Interview by Jyllands-Posten (Denmark) published on Sept 8, 2016, translated to English and posted to the Academia.edu page of Ivan Katchanovksi

 

Is the attack on Inter TV a sign that Ukrainian right-wing nationalists are increasingly trying to influence the agenda of the news media, or how would you interpret it?

 

Ivan Katchanovski: This attack on the Inter TV channel is the latest in a series of such attacks against Inter, other TV channels and newspapers by far right organizations such as the Right Sector, Svoboda Party and the Azov regiment of the National Guard following the ‘Euromaidan’ uprising. But in this case, far right activists have escalated the level of violence by brazenly setting on fire the most popular Ukrainian television channel.

 

This attack also follows a pattern of violent attacks by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi organizations, including the Maidan Massacre of February 2014 and the Odesa Massacre three months later. They used similar tactics of burning tires and Molotov cocktails, as in the case of the Odesa arson massacre.

 

A Ukrainian media report cited unnamed sources among the far right, members of Parliament, and Inter TV saying that the Minister of Internal Affairs hired the far right group Bratsvo, members of the ‘Azov’ Battalion, units of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and a former Right Sector activist who served as the head of the National Police drugs department and commanded a police volunteer battalion to attack Inter with the aim of seizing control of this TV channel.

 

As in the case of the Odesa massacre, the failure by the police to stop the arson attack and the swift release by police of the attackers provide indirect corroboration of such involvement. A member of the St Mary’s special police battalion, organized and led by Bratstvo, is identified as a co-coordinator of the Inter TV blockade. He said that they reached an agreement with Inter to change its content in exchange for the suspension of the blockade, and if the content would not be changed within five days they would renew the blockade in a much more brutal form.

 

Inter denies the agreement with the far right. The Inter statement suggests that [President] Poroshenko intervened to stop the blockade. Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Liovochkin, two former pro-Yanukovych oligarchs who own this TV channel, made a secret deal with Poroshenko in spring 2014 and helped to elect him as president, in particular, with help of Inter TV coverage.

 

In any case, this attack by the elements of far right and the government is likely to further limit media freedom and affect the content of the media reports in Ukraine to a greater extent by increasing pressure on journalists and oligarchic owners of the media.

 

Inter turned into a pro-government and anti-Russian TV channel after the Euromaidan. It was generally pro-Yanukovych before then, but helped to launch Euromaidan itself by publicizing the violent police dispersal of the Maidan protesters on November 30, 2013. Various evidence suggests that this dispersal was known in advance to the Inter owners and the Maidan opposition and was used to mobilize mass protests. Inter ignored or downplayed the Right Sector attack of the police leading up to and during this dispersal.

 

In general – would you say that Ukrainian media has become less free or more biased over the period since the February 2014 events? Petro Poroshenko has reneged on his promise to divest himself of his media assets (Channel 5). Has the period since 2014 brought about major changes in the ownership of Ukrainian media, or is it largely unchanged?

 

IK: My analysis presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia last week shows a significant deterioration of the media freedom after the Euromaidan. [1]

 

Although Yanukovych, his party and the government used the Firtash and Liovochkin-owned Inter TV channel and some other TV channels during election campaigns, these TV channels offered overwhelmingly pro-Maidan coverage of the violent police dispersal of Euromaidan protesters on November 30, 2013 and the Maidan Mssacre on February 20, 2014. Such coverage helped to significantly increase popular support for the Maidan parties and delegitimize the Yanukovych government.

 

In contrast to some opposition channels, such as Channel 5, owned by Poroshenko, during the Yanukovych presidency, no anti-Maidan opposition national TV channels have remained since the Euromaidan.

 

Similarly, no major anti-Maidan opposition national newspapers remain after the Euromaidan. broadcasts of nearly all Russian TV channels were banned in Ukraine by the Maidan government, which also established the Ministry of Information to promote the government propaganda and counter-propaganda during the war in Donbas.

 

The Myrotvorets [‘Peacemaker’] website, created with the involvement of government officials to publicly list names of separatists [sic] and other “anti-Ukrainian” persons, accused Western journalists and Ukrainian journalists, in particular, from many leading media outlets of supporting “terrorists” because they received accreditation from a separatist [sic] agency in order to cover the conflict on Donbas. This website published the names and the contact information of these journalists.

 

The official investigation concluded that Oles Buzyna, an opposition journalist and writer, was assassinated near his home by activists of C14, a neo-Nazi affiliate of Svoboda, soon after this government-linked website posted his name and home address.

 

I was told by a Ukrainian political expert that many Ukrainian TV channels have ‘stop’ lists with the names of blacklisted experts and politicians, and that discussions from perspectives that challenge the government narrative are not allowed of such topics as the Maidan Massacre, the war in Donbas and the conflict with Russia.

 

A Western-sponsored Ukrainian online publication devoted to the media in Ukraine recently casually disclosed another piece of evidence of political censorship. It cited an anonymous source from law enforcement agencies saying that TV channels have had “content supervisors” for the last two years. This publication and several other recent Ukrainian media reports revealed attempts by Poroshenko and his confidants to acquire control over 1+1 TV channel and news channels such as 112 Ukraina TV in order to consolidate the largely authoritarian system in Ukraine. These publications suggest that ownerships of these popular TV channels have already changed. But their real, as opposed to nominal, current owners are not easy to determine to confirm if this was the case.

 

We have encountered a number of high profile killings of journalists in Ukraine over the past two years – including very different cases such as Oles Buzina and Pavel Sjeremet. Is there any indication that violence against news media and its employees are on the increase, or is this simply the unfortunate state of affairs in Ukraine (remembering cases such as that of Gongadze)? [2]

 

IK: The number and the profile of violent attacks against journalists significantly increased since the Euromaidan. The assassinations of Buzyna and Sheremet represented the most high-profile killings of journalists. In addition, some Ukrainian journalists reported receiving threats for their accreditation with a separatist [sic] ministry to cover the war in Donbas or for their criticism of the government.

 

Ivan Katchanovski Ph.D. is a researcher and lecturer at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

 

Notes:
[1] The ‘Euromaidan’, Democracy, and Political Values in Ukraine. Paper presented by Ivan Katchanovski to the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia, September 1-4, 2016. Here on Academia.edu.

 

[2] Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze was a Georgian-born Ukrainian journalist and film director who was kidnapped and murdered in 2000. Wikipedia.

 

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