The Supervisory Board has dismissed Zurab. How it was
February 01, 2019
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On January 31, 2019, another removal of Zurab Alasania took place. But this time, it was not his initiative. Let me remind you that in November 2016, a few months before the registration of the legal entity of PJSC "NPBCU", the general director of the then NTCU Mr. Alasania resigned, announcing that one of the reasons for such step was the underfunding of the television company.
I will try to answer some of the questions that dozens of journalists and acquaintances asked me in the last half day.
1. Why did the Supervisory Board remove the Chairman of the Board of PJSC "NPBCU" at the beginning of the election? Is it due to the intentions to establish political censorship on the channel?
Let me remind you that on April 10, 2017, Zurab Alasania won the election of the Chairman of the Board by a margin of one voice. That is, almost half of the members of the SB (in total, then there were 17 of them), were against and some strongly against his candidacy. Do you think that during time of his being on the position of the head of the Public Broadcasting, these SB members started liking Alasania? Of course not. Some of the SB members from parliamentary factions and groups sincerely believed that they should represent the interests of the political force that delegated them and lodged a complaint against Zurab that the representatives of their factions/ groups were not shown on the TV channels of NPBCU. It all happened publicly during the meetings of the SB, which were almost always open, but for some reason nobody concerned with the reform at that time and did not come to the meetings to listen to what actually was happening.
Besides, some of those who voted for him then were disappointed, and there is nothing to do with politics. Too emotional facebook posts from both sides poured oil on flames. Thus, those who were disappointed joined non-adherents and the anti-Zurab majority emerged.
It was Vyacheslav Kozak, who most often publicly insisted on the removal of Alasania. He was delegated to the SB by the faction of the Radical Party that wanted to withdraw him in March 2017 but this is prohibited by law. Kozak did not resign and regularly criticized Zurab and his team first of all "for the breakdown of radio" and gap in the salaries of the management and ordinary journalists. I remind you that Kozak hosted the program at the Ukrainian Radio for a long time, and when he became a member of the SB, he was forced to resign so that there would be no conflict of interest.
In the summer of 2018, after a juicy scandal with the lack of coverage of the processionon“UA:First”, Vyacheslav Kozak made a categorical request to remove Alasania at a regular meeting of the SB. But then the question was not included in the agenda. Later in the fall, he repeated the attempt, which was again unsuccessful.
I think the majority had the real intention to remove Zurab at the meeting of the SB in December 2018, but then it was prevented by the mess, which was stirred because of the SB's alleged plans to close the projects of journalistic investigations "Schemes" and "Our Money with Denys Bihus". Although in fact, the SB did not have such plans.
Another month passed, the 2019 electoral presidential campaign started, but the desire to remove Zurab was so strong that the majority did not pay attention to possible allegations.
As for the establishment of censorship, in my opinion, this is simply impossible at this stage. Until the competition is held (if it is held at all), which is a matter of several months, new executives will not enter the company.
2. Why was the meeting on Zurab's removal closed? Where is the minutes of the meeting?
The SB meeting on 31 January 2019 was open. Besides the Chairman and Board members, there were also other company employees, representatives of donor organizations, Head of the Fund for the Support of the Public Broadcasting and others. There were 11 issues on the agenda, including on the annual plan of activity of PJSC "NPBCU", financial plan of PJSC "NPBCU" for 2019, the annual (general) report on the activity of PJSC "NPBCU" in 2018 and report on the implementation of the annual plan of activity of PJSC "NPBCU" for 2018.
At the beginning of the meeting, they added the following issues to the agenda: a report on the audit by the Internal Audit Office and the Audit Committee of the Fund of the Public Broadcasting (this fund emerged on the basis of a public organization that was established in 2014), through which the lion's share of donor assistance to PJSC "NPBCU" goes, placing it as the fourth clause.
They managed to consider four issues in an open session: on the plan for the implementation of the Concept of Broadcasting on the topic of national minorities of the NPBCU; on the target organization structure of PJSC "NPBCU"; on the election of a corporate secretary and the abovementioned report on the fund.
Speakers on the audit of the fund presented a report and recommendations. The report showed that there were signs of abuse of funds from donors. Immediately after considering this issue, a member of the SB Vyacheslav Kozak categorically insisted on putting on the agenda and considering in a closed session an issue of early termination of the contract with the Chairman of the Board, as the previous complaints against him were accompanied by further facts about the nontransparent use of the fund's funds.
The majority of votes included this issue in the agenda (I, Vadym Misky and Oleksandr Pavlichenko definitely abstained).
Then the meeting lasted in a closed session, only the SB members and Chairman of the Board Zurab Alasania stayed. I asked my colleagues: a) not to consider such important issue so unexpectedly, because everything will be tied to the elections and serious complaints must be made to enable raising an issue about the termination of a contract, to prepare ballot papers, etc.; b) to consider it in an open session at "Ukrinform" like when the election was organized with broadcasting on the Internet; c) to consider it after reviewing the report for 2018 year. But, obviously, the consideration of this issue was unexpected only for me and several more members of the SB since Kozak had already prepared a draft decision, in which he proposed five important, in his opinion, reasons for the termination of the contract. In addition, he had already printed ballot papers for secret ballot. Somemore members of the SB made complaints. Zurab emotionally replied that he did not agree, and asked if we really thought that he had done little since he was elected Chairman of the Board.
