviewed a notable Ukrainian economist A. Gugel who took part in the work over the new Constitution Draft. In the aired program Gugel "expressed some pessimistic, unfounded remarks concerning the prepared Ukrainian Constitution Draft and the relationship between the Parliament and President of Ukraine; he did not offered any proposition as to the way out of the present situation in Ukraine. The correspondent did not comment on these remarks, thus expressing his agreement with them". This is exact wording of the official order dismissing Sobolevsky from his work. The order is signed by A. Yemets, the director general of the National TV Kharkov regional branch ("state-owned" TV as it is literally stressed in the exact name of the TV company).

The Local Trade Union Branch Committee whose agreement to the dismissal is still required by the Ukrainian Law (a rudiment of the Soviet system, as well as the Ukrainian Trade Union itself, an "official" one as it is usually addressed to) voting 5 to 1 supported the director's decision to sack Sobolevsky. As one of the members of the Local Trade Union Committee, TV engineer A.Varets instructively said, "the State TV must coincide with the State interests and State TV journalists must have the State's point of view".

Director Yemets who was present at the Committee's sitting stressed that Sobolevsky was dismissed because the program prepared by him "did not correspond to the broadcasting policy of the Regional State TV company".

Ukraine is suffocating with the severe economic crisis. The enterprises have nearly completely stopped. The all mighty and ever expanding in number bureaucracy makes any investment into Ukrainian economy absolutely ineffective. The permanent strikes of workers who are not getting their wages for months make all those investment even dangerous. The prices are unexplainably spiralling up and have already surpassed in some cases the world level. Corruption has reached the tremendous scopes.

In these conditions the President's position is rather unstable. Having been heralded as the president-reformer in 1994 Kuchma has practically done nothing to reform the Ukrainian economy mainly because he did not manage to withstand the bureaucratic resistance. It is now widely understood that the loudly made promise to close up the Chernobyl atomic power station cannot be kept because of the energy crisis in Ukraine. It seems that the only possible getaway left for Kuchma is by all means to immediately adopt the new allegedly democratic Constitution which will allow him to retain the image of the reformer and to go on sucking money from the Western countries to be drowned in the immeasurable Ukrainian bureaucratic abyss.

That is why all the officials in the cities and regions of Ukraine are working hard to produce the picture of universal approval of the Constitution Draft as it was in 1977 when the last Soviet Constitution was adopted during the communist regime. This excludes any critical remarks as to the Draft.

The Kharkov journalist is considered to be "the first victim of the new Ukrainian Constitution".

While the American non-profit institution, the Freedom House solemnly awarded President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine the "Freedom Award" as it was put to "recognise President Kuchma's leadership in promoting a democratic and independent Ukraine", the former Soviet dissident and Radio Liberty observer Vladimir Malinkovich, who returned to Ukraine after years of exile, thinks that Kuchma received that Award for anything but democratic achievements.

Malinkovich says that the Sobolevsky's incident clearly demonstrates that in Ukraine the political censorship is already introduced, that prosecutions against journalists on political ground are going on in Ukraine, and what is the most important, this case shows that the new Ukrainian Constitution Draft discussion cannot be regarded as free.

This is not the first example of attacks against the press in Ukraine. The local bureaucracy believes that the so called State's point of view and the State's interests coincide with their own ones. They are sure dissidents should be barred on this ground from the State owned TV, radio and newspapers. They consider the Freedom of Speech to be "a very expensive and unnecessary toy" for Ukrainians.

Last year the City Council owned TV company director in Donetsk Gennady Kondaurov prohibited to air the very popular TV programme "Vybor" ("Choice"). As Kondaurov explained in the local media, "the programme considerably deviated from the State official point of view". This decision provoked a surge of indignation among the residents of Donbass, the Ukrainian major industrial area. According to the ITAR-TASS news agency report of June 27, 1995, there was picketing of the Donetsk City Hall and the authorities "rushed to call police units which dispersed the picketers". The initiators were detained. The programme was never renewed.

In January this year Ukrainian mass media were shocked at the closure of the very popular programme "Pislyamova" ("Afterward") by the National State-owned TV leadership in the capital Kiev. It is strongly believed there are political motives behind the decision.

In Ukraine it is quite a common thing for an editor-in-chief to get an official letter of the sort which is at the author's disposal: "Since the situation requires it, I ask you to present the information (name, age, ethnicity, home address, telephone numbers etc.) and the description of character of your newspaper correspondent..." (The letter is signed by the Donetsk City Criminal Police head).

Like it was in 1970 in the United States when the "New York Times" reporter Earl Coldwell was ordered to reveal to a federal grand jury his sources in the Black Panther organisation that threatened his independence as a newsgatherer, and American journalists created the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Ukrainian journalists in Kharkov and Donetsk decided to follow their American colleagues' example and to create the Ukrainian Centre for the Freedom of Speech to deal with above described cases.

Maybe, the Civil Liberties are very expensive at the moment for Ukraine but it is the only way to cope with the national bureaucracy.

May 1996


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