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Experts: lack of resolute actions of the executive authorities threatens the Public broadcasting reform

The National Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (NPBU) has to be registered and commence its activities starting from 01 January 2017, so that it can obtain proper budget funding. It is the establishment of a legal entity that will allow to reorganise the company and turn over to the public broadcasting standards. However, bureaucratic heel-dragging poses a threat to timely creation of the public broadcasting. This is what was discussed at the press-conference held on 06 September 2016 organised by the Reanimation Package of Reforms in cooperation with the Council of Europe Project “Strengthening freedom of media and establishing a Public broadcasting system in Ukraine” at the Information Agency “Ukrinform”. The progress in creation of the NPBU was also presented during the event.

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According to Taras Shevchenko, Director of the CEDEM, creation of the public broadcasting is one of the key media reforms, since the majority of Ukrainian television channels are under control of oligarchs. By contrast, new broadcasting will serve interests of citizens. 

“Establishment of the public broadcasting is the issue to unite society and representatives of the authorities. This is the formula for reforms breakthrough. This will open the door to systematic changes and emergence of new shows of good quality meeting the interests of the public”, – he said.

Taras Shevchenko also reminded that creation of the public broadcasting is not only a step towards greater freedom of speech in Ukraine but it is also our commitment to the international partners, in particular, to the Council of Europe.

As Мårten Ehnberg, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine, pointed out, the launch of the public broadcasting is one of the key media priorities of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine 2015-2017.

“Nowadays, the public discredits all news, therefore, we need an independent broadcaster to trust. IMG_5665The public broadcasting is able not only to give honest news but also to unite the country with regard to certain values. That is the reason for us to support the reform. When a new company is created, we will provide it with organisational assistance and train its employees. However, all legal measures should be taken until the end of the year, so that the broadcaster can obtain a proper budget. In the future, proper funding will be a reliable basis for the organisation activities”, – he stated

The first stage of the public broadcasting reform foresees  the termination of the former state television and radio companies and creation of a new legal entity on their basis – the National Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Company. However, this process is being so far restrained by the tax authorities that do not give their consent to terminate 4 more Oblast State Television and Radio Companies. This hampers further reorganisation of the broadcaster and the current staff faces difficulties. 

IMG_5565“There have been no changes during two and a half years in our daily existence: neither in budgets, nor in laws. On the contrary, some things were worsened, as we do not recognize the former regulations and the new ones are not in force yet. And we have to continue broadcasting under such circumstances. In addition to that, we have serious challenges concerning Eurovision. I cannot give you names of actual enemies who hinder the reforms. Everything gets stuck on the tax authorities, and they have different reasons to postpone the termination in every region. However, if it is not done now, the issue will be postponed till the next year. Then, the reform will remain in limbo”, – said Zurab Alasania, Director General of the National Television Company of Ukraine.

As Natalia Stepanova, Head of the Internal Audit Department of the State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine, said, obstacles created by the fiscal service not only delay establishment of the public broadcasting but pose a threat to it. 

“We did not expect that the first stage of the reforms will be dragged out. We fight for termination of each company, it takes months to resolve simple issues. If all companies are not closed till 20 September 2016 and a corresponding order is not issued, we will not be able to pass on to the next stage, that is evaluation of the assets by the State Property Fund. It is also not possible for us so far to adopt the company charter. At the same time, 01 January 2016 is the deadline for us, because means for funding of the structure which has not been created yet – NPBU, will be included into the budget. Thus, if there is a delay, we won’t have money”, – explained Natalia Stepanova. 

As Oleh Nalyvaiko, Head of the State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting of IMG_5601Ukraine, said, they encounter also other difficulties, in particular, reorganisation of the company “Ukrtelefilm” and raider attacks.

“As far as it concerns “Ukrtelefilm”, we appointed a new executive officer, reached a consensus with the staff, won a lawsuit to take back into state ownership the company property. Now, we conduct an audit step by step. Nevertheless, on 16 August 2016 the court of the city Dnipro issued a judgment by default  which lifted an attachment of property. “Ukrtelefilm” was not inform either of the lawsuit, or time of the hearing. That is a scheme of an illegal seizure of the company’s property”, said Mr Nalyvaiko.

Taking into account the difficulties, faced in the process of the public broadcasting creation, Tetyana Lebedieva, member of the Supervisory Board of the NPBU, called the media community to appeal to the state authorities demanding them to react to the problem. 

“Now we can say that there is an emergency situation. We must reactto it and name personally those persons who are responsible for its disruption. If some inspectors disrupt the reform in which everyone is interested, including international partners, we should appeal to the highest state authorities. If we do not react right now, later they will say that we did not manage and are late”, – she warned.

Svitlana Ostapa, Media Expert of the Non-governmental Organisation “Media Detector”, pointed to one more problem which should be taken into account in the process of the NTCU reforms. That is excessive coverage of the authorities at the local level.

“We monitor local news, in particular in Vinnytsia, and before  –  in Ternopil. It is difficult to find any television programme which does not mention heads of local authorities. Sometimes it is absolutely irrelevant. It is not even forced by the authorities. It is self-censorship and it concerns not only the senior management but also journalists”, – she said.

As Vadym Miskyi, Head of the Advocacy Department of the Reanimation Package of Reforms, said, IMG_5626 the NPBU budget is also one of the decisive issues, since according to the legislation, budget of the public broadcasting should amount to 0.2% of the general fund budget. But the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine declared this year that the sum will be twice lower. As of now, according to the unofficial information it is allegedly planned to finance the broadcaster to the fullest extent. And this will make possible to provide people with access to honest news.

“Political bias of the media generates aggression of part of the society, as witnessed by arson of the company “Inter”. Therefore, I hope that public broadcasting will be launched to become a figure of authority for citizens. If it seems to people that they heard false information in the news broadcast on one of the channels, they will have an opportunity to turn to another channel and watch objective news, independent of the channel owner. And this will be a model for other television channels. Thus, we will take care of the public broadcasting not to lose its funding” – he summed up.

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