(Washington, DC--April 19, 2002) Prominent lawyer and journalist Myroslava Gongadze, speaking at RFE/RL in Washington, D.C. yesterday noted that voters in the 31 March parliamentary election in Ukraine "broke a barrier" in post-Soviet countries by ignoring manipulation of the mass media that elsewhere has skewed election results.
Gongadze, who tracked media coverage of the campaign, noted that a study by the "Freedom of Choice" coalition of Ukrainian NGO's and Transparency International Ukraine (www.vybory.org.ua/indexe.shtml) found that nearly $7 million was spent by all of the parties contesting the election on advertising. Of the top six biggest spenders, three failed to earn a single seat in the parliament, and the biggest spender--the United Social Democratic Party of Viktor Medvedchuk at $2.1 million--earned the smallest vote total of those parties that qualified for seats under proportional representation.
Gongadze raised concerns about the "tremendous pressures" exerted against journalists by owners of media outlets to support "the tastes of the owners" which "took precedence over informing the public." There is also evidence, Gongadze said, that the current presidential administration pressured mass media owners to support its candidates.
Public distrust of the mass media has grown in Ukraine, Gongadze said, as a result of distorted election coverage. This has prompted journalists in recent days to call for a re-evaluation of professional standards and to seek ways to restore their credibility.
Gongadze noted that 174 journalists ran for public office in this round of local and parliamentary elections. She said, however, that many of them continued their media work while campaigning.
Having failed to remove President Kuchma through massive street demonstrations last year, Gongadze said that Ukrainians turned to the ballot box to voice their opposition to President Kuchma and his policies.