KIEV, Aug. 30 – A Kiev court of appeals on Monday upheld a previous ruling stripping two independent television stations of frequencies, a move that may suspend their expansion in the country’s regions and potentially destroy the channels.
Channel 5 and TVi, which are known for allowing opposition figures to speak and to criticize the authorities, were challenged by a rival media group owned and controlled by Ukraine’s security service chief Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy.
The development is perhaps the most critical attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine since the election of Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency in February.
“By the hands of the new Ukrainian KGB, Yanukovych has stolen from Channel 5 and TVi the opportunity to deliver the truth, and from the society - the right to obtain objective information,” Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the leader of the largest opposition group in Parliament, said.
The ruling comes on a day when Yanukovych has been visiting Germany and assuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Ukraine is committed to democracy and the freedom of speech.
“The question that we face is whether Ukraine will have one of the liberties that is called the freedom of speech,” Yuriy Stets, a lawmaker from the opposition Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense group, said.
“The authorities demonstrated one more time that it can do whatever they want and nobody can prohibit them from doing so,” Stets said. “There is no power that could stop them.”
Channel 5 and TVi will be able to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court of Appeals after the Kiev Court of Appeals issues the ruling on Sept. 3, but few expect that the stations will prevail.
“I cannot say that the ruling was unexpected,” Stets said.
Three Ukrainian television stations, Channel 5, TVi and Chernomorska, earlier this month went on a one-hour warning strike in protest of what they call encroachment on the freedom of speech.
Should the channels lose the frequencies, their expansion into Ukrainian regions would be reversed, effectively reducing their broadcast to few cities, such as Kiev.
That may undermine the channels financially by reducing their potential advertizing revenues, and may eventually trigger massive layoffs of journalists.
The International Press Institute (IPI), the world’s oldest global press freedom organization, in an open letter to President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday, expressed concerns over “significant deterioration” in the press freedom in Ukraine.
The Vienna-based IPI is the second international media organization to issue the criticism in less than a month after the Paris-based Reporter Without Border had slammed the authorities with the same criticism on July 20. (tl/ez)