(Prague, Czech Republic--October 27, 2004) A group of journalists and executives at TV Channel 5 -- an RFE/RL affiliate partner and the only television station remaining in Ukraine not controlled by the government -- have been on a hunger strike since Monday, October 25 to protest political persecution and harassment of the station.
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine said today that "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty fully supports our Channel 5 colleagues in their efforts to stop the slide toward authoritarian rule and the silencing of free media in Ukraine."
The group of about 15 hunger-strikers includes Channel 5 news anchors Roman Skrypin and Danylo Yanevsky, as well as General Manager Vladyslav Liasovsky. They told RFE/RL Ukrainian Service colleagues that they began fasting Monday evening and have now gone without food for 48 hours. TV 5 is maintaining hourly news broadcasts with skeleton staff and gives bulletin updates on the group every half hour, switching the camera to the TV studio where the hunger-strikers are camping out.
Members of the group are in regular phone contact with RFE/RL's Kyiv Bureau. They have said that, with only days remaining before Ukraine's hotly contested presidential election on October 31, they wish to draw attention to government attempts to close their station down.
On October 14, TV Channel 5's license to broadcast in Kyiv was withdrawn and last week the station's bank accounts were frozen, at the request of a parliamentary deputy who claimed that Channel 5 news is manipulated by anti-government forces.
The hunger-strikers ask that the station's bank accounts be unblocked and its broadcast license be renewed in a fair and impartial hearing. The station continues to broadcast, pending an appeal against the loss of license. The case is to be heard in a Kyiv court tomorrow, October 28. An RFE/RL reporter will be in the courtroom.
RFE/RL and Channel 5 are partners in a 35-minute weekly news show launched in April. Called "Prime Time," it is broadcast every Sunday and has become a popular program with Ukrainian viewers, because of the frank, sometimes heated discussion of political issues between two guests with opposing views, who have been invited to participate on the show. "Prime Time" is moderated by an RFE/RL host.
TV Channel 5 was established in 2003 by Petro Poroshenko, a well-known businessman who also serves as chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's budgetary committee. Poroshenko is a supporter of the leading presidential opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko and member of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc of opposition parties.