Espreso. Global

Why Espresso was taken off air

21 June, 2022 Tuesday

More than two months without almost half our audience. On April 4, the state broadcaster, RRT Concern, disconnected Espreso TV, Pryamiy, and Channel 5 from the T2 network without any stated reason. SHUSTROVA LIVE explores the risks that accompany Ukraine's attack on freedom of speech, and looks at how the TV channel defends its right to broadcast.

For two months we tried to reach all possible authorized bodies. Human rights and cultural communities, media figures, scientists, domestic and European politicians expressed their support for our channel. But, to no effect. Espreso remains off-air, and Ukrainian officials continue to reject the illegal decision, which could mean the loss of nearly 100 truly professional, and patriotic journalists. This is real pressure on free media, says the Internews-Ukraine chairman Kostyantyn Kvurt:

"For me, there is one fundamental. The above-mentioned TV channels were not involved in collaboration, that is key. We support turning off Medvedchuk’s channels, because they are collaborators. We do not support the shutdown of these three channels, because they all maintain a solid pro-Ukrainian position. So why did it happen?"

The answer to ‘why?’ came, unexpectedly, from the President's Office. In an interview with the publication Left Bank, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said that Espreso was booted off air “for good reasons”. Although the channel broadcasts 50% of the United News telethon: "it also broadcasts someone who is very much in love (with himself - Ed.). There are a lot of narcissists. I understand, politics is based on narcissism and therefore we often promote narcissists. It is simply a question of the professional quality of Ukraine's information space if you promote a narcissist that is empty inside."

With that comment, the presidential adviser confirmed that taking Espreso, Pryamiy, and Channel 5 off the T2 network was a political decision. TV channels were severely de-narcissist-ified, because they apparently broadcast Ukraine’s 5th president Poroshenko:

"So this man, in love with himself, an indirect owner of the channels, I don’t really understand why during the war they promote this narcissism and narrative in the format of one single information package?"

In fact, Mykhailo Podoliak's statement does not correspond to reality. Espreso journalists emphasize that the TV channel is an entirely separate, independent, media outlet. Petro Poroshenko has never been either the channel’s owner, and he is not associated with Espreso in any way. The President's Office couldn’t help but know this, as the channel's ownership structure is transparent and its editorial policy is free of any influence. In our broadcasts, we give the floor to all political forces, both pro-government and opposition. Our one exception is the OPZZH (Opposition Platform - For Life, a former pro-Russian party - Ed.), who we never invited to participate in our broadcasts. Therefore, Mykhailo Podoliak's statement only confirms the absolutely baseless nature of this assault on free media, says Iryna Sedova, a media expert and researcher at the Crimean Human Rights Group: "Petro Poroshenko's narcissism cannot be a threat to Ukraine's national security or a basis for imposing some kind of censorship. I don't know why Podoliak comments on his attitude to the control of freedom of speech in Ukraine during the war. The National Council and the National Security and Defense Council should deal with this, and Podoliak's comments are another manifestation of a private initiative."

The media expert believes that using one individual’s narcissism to explain the shutdown of several TV channels is, to say the least, unprofessional. In reality, society needs to know what actually happened:

"If you use censorship during a period of martial law, you want to improve the situation in the country, then please explain to members of the public and journalists, why you are doing this, on what grounds, what basis is there for your decision?"

On March 18, the National Security and Defense Council decided to implement a unified information policy under martial law. The document was immediately signed by president Volodymyr Zelensky. However, neither the head of state, nor the National Security and Defense Council, nor the National Council have clarified how to ensure such an information policy and whether to switch off any channels. As a result, RRT simply shut down Espreso and left almost half of its viewers. It’s still unknown who decided to stop the broadcast. As early as May 11, a parliamentary committee on humanitarian and information policy tried to establish this. More than a month has passed since then. We call the chairman of the committee Mykyta Poturaev:

 - Mr Poturaev, a month ago you took part in a meeting of the committee, which was to identify those responsible for shutting down the TV channels. Were you able to find anything out? 

