CPJ calls on Ukraine to not revoke Inter broadcasting license

New York, May 29, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Ukrainian authorities to allow national television channel Inter to continue broadcasting freely and to investigate why its signal has been jammed. Parliamentary criticism of the station has led the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine to conduct a review of Inter’s license, according to reports.

“We call on Ukrainian authorities to allow Inter to broadcast freely, including doing everything possible to ensure that its signal is not jammed,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Independent coverage, including criticism of government policies, is essential in a democracy.”

The channel has come under attack from Ukrainian parliament members for what they termed “destructive behavior,” according to news reports. Andriy Levus, of the National Security Committee, said the committee has demanded an investigation into the channel and he described Inter’s editorial stance as “creating a receptive setting for Russian aggression,” The Associated Press reported. Separately, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced on May 25 that it was investigating allegations of “unauthorized partial privatization” of the station in the 1990s and claims that its founders tried to influence the content of journalists’ work, according to reports. In a statement, Inter denied the accusations, and said they were “absurd and without basis.”

The broadcasting council’s decision on whether the station’s license will be revoked is due to be made on June 11, local reports said.

The signal for Inter, a privately owned station, has been intermittently jammed nationwide since August 2014, specifically during news broadcasts and political shows, Yevgeny Kiselyov, an Inter political talk show host, told CPJ. Kiselyov was honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 1995. Despite the channel making multiple requests for an investigation, Ukrainian law enforcement authorities say they have not yet identified the source of the jamming, according to reports. Vitaly Naida, head of the Ukrainian security service’s cybercrime department, told reporters in March the department was investigating, but it was hard to identify the source because “the [jamming] equipment is mobile and not set in a single spot.”

Kiselyov, who hosts a live weekly political talk show, “Chyornoye Zerkalo” (Black Mirror), on Inter, told CPJ he believes the channel’s decision to broadcast a variety of political voices, including the opposition, was the reason for it being targeted over its license. He said that some of his guests were critical of the government and its ability to deliver election promises. “The authorities do not like it when the media starts to ask difficult questions or gives the floor to their critics,” Kiselyov told CPJ. “All they want is complimentary coverage and unconditional support.”

The AP, in a separate report about the challenges facing the station, noted that Inter’s minority shareholder Serhiy Lyovochkin is a former associate of ousted Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych and that until February, 29 percent of the channel’s shares were owned by Russian state television Channel One. The article added that the channel often reports on reaction to the government’s austerity measures.

Kiselyov, a Russian journalist who said he left Moscow for Kiev in 2008 because of the mounting political pressure on independent journalists in Russia, said that the now former Channel One participation in Inter’s ownership structure was not tied to editorial content.