Why Ukraine has banned Russia's most liberal TV channel, Dozhd

On January 12th the Ukrainian National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting has required Ukrainian providers to stop broadcasting the Russian television channel Dozhd. What has caused this reaction, and why many were surprised by the reaction of the Russian authorities, who are not very friendly towards the TV channel?

Why was Dozhd banned

The National Council cited two reasons for the ban on broadcasting – their non-recognition of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (they show the Crimea as part of Russia), and their commercial advertising. Official information about the ban will be published on January 16th and within a month, all cable operators, of which there are about 90, will have to remove the channel from their networks.

The specific violations by Dozhd were as follows.

-​ The channel named the border between the Crimea and Kherson region. In August 2016 the TV channel's correspondent Vladimir Romensky during a live broadcast from the Crimean city of Armyansk said: "From here it is only a few kilometers to the Russian-Ukrainian border.” This statement was found by the Council to be evidence that Dozhd does not recognize the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

-​ Dozhd reporters entered the Crimea from Russia. This violates the laws of Ukraine regarding the entry to and exit from the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. According to the law, Russians have arrive to the Crimea from the Ukrainian Kherson region and notify the authorities of Ukraine.

-​ The channel showed Russian advertising in Ukraine. Advertising on foreign channels is prohibited in Ukraine. The only exceptions are for EU channels, as well as States that have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Russia is not among them. A Member of the National Council, Serhiy Kostinsky, said that Dozhd did not provide the National Council and providers with Ukrainian versions for adaptation. The advertising appeared at the end of 2016 and was distributed only on the Internet.

- The channel was broadcasting movies, "popularizing the law enforcement agencies of the aggressor states," and thus violated the law of Ukraine on cinematography. On New Year's Eve, they aired two comedies, Quartet I: Faster than Rabbits and What Else Men Talk About, where one of the heroes of the movie works for the Russian police.

Dozhd’s Reaction

The Director-General of Dozhd, Natalya Sindeyeva, commented on the situation by saying, "I am very sorry that the National Council of Ukraine made such a decision." According to her, in accordance with the terms of the contracts with providers in Ukraine, Dozhd broadcasting throughout the country is conducted via an IP-connection without direct commercial advertising. She noted that the National Council of Ukraine was notified about this on August 8, 2016, after which Dozhd did not receive any complaints about the non-compliance of the content of the TV channel.

With regard to the Crimea, Sindeyeva noted that the channel is following Russian law when showing the map of Russia. "In accordance with Article 65 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Republic of Crimea is a subject of the Russian Federation," she specified. "I hope that our Ukrainian viewers will find the opportunity to watch Dozhd through our website, our applications on Smart TV, and other channels of distribution," the Director-General of Dozhd added.

Unexpected Reaction from Russian Authorities

Presidential press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, commented on Ukraine’s blocking of Dozhd’s broadcasts by saying, "The destructive policies by the Ukrainians are continuing."

The official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her page on Facebook, “Is it true that the National Council on Television ordered providers to disconnect Dozhd? I hope that the Kyiv government has not stooped to censorship just yet. But if this information is confirmed, we will definitely inform the OSCE."

Other Russian authorities were also surprised by the decision of the National Council. For example, the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said, "I believe that this is unacceptable and is a violation of freedom of speech." The vice president of the human rights organization Freedom House for International Programs, Robert Herman, does not support the ban on Dozhd either. He said, "The broadcasting ban on Dozhd by the authorities is censorship which limits the access of Ukrainians to a choice among different points of view."

Herman also said that "at a time when Russian troops are occupying a part of Ukraine, it is vitally important that Ukrainians have access to independent coverage of events in Russia, and one of the few remaining independent Russian media outlets."

Public reaction to the ban

Despite the support for Dozhd, there are many in the community who accuse the channel of collaborating with the Russian authorities. On Espresso.TV, the head of the National Council on Television and Radio, Yuriy Artemenko, said that after the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, Dozhd's rhetoric has changed a lot, especially after the change of the management.

"At first, (after the start of military action in the Donbas – Ed.) our attention had been focused on channels such as Russia 24 and Life News, which are pure propaganda. Dozhd is positioning itself as liberal, but under the guise of liberalism, non-recognition of the territorial integrity of Ukraine started to appear, and the leadership of Dozhd argued that ‘we are working in accordance with Russian legislation, which means that the Crimea is a part of Russia.’ I am outraged by these arguments," Artemenko said.

Russian lawyer, Mark Feygin, who defended People's Deputy Nadiya Savchenko during her imprisonment in the Russian Federation, urged Ukraine to react more harshly in response to the Ukrainian ban on Dozhd’s broadcasting, as he indicated on his Twitter page. "When every day the coffins are arriving form the ATO zone, proceed without sentiment," the lawyer said.

Ukrainian journalist, Vitaly Portnikov, commented on the criticism of the representatives of the Russian authorities on the ban of Dozhd by saying, "The Russian government refers to the ban on the broadcasting of Dozhd as Ukrainian 'destructiveness,' while in Russia itself the channel broadcasts only in 15 cities."

Dozhd has not been broadcast on the major Russian cable networks since January 2014. It was removed after the publication on the channel’s website of a survey regarding the siege of Leningrad, with the question "Did Leningrad have to be surrendered in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives?" The presidential press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said at that time that Dozhd "crossed every line." The channel apologized almost immediately, but the criticism was only growing, and on January 29-30 virtually all Russian cable operators refused to broadcast the channel. Interestingly, Natalya Sindeyeva called Vyacheslav Volodin one of those people who "is destroying the channel."

Vitaly Portnikov does not believe Dozhd was in violation. On the contrary, he is surprised that a channel from the aggressor country was broadcast in Ukraine for so long.

"I'm not going to throw stones at Dozhd for these violations. Dozhd is a Russian TV channel, which naturally lives according to the laws of its country. To abandon showing maps of the country where the stolen Crimea is shown as Russian territory is not so easy. To not slip when talking about the Russian-Ukrainian "border" between Ukraine and the Kherson region and the Crimea is even more difficult," the journalist writes.

The Journalist and deputy general director of the ATR television channel (who previously resided in the Crimea) Ayder Muzhdabaev, commented on the situation with Dozhd. "I do not see this as anyone's (among the decent people) fault. Just that the situation is such that it's impossible to be both a Russian and a Ukrainian channel. And it will not be possible in the future either, neither for Dozhd, nor for anyone else. There is a war in which Russia invaded Ukraine and occupied part of its territory. Undoubtedly, for Russia, Dozhd is a progressive channel. But for Ukraine, it's Russian, containing in its broadcasts things which are unacceptable in Ukraine, both in accordance with the law and society's attitude. And Dozhd, broadcasting in Russia, fail to show such things because the government puts pressure on it."

  Ukraine, Russia, Dozhd