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Ukraine: Powerful media owner wins legal battle against two TV stations

Against controls: Activists stage a protest in support of Ukrainian TV Channel 5 outside a court building in Kiev, August 26, 2010. Channel 5 and Ukraine's National Committee of Television and Radio (UNCTR), have been disputing for some time now over a reduction in television frequencies available to the channel.

The Kiev administrative supreme court on Wednesday decided to uphold a lower court’s decision to withdraw the over-the-air broadcast frequencies that were assigned to two privately-owned TV stations, TVi and 5 Kanal, in January 2010, Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

The lower court’s decision was issued on June 8, 2010 in response to a complaint by Inter Media Group. Ukraine’s biggest broadcasting group, IMG is owned by Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, who also heads Ukraine’s main domestic intelligence agency, the SBU, and is a member of the Judiciary Supreme Council, which appoints and dismisses judges.

The appeal to the Kiev administrative supreme court was the last chance that TVi and 5 Kanal had to recover their frequencies by going to the Ukrainian courts. Ukraine’s supreme court could in theory overturn the decision but the case would have to be referred by the administrative supreme court (usually regarded as highest court in such matters) and that is highly unlikely.

TVi director-general Mykola Knyazhytsky and 5 Kanal’s representative, Tetyana Malashenkova, say they now want to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The January 26 ruling seems to confirm that the judicial authorities take their orders from the government, and that the government wants to reduce freedom of expression and the public’s access to information, according to RSF.

“This again proves the ineffectiveness of the courts and the fact that censorship is being reintroduced in our country to ensure that independent journalists are unable to express their views,” Knyazhytsky, told RSF. The management of 5 Kanal issued a statement yesterday voicing outrage and describing the ruling at an attack on free expression.

RSF reiterated its view that an equitable settlement of this dispute has not been possible because of the conflict of interests resulting from the fact that one man, Khoroshkovsky, holds so many powerful posts – a conflict of interests that has not been resolved despite condemnation by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament on November 25.

Knyazhytsky said he suspected Khoroshkovsky of arranging for a call to be made to the administrative supreme court on the morning of January 26, before the hearing, to ensure that the judges ruled against TVi and 5 Kanal, which are the direct competitors of Inter, IMG’s biggest TV station.

“I am told that Khoroshkovsky’s office put pressure on the judge,” Knyazhytsky said. “I don’t say that Khoroshkovsky called one of the judges during the hearing. But I do say that a phone call was made to the court. As journalists, we are investigating this issue.” If the two stations fail to recover their frequencies, it will not directly threaten their survival, but it will drastically reduce the number of viewers they reach, as they will only be able to broadcast by cable, which is not widely used in Ukraine.

Date posted: January 29, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 171