Kiev Tests the Unilateral Blocking of TV Channels: Who Disconnected Channel 112 and Why

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard

15:28:29
25/06/2018

strana.ua


The largest information TV channel in Ukraine – 112 – disappeared from the airwaves for several hours. At first the broadcast simply disappeared, and then it began to show old programs.

Only after a long break did the channel start to broadcast on the air.

It is interesting that this happened after the deputy of “People’s Front” Sergey Vysotsky called to “destroy” TV channels with “Russian roots”.

Therefore “112” already officially declared that pressure was being put on it and described the details of it.

“Strana” understood what happened to the TV channel, which was recently attacked by the authorities.

Not everyone is a firefighter

As was reported to Strana by the TV channel, in the morning [of June 22nd – ed] firefighters came to them for a check. And then suddenly the cable that fed the building was unexpectedly disconnected, and the diesel generator shutdown at the same time.

Also on Friday morning, as the TV channel said, the owner of the building that “112” rents a room from made a demand to leave it. And the day before that a DDOS attack began.

The TV channel says that they don’t believe in such a chain of coincidence and links this incident with political pressure.

Earlier, the TV channel was accused by pro-government forces of “anti-Ukrainian propaganda” because it broadcasted the statements made by the people’s deputy Murayev about Sentsov.

“112” also offered a reminder about the words of the people’s deputy from the “People’s Front” faction Sergey Vysotsky, who at a meeting of the committee on freedom of speech on Wednesday June 20th declared the need to “destroy” TV channels with allegedly “Russian roots”.

Strange things are happening today [June 22nd – ed] with the NewsOne channel too, which was recently subjected to calls for its license to be revoked – again because of the words of Murayev (the owner of the TV channel) about Sentsov. The live YouTube channel was blocked. This can be because of a mass of complaints submitted against the account, which is simple to organise, explained Internet specialists to “Strana”.

In any case – two TV channels became [June 25th – ed] unavailable in one way or another. And this is not the only strange coincidence.

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From the blocking of sites to the revoking of licenses

On June 21st – a day before the “blackout” of “112” – people’s deputies from the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” and “People’s Front” introduced a draft law to the agenda of the Rada allowing to block any site in the country without a court decision.

This caused a serious resonance in the press and among human rights activists. The personalities of the deputies who introduced the bill add spice to the situation: Dmitry Tymchuk, Tatyana Chornovol, and Ivan Vinnik. The latter two are considered to be close to the head of Committee on National Security Sergey Pashinsky.

Pashinsky, in turn, is a named mentioned in many journalistic investigations into corruption in the Ukrainian defense industry – and other scandals too. It is interesting that it is exactly Pashinsky who last year proposed to adopt a draft law on slander that would allow to bring journalists to court.

Thus, the “team of Pashinsky” has a serious background of making attempts to establish censorship in the media. After all, in many respects it is largely thanks to the press that the approval rating of “People’s Front” fluctuates by 1%.

But this it not the last coincidence in the strangenesses with Ukrainian TV channels. Some hours prior to the “blackout” of “112” the Independent Association of Broadcasters (which is considered in television circles as an organisation that is friendly for the leadership of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting) demanded to deprive this channel of regional frequencies.

It should be noted that if this will happen, the TV channel will be deprived of digital broadcasting. And it will remain only on cable networks and on the Internet, which can reduce its audience.

But there is one more factor in the situation surrounding TV channels.

Change of ownership

The other day the media wrote that both TV channels – “112” and “NewsOne” – were bought by the Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

The head of “Ukrainian choice” [Medvedchuk – ed], as well as both TV channels, denies this. However, “112” confirmed that its owner had changed, but it’s not Medvedchuk.

“The TV channel indeed was sold — I grew tired of fighting a losing battle vis-a-vis the National Council: the constant attempts to censor the channel or to close it and trampling on fundamental freedoms – including freedom of speech – resulted in my desire to transfer the asset to a foreign company so that European and American lawyers could see for themselves the lawlessness of the Ukrainian authorities,” reported the founder and the former creative producer of the TV channel Viktor Zubritsky.

According to him, he chose a Swiss company owned by the citizen of Germany Edward Katz.

“Only a neooligarchical structure of ownership will be able to guarantee an independent and objective information policy. At the same time, there is no Medvedchuk in the contract, just like how there was no Zakharchenko [not to be confused with the leader of the DPR – ed], Arbuzov, or several other ‘owners’ of the channel in the past,” explained Zubritsky.

The structure of ownership of “NewsOne” didn’t officially change: its owner – the people’s deputy Evgeny Murayev – is still specified in all registers.

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Thus, the problems that the two largest information TV channels have with broadcasting began at the peak of the authorities towards them and rumours about changes of ownership.

“Test blocking TV without the National Council’s decision”

Igor Guzhva, the editor-in-chief of “Strana”, wrote about this coincidence on Facebook:

“Yesterday we spoke about the idea of people’s deputies from the ‘Bloc of Petro Poroshenko’ and ‘People’s Front’ to block websites without a court decision. And now they seemingly decided to test a method of blocking TV channels without any decision from the National Council on licenses and other unnecessary formalities.

After all, it is possible to do everything simply. And bang – the largest news TV channel disappeared from the air.

The chain of events is as follows:

– on Wednesday at a meeting of the committee on freedom of speech the people’s deputy from ‘People’s Front’ Sergey Vysotsky declared the need to destroy TV channels with ‘Russian roots’;

– on Thursday a DDOS attack on the Internet page of the TV channel began;

– on Friday morning the owners of the building that rent it out to the TV channel called and suggested that they vacate the building;

– in the morning on Friday firefighters came for a check, they were in the building for a long time, and examined the diesel generator;

– before noon the cable that fed the building had been unexpectedly de-energised, and at this same time the diesel generator failed;

– the TV channel disappeared from the air. Half an hour afterwards experts managed to establish a technical broadcast (pre-recorded programs were broadcasted), but there was still no live broadcast (at the moment the channel has restored its broadcast)”.

The sources of “Strana” in television circles close to the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting consider that this is only the beginning of the pressure that will be put on TV channels that are “objectionable” from the point of view of Bankova Street.

“The chance of the National Council refusing to extend the digital license of ‘112’ and the channel remaining only on cable TV is rather high. And then pressure will start to be put on cable operators until they disconnect the TV channel. Generally speaking, the attack will become fully-fledged under the pretext of combatting ‘agents of the Kremlin on the airwaves’. This also concerns the ‘NewsOne’ TV channel. The question of depriving them of a license is also being studied. Also the intention not to extend the digital license of ‘Inter’ and ‘1+1’ is also known. But it’s not a fact that these intentions of the authorities will be implemented, because resistance is very strong. And the closer we come to the elections, the weaker the resource of the Presidential Administration becomes. But, as the situation with ‘112’ showed, there is always an opportunity to simply cut off the airwaves or to block the broadcast of the signal. If the authorities fail to eliminate the channels via revoking licenses, they can also opt to go along such a path”.

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