AMBASSADOR'S BLOG - IS CLOSING A NEWSPAPER CENSORSHIP?

31.03.11


I've been following with interest the debate around the recent closure of a Ukrainian newspaper, the Gazeta po-Kievski.  It's an important issue. The newspaper, which has existed for many years, was closed down on 11 March. One explanation of the closure is that it had been losing money and was uneconomic. Proponents of free speech, on the other hand, say that the newspaper was closed because it had recently carried an article critical of the authorities. 

The story matters because a free media is a core element of democracy.  Many of Ukraine's TV channels and newspapers, for example, are owned by important business people.  I've discussed with some of them whether they attempt to influence the editorial lines of their media outlets.  Some of them say they absolutely don't; some say they do, but only a bit; some make no secret of the fact that they have a clear political agenda.  A recent authoritative analysis of Ukrainian TV channels reported by BBC Monitoring seems to confirm what the media owners tell me.  It rates some TV channels, including important ones which are owned by people generally considered to support the authorities, as having an editorial line which regularly reports on both the opposition and the government and is sometimes favourable to, or sometimes critical of, both.  The BBC analysis rates some other important channels, on the other hand, as tending to report more on the government, usually favourably, and tending consistently to ignore or criticise the opposition.  

There's nothing wrong with business people owning TV channels or newspapers or with those outlets having an editorial line which supports one world view or political party.  Indeed, this is a feature of the media scene in many countries.  The problem comes when such support becomes systematised so that genuine political debate is snuffed out and it becomes difficult or dangerous to criticise the authorities.  This can also risk  giving the authorities the misleading impression that everything they are doing is right, or enjoys universal support.  That situation, when it occurs, is a disaster for democracy.  That in turn is why the closure of the Gazeta po-Kievski is important and deserves close scrutiny - whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: http://blogs.fco.gov/roller/turner 



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