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Is Ukraine Changing the Rules of the Election Game?

(Washington, DC--March 11, 2004) Growing government pressure on the media and non governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine is threatening the integrity of the election process, according to a group of Ukrainian civic leaders visiting the United States.

Speaking to a recent RFE/RL audience, the group of civic leaders said the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine, due in October, were important not just to Ukraine's development but the entire post Soviet space. Hryhoriy Nemyria, Chairman of the International Renaissance Foundation and Director of the Center for European and International Studies, said that if institutions such as the EU, Council of Europe and Western governments do not protest the narrowing of public debate and electoral participation in Ukraine, "we may see an attempt to change the rules of the game."

Valeriy Ivanov, President of the Academy of Ukrainian Press said that the government, through its campaign against the media, had "changed the balance of news and information" in the country. Based on media monitoring during the period October 2003-January 2004, Ivanov found that political news is covered only from the government's point of view and few news outlets dare to broadcast coverage of alternative candidates. "The trend [in Ukraine] is to remove any outlets that don't succumb to government control," he concluded.

Igor Kohut, Secretary of the New Choice 2004 Coalition, called for better coordination of effort by NGOs and their financial sponsors, citing the measured success of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine in the 2002 parliamentary elections, where the NGO coalition used a good division of labor for to pursue both civic education projects as well as monitoring of the elections. He said it wasn't clear, yet, if the coming presidential elections in October will be open, because of the pressure that has been exerted against the media, as well as a new parliamentary investigation of NGOs. He predicted that monitoring of the campaign and election will be even more important than in 2002, because of the state of the media in Ukraine today.

Oleksandr Chernenko, Deputy Director of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, and Yevhen Bystrytsky, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation seconded their colleagues' concerns for an open presidential campaign, to give Ukrainian voters full and objective information before they cast their ballots. They also joined their colleagues in expressing disapproval of government actions against RFE/RL and other international broadcasters in Ukraine during the past few weeks, warning that the last independent TV station in Ukraine, Channel 5, was also under tremendous government pressure and could be the next flashpoint in the government's efforts at media control.

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