(Washington, DC--February 11, 2004) RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine condemned as "a political act" a decision today by the management of Ukrainian radio broadcaster "Dovira" to remove RFE/RL Ukrainian Service programming from its FM schedule, effective February 17, 2004.
Dine said, "This is a political act against liberal democracy, against free speech and press, against RFE/RL, and shows, once again, that Ukraine's political leadership is unable to live in an open society and is compelled to "control" the media as if it were the good old days of the Soviet Union."
In a letter from TV and Radio Company "Dovira" First Deputy Director V. Reznychenko to RFE/RL Ukrainian Service Director Alexander Narodetsky, the privately-held Ukrainian network said its decision to end radio re-broadcasting of RFE/RL programming was motivated by a decision that the RFE/RL programs "have to be changed in terms of format." Reznychenko continues by stating that "Until such time as that takes place, we are obliged to exclude" RFE/RL programming from Dovira's schedule.
The abrupt decision to end RFE/RL Ukrainian Service broadcasts surprised service director Narodetsky, who noted that his service had enjoyed a "very close and productive relationship with Dovira." Dovira first began re-broadcasting RFE/RL programs in 1998, and was named RFE/RL Affiliate of the Year in 2001. The Ukrainian Service worked closely with "Dovira" radio management to adapt its programs to "Dovira" requests for a more FM-friendly format. In fact, Narodetsky said, "active and constructive discussions" were, until receipt of today's letter, underway with "Dovira" on further program changes to bring the Ukrainian Service's programs "even closer to audience expectations and needs."
"Dovira" has been the focus of official Ukrainian pressure to drop RFE/RL Ukrainian Service broadcasting since 2001, soon after the decapitated body of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze was found in a forest near Kyiv and after secretly-recorded conversations allegedly involving President Leonid Kuchma and his senior advisors became public knowledge -- both stories extensively covered by the Ukrainian Service in programs re-broadcast by "Dovira". "Dovira" has stood firmly against the use by Ukrainian authorities of a variety of administrative levers, including allegations that it had breached licensing regulations by re-broadcasting RFE/RL Ukrainian Service programs. Until the receipt of today's letter, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service and "Dovira" management had been working together to resolve the dispute with the government and legislature.
TV and Radio Company "Dovira" was sold in late January to "Ukrainian Media Holding," a newspaper and radio holding company owned by Boris Lozhkin. The new owners installed a new management team at "Dovira," led by the Editor-in-Chief of the Kyiv-based Russian-language newspaper "2000", Sergei Kychygin. It is this new team, according to Reznychenko's letter, that decided to pull RFE/RL programming off of "Dovira".
The agreement under which RFE/RL Ukrainian Service programs are re-broadcast by "Dovira" states that notice to end re-broadcasting must be given at least 30 days before the proposed date of cessation.