PRESS FREEDOM WORSENING AHEAD OF ELECTION
In a recently issued report, Freedom House says press freedom conditions have worsened in the past few months, with Ukrainian authorities stepping up harassment and intimidation of independent and opposition media. The attacks raise concerns that honest and fair coverage of the elections will be absent, warns Freedom House.
Since January 2004, privately owned radio stations have been shut down to remove alternative voices and political debate from the airwaves, says Freedom House. In February, the director of Radio Dovira, a known loyalist of President Leonid Kuchma, ordered the station to cease broadcasting programmes from the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Authorities did the same to Radio Kontynent after it began airing RFE/RL material.
The Freedom House report highlights how President Kuchma's administration directly distorts news and skews coverage of political affairs. The administration has also reportedly issued a series of decrees forbidding any reporting of negative statements about Ukraine by international organizations or governments.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that on 13 September, broadcasts of the independent television channel 5Kanal in the city of Kharkov were suspended. The cable network Alphatelecommunications, which carries 5Kanal, was reportedly pressured by authorities. 5Kanal was scheduled to broadcast a two-part, independent journalistic investigation on the murder of Georgy Gongadze.
Gongadze's headless body was found on 2 November 2000. An editor of the Internet news site Ukrainska Pravda, Gongadze was known for investigating high-level corruption. To date, no one has been brought to trial for his murder.
A parliamentary commission is investigating allegations that senior officials, including Kuchma, may be implicated in Gongadze's murder. They stem from secretly taped conversations reportedly made in Kuchma's office shortly before Gongadze's disappearance. However, these taped recordings are not being considered as part of the commission's inquiry, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Ukrainian authorities have appointed their own commission to determine the authenticity of the secret tapes. They claim that the tapes are not genuine. IFJ, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and ARTICLE 19, who are actively monitoring the Gongadze case, say authorities have refused to allow civil society groups to scrutinise the commission's findings.
Read Freedom House's report: http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/specreports/ukmedia604.pdf
Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11402
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2004/Ukraine16sept04na.html
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=2696&Language=EN
- ARTICLE 19: http://www.article19.org.ua/indexe.html
- Institute of Mass Information: http://en.imi.org.ua/eng/
- Media Bias Hampers Election: http://washingtontimes.com/world/20040919-120217-1907r.htm
- BBC Profile of Gongadze: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3664494.stm