Ukrainian Journalists Freer Than Ever, Media Watchdog Group Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's media enjoyed more freedom last year than ever since this ex-Soviet republic became independent, but the murky ownership of media outlets and a lack of respect for journalists remain persistent problems, a media watchdog group said Wednesday.

The media reported 12 cases of economic or political pressure last year, compared to 60 in 2004. There were 52 cases of censorship in 2004, whereas only 14 reported cases last year, said Viktoriya Syumar, director of the Institute of Mass Information, marking international Press Freedom Day.

"Ukrainian media saw fewer violations of their activity in 2005," she said.

But Serhiy Taran, a media expert, said that true freedom of the press still hasn't come to Ukraine despite the massive changes wrought by the 2004 Orange Revolution. He cited the lack of transparency about who owns many of Ukraine's powerful media outlets, and obstacles keeping journalists from the corridors of power.

"We know that in many democratic countries, including the United States, even presidents have had to resign because of journalistic investigations," he said. "Here we have a paradoxical situation - journalists have freedom of speech, but they haven't yet become the fourth branch of power."

Ukraine's reformist, pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, has pledged to make media freedom a top priority. Under his predecessor, former President Leonid Kuchma, media were given orders about what they could report, and the opposition was either given little time on television or portrayed in a very negative light.

Today, news channels present a variety of views, and political talk shows give significant time to opposition figures and Yushchenko's critics. But Taran warned that there was still a need for media outlets to become more transparent, and reveal who is funding them. He also complained that journalists weren't being given the access they need to carry out their watchdog role.

The media watchdog group said it had recorded a worrying increase in incidents against journalists during this year's parliamentary campaign. Last year, only 13 lawsuits were opened against the media, whereas in the first quarter of this year, there have already been 15, Syumar said.

Source: AP