 - Look, we did get answers there, but they didn’t really satisfy us. There will be another Committee meeting, we will raise this issue again.

It turns out that in the course of a month the parliamentary committee has not identified those responsible. Kostyantyn Kvurt, Internews-Ukraine NGO Board Chairman, is convinced that this phenomenon is symptomatic :

"None of the serious people want to take responsibility for this decision. This means that the first instance court will make a decision that will be correct and fair."

Meanwhile, the disconnection of TV channels from digital broadcasting has all the hallmarks of treason, lawyers insist. After all, unauthorized interference in the work of a television network is tantamount to direct damage inflicted on state and information security, which is unacceptable, especially in wartime. In this way, TV channels lose the opportunity to record events and show viewers the real crimes carried out by Rashists (occupying Russian forces - Ed)  in Ukraine, says lawyer Lyudmyla Lebid, an Espreso TV channel representative: "This is a criminal offense, it shows signs of treason. The Ukrainian TV channel is blocked, some intentional actions are committed without legal grounds. If there are no legal grounds, I believe that during martial law the Security Service should immediately investigate what happened."

The lawyer says that the established facts indicating the possibility of criminal action have been passed to the Ukrainian Security Service, but contrary to the law, authorized persons didn’t register the criminal proceedings. We then had to go to court: "The lawyer has the right to appeal against such inaction to the investigating judge, which was done, and the investigating judge upheld the complaint and ordered the authorized person to properly consider the application under Article 214 of the CCP. In the future, a pre-trial investigation of these facts will begin within 24 hours."

Whether this court decision has been executed remains unknown. Although more than a month has passed since it was passed, says Lyudmyla Lebid:  

"The authorized body should investigate any such inaction. In this case it is the State Bureau of Investigation. But they told me that they don’t see any signs that any illegal actions have been committed, namely non-compliance with the court decision. It’s impossible to establish. At least it was necessary to make an inquiry to the Security Service in the Lviv region and to ask whether the decision has been enacted or not."

Therefore, this inaction by the State Bureau of Investigation has already been challenged by lawyers to the investigating judge. It’s very likely that law enforcement agencies are simply sabotaging the investigation into the shutdown of TV channels. On the other hand, those who made the illegal decision do not even hide the fact that it was political and, in all likelihood, designed to restrict the information presented not only to TV viewers, but also to the head of state himself. After all, at a briefing dedicated to Journalist Day, Volodymyr Zelensky stated that all Ukrainian TV channels are still working:

"As far as I know, no channel has been closed. Channels with an information marathon are a unified information weapon. People haven’t been deprived of any channels, which is not true. By the way, all these channels you mentioned can even be found. Despite the fact that we had a clear agreement before the decision of the National Security and Defense Council on the joint broadcast."

If, according to Zelensky, the channels aren't turned off, it seems that in a country at war, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. This is a dangerous phenomenon, even if it concerns freedom of speech. The Internews Ukraine chairman of the board, Kostyantyn Kvurt, says that our enemies could take advantage of this. They could use it against us on the eve of the decision to grant Ukraine EU candidate status:

"It gives our enemies the opportunity to talk about how freedom of speech is being violated in Ukraine, it's very simple. It means that Ukraine doesn’t even meet the criteria for EU membership. Or it will hang out with candidates for decades, staying in the gray zone. And in order to rebuild, we need to become an EU member. Because they will not share the significant resources we need unless we are an EU member."

Threats to information security, alleged treason, fabrications about narcissists and inaction by security forces: all these are, for some reason, ignored by the country's authorities during the war.  Meanwhile, oppression of freedom of speech threatens Ukraine with catastrophic consequences. Despite the restrictions on speech, Russia's military aggression and a number of other challenges, our journalists continue to do their job well and professionally. 


It is time for Espreso TV to be back on air!

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