(Washington, Prague --February 17, 2004) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Ukrainian programs were taken off the air today in Kyiv and cities across Ukraine, as the Ukrainian FM Radio Dovira network carried out its threat to drop RFE/RL from its airwaves.
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine called the Dovira move "a deeply disturbing political development and serious setback to freedom of expression in Ukraine." Dine said that silencing RFE/RL's unique and popular brand of balanced and comprehensive local news in this presidential election year robs Ukrainians of an invaluable source of information. "This isn't just about RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service -- this is about denying Ukrainians the information they need to make sound decisions about the future of their country," Dine said, adding "this is already having a chilling impact on the media and public debate in Ukraine."
RFE/RL programming was removed from the Dovira airwaves at 6:30 am (Kyiv time) this morning. Dine said he is "outraged at the unilateral, abrupt ending of a successful partnership with Dovira."
RFE/RL was given just one week's notice of the Dovira decision in a letter dated February 11. Dine said that the primary reason cited by Dovira for canceling the programs, that RFE/RL programs did not fit Dovira's format, was "baseless and misleading." The decision to pull RFE/RL programming off of the privately-held Ukrainian network was made by a newly-installed management team headed by Serhiy Kychygin, a businessman and journalist reported to be close to the administration of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Dovira did not respond to repeated efforts by RFE/RL to meet during the days after the letter was received.
Dovira had been rebroadcasting five hours daily of RFE/RL programs on its nationwide FM network since 1998. Latest RFE/RL audience figures (from the American-based InterMedia Survey Institute) show a 30 percent increase nationwide in listenership over the past 12 months, mostly among young listeners in the 15-24 age group. Dine said RFE/RL is determined not to disappoint its large audience and has already begun a search for other affiliate partners to rebroadcast on FM in Kyiv and elsewhere.
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service continues to broadcast on shortwave to Ukraine and its programs are still available on independent FM stations in six cities including Odessa and Simferopol. This week, RFE/RL began broadcasting on a new Medium Wave (AM) frequency from Hungary. Listeners in Ukraine can turn the dial to AM 1188 to hear Radio Liberty broadcasts from 9-10 pm and 11-12 pm Kyiv time daily.
Hundreds of listeners have contacted RFE/RL to protest the loss of RFE/RL on Dovira frequencies. A representative comment came from a law student who sent this e-mail: "I want to tell you that as a student, it's interesting and useful for us to listen to [RFE/RL Ukrainian broadcasts]. You give us a real picture of events in Ukraine and the world."
Prominent Ukrainian opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko, Batkivshchyna (Motherland) party leader Yulia Timoshenko and respected human rights activist and parliamentarian Stepan Khmara, as well as independent local newspapers have all come out in strong support of continued RFE/RL Ukrainian broadcasting nationwide.
Dine said the Dovira decision is reminiscent of the "bad old days" and "a regrettable prelude to what we still hope will be a joyful celebration of the 50th anniversary of our Ukrainian Service this summer." RFE/RL began broadcasting to Ukraine on August 16, 1954 and is the leading international broadcaster in the country.