Press Freedom Under Threat In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ten years ago, the decapitated corpse of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze was found in a forest outside Kyiv. The "Melnichenko tapes" allegedly implicated then-President Leonid Kuchma’s government in the journalist’s kidnapping and death.

The International Press Institute wrote to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (above) to "express its concern at the significant deterioration” in press freedom since he assumed office.

Five years later, the Orange Revolution brought to Ukraine greater liberties than any of its ex-Soviet comrades, with the exception of the Baltic states.

But today, just six months after taking office, the government of President Viktor Yanukovych is turning back the clock on press freedoms, a revanche that poses a stern test for Ukraine's civil society.

In 2009, when Viktor Yushchenko was president, Freedom House ranked Ukraine 108th of 196 countries in terms of press freedom. This was the best score for any ex-Soviet state except the Baltic republics. Russia ranked 175th.

Yanukovych has stated he is "committed to the integration of European values in Ukraine." But his policies are a different story.

Last month, the International Press Institute wrote Yanukovych to "express its concern at the significant deterioration” in press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders warns of disturbing recent trends in censorship, political pressure, and physical attacks on journalists, and criticizes "the government's desire to control journalists" in its latest fact-finding report.

Possible Murder

Press freedoms are under attack in many ways. In May, journalists from Channel 1+1 television released an open letter complaining of censorship. In July, after a Ukrainian blogger criticized Yanukovych, the State Security Service interrogated him for allegedly threatening the president’s life and insulting him.

On August 11, newspaper editor Vasyl Klymentyev, a well-known critic of the authorities, disappeared. Soon after, the interior minister admitted that local law enforcement officials may have been involved in the journalist's disappearance, which is being investigated as a possible murder.

Hopefully, murders of journalists in Russia and the recent suspicious death of opposition journalist Aleh Byabenin in Belarus will not be repeated in Ukraine.

Most television networks in Ukraine are now owned by oligarchs friendly to Yanukovych. The most-watched Inter channel belongs to State Security Service chief Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy.

The nation's top spy also serves on the High Council of Justice, which appoints judges. Both are conflicts of interest incompatible with democracy.

Khoroshkovskyy has maneuvered to expand his media empire through court actions against his competitors, the independent outlets Channel 5 and TVi. In June they were stripped of their broadcast frequencies.

A journalists’ group, Stop Censorship, demonstrated outside a recent court session that confirmed the decision, and their action was not covered on central television stations.

'One Of The Methods'

For his part, Yanukovych dismisses censorship claims as "just one of the methods of playing politics." He explains possible instances of censorship as "conflicts of media owners' interests in the business environment."

The West is taking more notice of deteriorating press freedoms in Ukraine. Last month, during Yanukovych's visit to Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was diplomatic but direct.

Describing her meeting with the Ukrainian president, she said she "made clear that with regard to certain areas, in particular in the area of press freedom and freedom of opinion, we had certain questions."

In short, Merkel called Yanukovych's bluff. In April the Ukrainian president waxed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that “it is a free, independent media that must ensure society's unimpeded access to information."

On September 9, William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters in Kyiv that there are “grounds for concern” about freedom of speech in Ukraine. He added that it is impossible to fight corruption without a free press, saying, “these things are interconnected.”

But Yanukovych may have more incentive than just such foreign criticism to boost press freedom. His popularity at home is plummeting, perhaps in part because of his heavy-handed approach to the media.

A new poll by the Razumkov center says that in August, 22.5 percent of Ukrainians "completely support" Yanukovych, down from 40.9 percent in April. In February, he was elected with 49 percent of the popular vote.

Hopefully, Merkel's message hits home in Kyiv. Ukraine's new rulers must better understand the value of peaceful free expression in a democracy if they seek broader legitimacy at home and respect abroad.

One way Yanukovych can prove his commitment to democratic freedoms is to conduct a vigorous investigation into who ordered the Gongadze killing, ensuring that any trials are fair and open to journalists and the public.

And let’s pray that Klymentyev's disappearance is not a case of history repeating itself.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Comments

wesley rodgers said…
CURBING And CURTAILING MEDIA

EXPRESSION IS KISS OF DEATH OF

NEW--INEXPERIENCED UKRAINE

PRESIDENT!!!
___________________________________

IT IS TRULY UNBELIEVEABLE THAT NEWLY ELECTED UKRAINE PRESIDENT VICTOR YANUKOVICH DOES NOT SEEM TO HAVE THE SLIGHTEST IDEA THAT FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA IS A TRUE AND FREE EXPRESSION OF THE
SOVERIGN FREEDOM OF THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE OR ANY COUNTRY.

