Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s decision by the National Radio and TV Council (NRTC) to ban Russian independent TV channel Dozhd from being retransmitted in Ukraine. Ukrainian broadcasters will have to comply with the ban within one month of its official publication, expected on 16 January.
The NRTC, which regulates broadcasting in Ukraine, accuses Dozhd of violating the country’s territorial integrity by treating Crimea as part of Russia, and of violating a restrictions on advertising on certain foreign TV channels.
Dozhd is nonetheless very outspoken in its criticism of the Kremlin and until now has been widely retransmitted in Ukraine, where it has as much as a quarter of its entire audience.
"Even if the regulator has identified breaches of Ukraine’s laws, there are no grounds for such a drastic sanction as banning Dozhd,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. "This is a media freedom violation, a measure that—judged by international standards—it is neither necessary nor proportionate.
"Independent media have a key role to play in maintaining a link between population groups that have been separated by war and propaganda. We ask the Ukrainian authorities to rescind this decision without delay.”
According to article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ukraine has ratified, any restrictions on freedom of expression in a democratic society must not only be legal but also legitimate and necessary.
Dozhd—hounded in Russia
Russia’s only independent national TV channel, Dozhd has been much persecuted in its own country. Dropped by the main Russian satellite and cable TV providers and evicted from its offices in 2014, it has lost a large part of its public and advertisers.
Describing Crimea as Ukrainian territory is punishable by imprisonment under Russia’s recently toughened legislation on "separatism.” Dozhd had to comply, but that has not stopped it from referring to Russia’s "annexation” of the Crimean peninsula or continuing to provide critical coverage of Russian policy in Ukraine.
Bihr said: "You cannot help smiling at the Kremlin’s virulent protests about Ukraine’s ban on Dozhd, given that this TV channel can no longer be viewed by most Russians. If Moscow really cared about media freedom, it would start by lifting the restrictions on Dozhd and all the other independent media outlets in Russia.”
"Information war” abuses in Ukraine
RSF has often condemned media freedom violations in Ukraine that have been committed in the name of combatting Russian propaganda. Last week, uniformed members of the "Rapira” veterans association stormed into the offices of Klen, a cable TV provider in Chernomorsk, in the south of the country, and, using threats, forced it to suspend local retransmission of Dozhd’s programming.
On 30 December, President Petro Poroshenko promulgated a law under which a prior permit is now required to import any Russian books. The law introduced the concept of "aggressor state promotion or propaganda” into Ukraine’s legislation.
"We expect the Ukrainian authorities to defend media freedom against activist minorities, not to join them in their excesses,” Bihr added. "Combatting Russian propaganda is legitimate but does not under any circumstances justify intolerance or limiting pluralism.” Even when no longer available via satellite and cable TV services, Dozhd will still be available online in Ukraine to subscribers.
Ukraine is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Russia is ranked 148th.