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Powerful media owner wins legal battle against three TV stations

Powerful media owner wins legal battle against three TV stations

Published on Friday 28 January 2011. Updated on Tuesday 1 February 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns a ruling by the Kiev administrative supreme court on 26 January upholding a lower court’s decision to withdraw the over-the-air broadcast frequencies that were assigned to three privately-owned TV stations, TVi, 5 Kanal and STB, in January 2010.

The lower court’s decision was issued on 8 June 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 who was until recently 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, 5 Kanal and STB 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 26 January 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.

“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 Reporters Without Borders. The management of 5 Kanal issued a statement yesterday voicing outrage and describing the ruling at an attack on free expression.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates 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. Khoroshkovsky resigned as a member of the Judiciary Supreme Council on 22 December and, in an interview for Ukrainska Pravda afterwards, said his resignation was due to pressure from international NGOs. Reporters Without Borders welcomes his resignation but still deplores the influence he exercised over this case.

Knyazhytsky said he suspected Khoroshkovsky of arranging for a call to be made to the administrative supreme court on the morning of 26 January, before the hearing, to ensure that the judges ruled against TVi, 5 Kanal and STB, 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 three 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.

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