WHAT IS SO IRONIC HERE IS THAT PRESIDENT YANUKOVICH HAD NO ONE IN THE MEDIA FOR THE MOST PART REALLY GOING AFTER OR AGAINST HIM OR MOST OF HIS POLICIES.
IF HE DOES GET UPSET BECASUE SOME MEMBERS OF THE NEWS MEDIA MAY QUESTION SOME OF HIS POLICIES THAT IS NORMAL AND HEALTHY- VERY HEALTHY AND IT COMES WITH THE TERRITORY.

BY TRYING TO CONTROL AND CURB REAL FACTS FROM GETTING OUT TO A HUNGRY PUBLIC DESIRING AND NEEDING THE TRUTH HE IS JUST ADDING FUEL TO HIS OWN FIRE.
UNBELIEVEABLE----KIND OF LIKE LIGHTING A MATCH TO YOURSELF WHEN YOU HAVE DYNAMITE WRAPPED AROUND YOUR BODY OR IN THIS CASE THE PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION.

BUT HE HAS ACTUALLY GONE OUT OF HIS WAY TO DISRUPT THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE VERY TALENTED AND FAIR UKRAINE MEDIA AND IN SO DOING HAS CAUSED A RIFT BETWEN HIM AND MUCH OF THE POPULACE OF UKRAINE.

THIS WILL PROVE TO BE HIS MAJOR DOWNFALL AND IT WILL HURT SOME OF HIS POLICIES ESPECIALLY WITH RUSSIA.
EVEN RUSSIA DOES NOT MAKE SOME OF THE CRITICAL DECISIONS AGAINST THE MEDIA AS PRESIDENT YANUKOVICH IS DOING.
HE IS ACTUALLY GOING OUT OF HIS WAY TO CAUSE DISSENTION AND MAKE ENEMIES.
I HOPE HE REMEMBERS ONE THING.

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD.
AND THE HOLY BIBLE PROVES THAT COMMENT TO BE TRUE AS HISTORY REVEALS.
WOULD LIKE TO SAY MORE NOW BUT MUST MAKE THIS COMMENTARY SOMEWEHAT BRIEF TODAY AS WE HAVE SOMETHING IN THE UNITED STATES CALLED 911 AND TODAY MANY REPORTERS AND JOURNALISTS SUCH AS MYSELF HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY ON SEPTEMBER 11,2001.
THE PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES WANT TO SEE PRESIDENT YANUKOVICH SUCCEED BUT HIS CURRENT ATTITUDE IS
SEEN AS UNDIPLOMATIC AND PERHAPS THE POWER HAS GOTTEN THE BEST OF HIM.
I HAVE LIVED AND WORKED IN UKRAINE AND UKRAINE PEOPLE ARE THE BEST-THE VERY BEST AND MY HEART GOES OUT TO THOSE GREAT PEOPLE AND GREAT NATION.

ALSO THIS ATTITUDE IS INFLAMAING
THE STATE OF AFFAIRS WITH THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA--NOT GOOD!!

MANY HAD CRITICIZED THE ORANGE REVOLUTION BECAUSE IT DID NOT ACCOCMPLISH ITS MISSION.
BUT AS STATED IN THE PAST, WITH AN ASSASINATION ATTEMPT ON YUSCHENKO WHICH ALSO PROVED A BLEMISH AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENMT AND NEGATIVE INFILTRATION IN THE VERKHOVNA RADA THAT IS WHY THAT MISSION WAS NOT ACCOMPLISHED.
BUT THE FACT IS MOST PEOPLE WANTED REAL CHANGE AND --YES--STILL WANTED TO MAINAIN HEALTHY TIES WITH RUSSIA WHICH IS VERY NORMAL.
PRESIDENT YANUKOVICH MUST REALIZE THAT THE WORLD IS WATCHING EVERY MOVE HE MAKES AND ALMOST EVERY WORD HE SAYS AND HOW HE TREATS HIS PEOPLE.
I WISH MY FELLOW JOURNALIST FRIENDS ANDRIY TSAPLIYENKO AT INTER TV NEWS AND BRIAN BONNER AT KYIV POST AND OTHERS SUCH AS AT KIEV NEW BLOG THE BEST.
IN THE MEANTIME SAY A PRAYER FOR YOUR BROTHERS IN THE U.S. AS WE HAVE A NEW PRESIDENT ALSO -- BARACK OBAMA AND HE DOES NOT LIKE MUCH FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA EITHER AND THAT DOES NOT BODE WELL WITH A VERY FREE NEWS MEDIA.
THE YEAR IS 2010--NOT 1917.
WES RODGERS
PATRIOTSTV.COM
THE BULLETIN
west-patriot@msn.com