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Ukrainian Journalists Protest Government Censorship

(Washington, DC--October 16, 2002) "A moment of truth" arrived for many Ukrainian journalists on September 16, 2002, when they faced increased censorship while trying to cover nation-wide protests on the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze. Just days later, on October 5, many of these same journalists formed Ukraine's first independent journalists' trade union. Four well-known Ukrainian journalists told a recent RFE/RL briefing audience that the founders of the new union were mobilized by a shared realization that, regardless of their individual political views, all journalists in Ukraine are subject to government-imposed censorship.

The four--Julia Mostova, Deputy Chief Editor of the paper "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia;" Yevhen Hlibovitsky, a Senior Correspondent at 1+1 TV; Andriy Shevchenko, former news anchor at Novy Kanal TV; and Roman Skrypin, Anchor and Editor, STB TV--said that 300 reporters from throughout Ukraine have joined this new trade union, because they believe they can no longer freely practice their profession. They went on to highlight various aspects of an on-going campaign by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his government to "manage the media".

According to Hlibovitsky, major media outlets are merely sideline businesses for a few oligarchs who are economically and politically dependent on President Kuchma, and thus subject to government interference on content issues. Skrypin observed that "censorship is a strangling snake," noting that managers simply order reporters not to run news items if they have received telephone calls from President Kuchma's office. Mostova described a basic government censorship technique, known as "temnika," whereby reporters are issued written orders on how to treat--or ignore--political and business topics of the day. Watching Ukrainian television is boring, observed Shevchenko, since TV channels usually feature very similar, politically vetted commentaries and often even run the same video footage.

In the face of pervasive government influence over the media in Ukraine, the speakers noted the importance of international broadcasting, which reaches a well-informed and politically active audience. Shevchenko observed that, when a bus driver recently tuned his radio to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, passengers were visibly startled by the new information they were receiving about their own country.