Ukraine: Freedom House on Freedom of Speech

After President Leonid Kuchma was re-elected in 1999, the control over financial independence and activity of mass media toughened
The condition of freedom of speech in Ukraine has considerably worsened as compared with the first days after Ukraine's independence was proclaimed. Against the background of the present-day situation in mass media, it is highly unlikely that the 2004 presidential election will be fairly and proportionally covered.

This is stated in a Freedom House special report after thorough research of the issue. A year before the presidential election, analysts from Transitions Online office in Prague studied development of the Ukrainian mass media on behalf of Freedom House. Information required for the research was collected in the Ukrainian cities of Kiev, Cherkassy and Dnepropetrovsk in June 2003; 30 reporters, media editors, journalists and human rights experts were interviewed. The analysts also used information of reports by Ukrainian and international monitors overseeing freedom of speech in the press and mass media.

The Freedom House report says, the Ukrainian opposition has no opportunity to go on the air, and the censorship system together with instructions received from the presidential administration distort information and result in wrong coverage of political events.

International monitoring organizations have already strongly criticized Ukraine mass media for improper coverage of political events and for the lack of unbiased information about election campaigns for the electorate. The document says that "after President Leonid Kuchma was re-elected in 1999, the national and local governments and political parties toughened control over financial independence and activity of mass media." The toughening reached its critical level during the 2002 parliamentary election, the period when intimidations of journalists and mass media reached the peak over the whole period of Ukraine's independence.
The authors of the report think that the tendency outlined during the 1999 presidential election and 2002 parliamentary election even aggravated before the 2004 presidential election. Majority of Ukrainian monitors and journalists interviewed in the framework of the research think that the rating increase of the oppositional forces and the menace of power replacement will make it so that a great part of mass media, radio and TV particularly, will distort the meaning and the context of information even more.

The report also contains a number of recommendations to the president and the government of Ukraine. In particular, authorities are recommended to immediately stop distribution of instructions concerning the context and the form of information coverage. The document says that these instructions are still circulated even though there is documented evidence proving that the instructions are distributed at parliamentary hearings. The authors of the report add that the president and the government of Ukraine should give up the practice of intimidating editors-in-chief of mass media and look into assassinations and attacks at journalists.

The Ukrainian Central Election Commission is recommended to guarantee equal access to mass media for all candidates at the election. What is more, the Election Commission must set up "an honest representative multi-party monitoring committee; it must take care that state-run TV and radio broadcasting companies regularly report about implementation of recommendations and instructions issued by the committee."
There are also several recommendations to Ukrainian public organizations and mass media. The latter are recommended to adopt a public declaration on observance of the journalism ethic principles for objective coverage of political problems. Indeed, authors of the report say that when journalists are paid wages twice as less as the living wage, the ethics principles are often disregarded.

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Author`s name Michael Simpson