Ukraine’s government believes that certain mass media, web sites in particular, pose a threat to national security. The National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), the supreme advisory body to the president, has suggested that the state should boost its presence on the media market and increase regulations to neutralize the potential threat. This issue was discussed at the October 31 NSDC meeting, which was chaired by President Leonid Kuchma. Results of the discussion were announced by NSDC Secretary Yevhen Marchuk at a briefing for the press on the same day, and released on the official NSDC site (www.rainbow.gov.ua) as a document entitled “On measures to streamline the state information policy and ensure the informational security of Ukraine.”
According to this document, the situation in the national information field is “posing a considerable threat to the national security” on numerous fronts, among them six worth particular note. First, private media owners impose restrictions on journalistic freedoms. Second, Ukraine’s domestic mass media products are suffering from competition with foreign ones. Third, video and print production is smuggled into Ukraine en masse (especially from Russia, where the publishers enjoy significant tax privileges). Fourth, government agencies are slow in adopting and keeping up with communication technology. Fifth, state information policy is inadequately financed. Sixth, legislation on electronic information networks–that is, the Internet–is conspicuous by its absence and there is only scanty legislation pertaining to satellite and cable television systems.
The problems are, seemingly, rightly spotted. Yet the remedies Marchuk’s agency proposes make one suspect that the NSDC regrets that private media and independent web sites even exist in Ukraine. It laments that the “too-liberal licensing laws” enable “foreign capital to broadcast nationwide” and that a private broadcaster, Era TV company, has been given a slot on the state-controlled UT-1 TV channel. As an antidote, Marchuk suggests increasing the share of state-run media in a market in which there was not a single private TV broadcaster a decade ago.
The NSDC maintains that the mass media operating in Ukraine are “sometimes used” to “destabilize the situation and damage [its] international image.” What comes to mind is last year’s audiotape scandal, in which Kuchma was implicated beyond any particular doubt in corruption. That incident boosted Internet business in Ukraine as the low-budget and hard-to-control web sites evolved into a primary source of information about the case. The NSDC singled out the Internet as a security threat, warning that it can easily be used “against the legal interests of the state and society.” Government agencies, the document suggested, should create their own web sites to counterbalance the independent ones, and direct state control to be introduced, through licensing, over the Ukrainian segment of the Internet.
These proposals are unrealistic. Internet specialists say that from a technical standpoint it will be virtually impossible to license web sites. It is also doubtful that Ukraine’s cash-strapped government will be able to cough up more funds for any state-run media. Yet it is worrying that, less than five months before the March 2002 parliamentary elections, the Ukrainian powers-that-be view foreign media and the Internet–which are possibly the least biased sources of information on Ukrainian affairs, especially during an election campaign–as a security threat. No less worrying are the reports that Kuchma intends to issue the NSDC recommendations as a presidential decree. This would violate the constitution, according to which the communications and the mass media are regulated exclusively by parliamentary law (UT-1, Interfax-Ukraina, October 31, Ukrainska Pravda, October 31, November 1; Rainbow.gov.ua, November 1; AIN.com.ua, November 2).
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