(Washington, DC--March 17, 2003) A group of 8 journalists discussed the challenges of working in their chosen profession in the far-eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk at an RFE/RL briefing last week. The problems noted by members of the group reflected many of the difficulties that face journalists and media executives in all of the countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc.
Oleksandr Pankov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Nasha Hazeta" and head of the regional branch of Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, noted that newspapers in Ukraine must depend on retail sales for the bulk of their income, unlike their U.S. brethren who depend on advertising to pay the bills. Because of Ukraine's weak economy, however, newspapers cannot raise newsstand prices whenever costs, such as the price of imported newsprint, go up. The subscriber base for newspapers has also been eroded as a result of Ukraine's economic decline, Pankov said.
Advertising revenue increases only around the time of nationwide elections, according to "Kievskie vedomosti" Luhansk correspondent Natalia Kononova. Kononova, who began working for the newspaper in 1997 after her predecessor perished in unexplained circumstances related to his journalistic work, said that regional newspapers tend to be more dependent on local authorities that either own or heavily subsidize many media outlets, and that the "merger between government and private property" is most evident there. As several journalists noted in response to questions on journalistic independence, if you work for a government-financed media outlet "there are certain obligations... you are not going to criticize your owner" or, put another way, "every journalist has as much freedom as he or she can bear."
The journalists, visiting the U.S. as part of a U.S. Department of State-sponsored exchange program organized by the International Visitors Council of Greater Kansas City and the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, represented a variety of mass media operating in Luhansk. In addition to Pankov and Kononova, the delegation included Serhiy Davydov (editor-in-chief of the business newspaper "Hryvnia-Plus"), Olga Drygoda (editor-in-chief of the health publication "Bud' Zdorov, Luchanchyn"), Nina Gasanova (general director of "Antatsytovskyy News"), Vyacheslav Husakov (a correspondent for the newspaper "Express-Club"), Oleksandr Grechanyk (a radio commentator for Luhansk Oblast State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company), and Lidiya Prokhvatilova (editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Kreminshchyna").
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