Opposition television station suspended in Ukraine
Reporters Without Borders condemns the sudden change of management at the opposition TV station TVi, announced three days ago, and is disturbed to learn that ensuing internal disputes have resulted in broadcasting being suspended.
“We deplore the new management's appalling treatment of this independent TV station's journalists and we urge it to recognize the new TVi journalists' union and to accept its demands,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“These demands are release of information allowing the station's new owners to be identified, restoration of the previous programming schedule, and revocation of the unjustified dismissal of one of the journalists.
“We also urge the new management not to try to divide its staff by exploiting personal disputes and to guarantee the editorial independence of the station's investigative reporting and news services.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We are disturbed by the lack of financial transparency surrounding certain media owners in Ukraine and the increasing concentration of ownership in few hands, which threatens diversity in the provision of news and information.”
TVi's press department announced changes in the station's sources of financing and its top management on 23 April.
The new management said Alexander Altman, a US businessman of Ukrainian origin, had legally obtained a controlling interest, replacing Konstantin Kagalovsky, a British citizen of Russian origin and former shareholder in the Russian oil company Yukos, who founded TVi along with Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
It was also announced that Artem Shevchenko, one of the station's presenters, had replaced Natalka Katerynchuk as its chief executive. The former management described these developments as a “raid.”
Altman and Shevchenko reportedly portrayed the changes as the only way to prevent the station from being sold to government supporters. Thanks to them, the stations would “remain out of the control of any political group, or business group or the present government” and would continue to be an “objective news source.”
The station's journalists were denied access to their offices on 23 April and Shevchenko cancelled plans to broadcast a debate in which the various parties to the dispute would explain their positions. Following this decision, almost all the journalists went on strike.
Altman was not yet unveiled his business strategy for the station or explained the implications of an authorization that would allow its signal to be carried on national TV broadcast networks in the near future.
No information as to the identity of the people who are backing Altman has been provided by either Shevchenko or Mykola Knyazhitsky, a former TVi chief executive who is now an opposition parliamentarian and a member of the Freedom of Information Committee.
One of TVi's presenters, Mustafa Nayem, told Reporters Without Borders he was concerned about the possible involvement of government officials in the takeover. “We want to know what is really going on and why the police have not reacted,” he said. “For the time being, the suspension of programming seems to have bothered no one.”
TVi has until now been regarded as one of Ukraine's two opposition TV stations. A court stripped it of its main over-the-air broadcast frequency in 2010 as a result of a case brought by Inter Media Group, a rival broadcasting company.
Last year, TVi was the subject of a tax audit and many cable TV operators were forced to drop its signal, causing it to lose a third of its viewers.
Ukraine fell 10 places in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is now ranked 126th out of 179 countries.