Kozak urged those present to vote all the time, repeating several times that, he said, let's finish the matter more quickly.
You know the results of the vote: 9 votes “for”, 3 “against” including mine. Let me add that at the beginning of the meeting there were 14 members of the SB, but two of them (Yevhen Hlibovitsky and Daria Karyakina) left the meeting under serious circumstances before the consideration of this issue. Two were absent from the beginning (Lavrentiy Malazonia and Volodymyr Brynzak). Currently, there are 16 members in the Supervisory Board (Vitaliy Portnikov left the structure of the SB last year).
Concerning the minutes of the meeting. In accordance with the regulations, it must be made public within five days. Everyone insists on posting it right away. But there will be not only this issue in the minutes, but also all other considered. Besides, it must be read by all members of the SB and signed by the Chairman and Secretary before being made public. Realizing that the case can go to court, almost all who voted do not hurry to voice the reason for the termination of the contract (and a specific article). In my opinion, this is wrong. But in fact, since there were several proposals of the majority, I myself want to see which one of them will get in the minutes. Minutes are usually posted on suspilne. media, the official site of PJSC "NPBCU".
3. What did Zurab and his team do and was there anything to criticize them for?
First of all, Zurab broke the state broadcasting and broke all the established connections with central and local authorities. Apart from him, none of the candidates who submitted to the competition in April 2017 could do that. On the one hand, I am grateful to him for that, and on the other hand, this made the Public Broadcasting completely apolitical.
If we were initially enthralled by the fact that the news of “UA:First” began to meet all journalistic standards, they stopped promoting the authorities, later Detector Media’s monitoring showed that there were practically no authorities in the news. None. And when my colleague criticized them for this, they issued an order to the branches to start taking necessary comments of the representatives of authorities. And they at the branches said that they had already forgotten how it was done, and the local authorities often ignore them. But this is not right. The authorities must be controlled; the authorities are a source of information that you just have to learn to distinguish from PR.
The entire SB is grateful to Zurab’s team for optimizing the previous staff overage. It indeed was very difficult and was exposed to great resistance.
Several dozen journalists asked me yesterday: "Now what? Will the first button of the country be in hands of the authorities?” In reply, I asked if they were sure that "UA:First" is now the country's first button, and when they had watched it last. The broadcast schedule of “UA:First” is packed with non-Ukrainian TV series and programs about animals, nature, travel, and more. It is better not to mention ratings. The channel has not become socio-political, maybe including because it did not have a direct manager. According to Zurab, nobody wanted to become a general producer of the channel because of the small salary, because in the market, people receive up to 300 thousand hryvnias for such a post. And under the conditions of total underfunding from the state budget, such salaries were impossible.
I watch "UA:First" daily, mostly news. The electoral campaign is in progress. And what I see on air: information from the host for a maximum of 30 seconds about whom the CEC registered as candidates for president. That is, congresses/forums of the campaign leaders became newsworthy events for many foreign large channels, however, the "first button of the country" does not say a word about this. There are no experts, no stories, although hundreds of people work in the information department.
Zurab’s team managed to air Ukrainian bands that could not make their way to television before. At the same time, they dealt towards their own musical collectives not always respectfully at PJSC "NPBCU", for example, they did not record the concert of virtuoso children, which was held in the Recording House, because, according to one of the managers, who had to make a decision, "it did not warm him up". In my opinion, this could be a unique exclusive content for Public Broadcasting, children's content we lack so much.
Ukrainian radio – well done. Thanks for that. But who is not aware, it is gratitude to General Producer Dmytro Khorkin. Because the Central Directorate left the building at 26 Khreshchatyk because of excessive centralization as a step child (those, who will look at the report for 2018, will see that if some repairs were made, it was mostly in the "Pencil" at 42 Illienko, former Melnikov).
Another complaint that I personally made openly is the failure by the Board to fulfil the SB’s decisions. Including on the preparation of the concepts envisaged by the Main Directions of Activity for 2017. If we broke the old, then we have to build a new one, and for this the concepts were much needed. So far only the regional concept and concept of the broadcasting on the topic of national minorities have been approved. The Board members who were responsible for it found time to host programs, voiceover films and programs but did not find time for strategic issues.
At the same time, I did not want any criticism of Zurab or the team to be perceived as betrayal. We are the Supervisory Board, we have to oversee, not just praise.
4. What next?
Despite all this, I believe that consideration of the issue of the removal of Zurab Alasania is a bit too thick. The more during the elections, the more in a closed session.
The further scenario can be as follows. The next week, the SB will hold an extraordinary meeting, at which it will have to announce the competition and consider all issues from the agenda of January, 31 it did not manage to consider. At this meeting, they will raise the question of the cancellation of the decision on removal, as already stated by Yevhen Hlibovytsky. I support such a proposal. In addition, he, Oleksandr Pavlichenko and several others have already announced that they will file a lawsuit against the SB for such decision.
The Chairman and Board members have to / may remain acting until new management is elected. But yesterday, it was also decided by a majority of votes that acting Chairman would be Mykola Chernotitsky, a member of the Board responsible for working with regions.
We had to be in one boat. We had to build the Public Broadcasting. And I myself consider all that happened undemocratic. It really matters to me, because I devoted part of my life to it.
Photo: Svitlana Ostapa
A media expert, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of NPBCU, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of "Detector Media"
Translated to English by Serhii Motrunich