Ukraine's Journalists Fight To Save Image After Bribe Claims

KIEV, Ukraine -- Under the motto "We can't be bought," television journalists in Ukraine are fighting for change after some broadcasters succumbed to bribes from politicians during the last elections.

Corruption is a fickle path.

Just as they did three years ago during the so-called Orange Revolution, Ukrainian journalists are once again out to save their profession's reputation.

Last time, the government under then-President Leonid Kuchma had subjected journalists to censorship; now politicians are using monetary incentives to influence the news coverage in their favor.

The most recent parliamentary elections on Sept. 30 were the last straw: Never before had so many reports by national broadcasters on political topics been paid for, according to independent observers.

Big business for campaign reports

Unprecedented sums flowed from the parties' secret coffers into those of the television broadcasters, said Victoria Siumar from the Kiev Institute for Mass Information: A two-minute PR report cost around $5,000 (about 7,400 euros), while a broadcast with a live appearance from politicians went for $50,000 to $70,000.

A total of between $200 and $300 million was paid to broadcasters during the campaign, according to different estimates, Siumar added.

Campaign leader wants to name names

A major part of the "We can't be bought" campaign is monitoring broadcasters across the country in order to identify paid news reports. The initial findings would be published soon and include specific examples of bribery, said campaign co-founder Yegor Sobolyev.

Sobolyev emphasized that his group wasn't out to condemn politicians who had paid for broadcasts, but, above all, to spare the journalism profession.

"I insist that we don't just talk about broadcasters and tendencies, but that the names of those involved -- from the managers to the journalists -- are given," Sobolyev said. "The country has to know who is responsible."

The campaign leader isn't so worried about getting flack from colleagues; he's more concerned about bribery becoming common practice in the field.

Reliable news is better for broadcasters

"Paid news reports usually force lies onto the viewer, which some of them may believe," but it's even worse when those reports take the place of more important news, Sobolyev said.

Another of the group's concerns is that the younger generation of journalists who didn't experience censorship under Kuchma is less aware of the danger that media bribes present to press freedom. After all, the incentives could soon be replaced with harsh limitations, said Sobolyev.

"We see this tendency and want to beat this sickness before it kills us."

The campaign leader is convinced, however, that broadcasters will come to their senses, since bribes can't constitute a sustainable income. To raise their ratings and maintain a stable income, broadcasters have to present reliable information and gain credibility with their viewers, he said.

Source: Deutsche Welle