Peter Byrne Kyiv Post 22Jul99 Leonid Kuchma strangles press
Very few organizations and embassies have conditioned financial assistance on Ukraine's observance of press liberties.
State to pull plug on local TV station
By PETER BYRNE
Post Staff Writer
22 July 1999
In what looks like another heavy-handed attempt by government officials to throttle Ukraine's independent media, the popular Black Sea TV and Radio Company has been ordered to end its broadcasts after July 26.
The Crimean office of the State Electronic Communication Agency has notified company officials that its broadcasts will be terminated for failing to have the proper federal authorization, the company said.
Oleksandr Chyuprina, acting Black Sea TV president, said the order arrived in the wake of local officials' failed efforts to force the sale of his company. Chyuprina implied that the shutdown was orchestrated by supporters of President Leonid Kuchma, although he didn't directly charge the president with shutting down his station.
"In light of the current political situation, we think the aim of the authorities is clear: to control company programming on the eve of presidential elections," Chyuprina said.
The State Electronic Communication Agency could not be reached for comment.
Black Sea TV is the largest non-government television producer on the peninsula, broadcasting to an audience of two million people in 16 cities in Crimea. Chyuprina insisted the station's programming does not favor any politician or interest group.
"We are independent financially and have no intention of toadying up to any clan structure," Chyuprina said.
Oleg Homenok, who works for the Crimea-based IREX Press Center, agreed with Chyuripina's claims of state meddling. Homenok predicted that similar transmission bans under the same pretext may be imposed in the near future on regional television production companies operating in Kerch, Sevastopol and Dzhankoy.
Black Sea TV has been licensed for the past eight years to both produce and air daily news and information programs throughout Crimea.
This is not the first time that local authorities have tried to block transmission of the Crimean station's broadcasts. On the eve of parliamentary elections last year, Crimean officials used a similar ploy in an attempt to close down Black Sea TV. However, public and international pressure succeeded in convincing authorities to back down.
The shutdown of the Crimean station has once again thrust Ukraine's poor record on free speech into the spotlight.
In a similar case in March, local authorities dismantled the transmission antennas of Dnipropetrovsk-based Channel 11 because the station had failed to register a radio line running between its programming station and the broadcast center. The station, controlled by leaders of the opposition Hromada party, alleged the shutdown was politically motivated.
Kuchma was rated the world's sixth worst enemy of the press by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in late May. The committee predicted the situation would only get worse as the October presidential election approached.
Representatives of foreign-based organizations and diplomatic missions charged with monitoring Ukraine's compliance on speech liberties are only vaguely aware of the problems facing Ukrainian media.
Those organizations — including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union — have conducted media monitoring largely as part of their effort to evaluate whether elections in Ukraine are "free and fair."
In a blow to those efforts, the European Union has yet to renew its formal arrangement with the OSCE to begin monitoring the Ukrainian situation during this fall's presidential election campaign, according to Gillian McCormak of the Dusseldorf-based European Institute for the Media.
Several months ago, OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, Friedmut Duve, met diplomats, government officials, deputies, and the press in Kyiv to discuss the degeneration of press liberties.
During a give-and-take session with media representatives, he expressed the view that the Ukrainian libel law must be changed and that economic assistance and cooperation with Ukraine must be connected to the government's adherence to universally accepted norms regarding freedom of speech, rule of law, and human rights.
However, the libel law was not changed. And very few organizations and embassies have conditioned financial assistance on Ukraine's observance of press liberties.
According to Alevitna Boretska of the European Institute for the Media's Kyiv office, up to 90 percent of the population receives the bulk of information about their region and the surrounding world from electronic media, mainly television.
The vast majority of both state and private electronic media in Ukraine is openly pro-Kuchma.
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