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Self-Censorship and Government Restrictions Plague Coverage of Ukrainian Presidential Election

(Washington, D.C.- September 20, 2004) Media coverage of the presidential election campaign in Ukraine has been inadequate due to a restrictive media climate in the country, according to Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian journalist who spoke to a RFE/RL audience in Washington, D.C. this week. Journalists engage in "self-censorship" while the government restricts access to information producing "the most restrictive coverage of elections in Ukraine's history," Shevchenko said.

A news anchor and also news director for 5 Kanal Television, the only nation-wide, independent, Ukrainian television station, Shevchenko said that his station strives to provide full and objective information about the campaign. An agreement signed between the news team and the manager of the station in summer 2003, guarantees the news department independence and frees them from political interference by the station owners. The other national stations are either government controlled, or owned by oligarchs openly supporting the candidacy of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych for president. Not surprising, he said, "pro-government candidates such as Yanukovych dominate the airwaves in Ukraine." Shevchenko said that only his own station, Kanal 5, has been airing live interviews with the candidates.

Shevchenko said the biggest problem for independent journalists in Ukraine is being cutoff from information by the government, but that has required journalists to become more "skillful at dodging problems caused by officials." At the same time, media owners have discovered that the government can cause problems for stations by canceling or denying licenses, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. Shevchenko predicted that stations feeling this pressure will give up news coverage completely, citing a decision by Ukraine's Channel 3 to stop broadcasting news by the end of 2004.

There is also a "lack of confidence and trust" of the Ukrainian media, Shevchenko said, and that means that "the media will have little impact in the upcoming presidential election." He believes that nonetheless "even one outlet, such as Kanal 5, could change the outlook of the election." Shevchenko added that among Ukraine’s population, the older generation knows how to “read between the lines” of the media, while the younger generation gets their news mostly from the Internet. He said that the Internet is a powerful source for regional newspapers and is mostly a free market.

He predicted that not a great deal in media coverage will change after the presidential election because "the television markets are already established and stations know how to earn a profit under the current system." Moreover, Ukraine’s journalists are "not motivated to practice real journalism" and "freedom of speech is not appreciated in either [political] camp." "Evening Liberty" is the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service's most popular program. A transcript (in Ukrainian) and audio of the August 26 show can be found on the Ukrainian Service's website, at

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcasts nearly 7 hours of programming a day Monday through Friday, and 3 hours every Saturday and Sunday, with programs produced in Prague and the service's Kyiv Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM and FM signals provided by local affiliate stations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website and at

To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at