HOME  DISINFORMATION  PRESS
Peter Byrne   Kyiv Post   12Aug99   U.S. supports move toward Ukrainian dictatorship
Despite calls from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to link economic aid to the Ukrainian government's adherence to press liberties, diplomats from United States and European Union states have not publicly expressed their displeasure with the press crackdown currently under way in Ukraine.  Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. and European Union assistance continues to flow into government bank accounts.
The U.S. talks of promoting democracy, but in Ukraine engineers dictatorship with U.S. backing, George-Soros-installed Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma continues on his relentless path to transform Ukraine from a fledgling democracy to a mafia dictatorship.  Ukraine is following in the footsteps of neighboring Belarus first a strangulation of the media, and then because the country has become an undeniable dictatorship, a cutoff of foreign assistance.

To access the original of the article below on the Kyiv Post web site, click the Kyiv Post logo below, then click on the link to the article, or if it is not on the most recent edition, then click ARCHIVE, then fill in the MONTH and YEAR desired, then click SHOW.



External link to Kyiv PostExternal link to Kyiv Post

Kuchma silent on media curbs

By PETER BYRNE
Post Staff Writer

12 August 1999

Less than three months before the presidential election, Ukrainian officials have stepped up their efforts to close electronic and print news media outlets not openly supportive of President Leonid Kuchma, who is seeking a second five-year term.

Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko declined comment on the recent closures of non-governmental television.  However, he said Kuchma supports a free and independent press, but doesn't think Ukraine has one today.  "President Kuchma desires to see a free press," Martynenko said.  "But he sees a press that is not free; he sees a press that is economically dependent on its owners."

The government has now shut down four commercial television stations in Crimea and two in Kyiv.  The formal reason given in each case has been the stations' use of unlicensed transmitters.

For more than three weeks, Vladimir Kovalev, the head of Ukraine's State Broadcasting Regulation Agency (UkrChastotNadzor), was unavailable for comment on television station closings.

However, on Aug. 11 his secretary referred the Post to the first deputy head of the State Committee for Communication and Information, Viktor Zhenzhera, whose office referred inquiries to Serhy Glotov, chief of the Committee's Radio Technology and Channel Allocation Directorate, who was unavailable to comment.

While operating an unlicensed station sounds like a serious and ominous charge, the truth is that unlicensed broadcasting is standard operating procedure.

Serhy Aksonenko, a member of the MEDIA, National Council of Radio and Television Broadcasting, told STB broadcast reporters: "...When the government itself does not certify its transmitters and [television and radio] companies broadcast via state-owned transmitters, all companies in opposition to the authorities can be closed down."

The wheels of strong-arm government tactics spun in the same direction three years ago in Belarus, when officials pulled the plug on independent radio and television stations there.  The few remaining independent journalists in Belarus say the situation today in Ukraine is strikingly similar to when Belarus' authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko tightened his vice grip over the media during the run-up of a national vote on the constitution.

Belarus' restrictions are more pervasive than in Ukraine, but in a growing number of areas not by much: Under the pretext of tax violations and libel suits, government officials in Belarus refused to license the largest independent printing press and froze the bank accounts of nine of the most influential non-governmental capital and regional newspapers.  In Belarus, independent television companies throughout the republic were given a clear choice: work for Lukashenko or don't work.

Those tactics would sound familiar to such Lviv newspapers as Vilna Ukrainia, Express, Halytski Kontrakty, Postup, not to mention Kyiv's Politika and Den, as well as the Kirovogradskaya Pravda, Dniprovskaya Pravda, Poltavskaya Pravda and others.  Scores of other Ukrainian newspapers are complaining today of harassment and unwarranted tax inspections.

The four television stations shut down by the government are in Crimea, Simferopol's Black Sea TV and ITV, Ehkran (Dzhankoi), Kerch TV, as well as Minsk-based STB and Mars TV television and radio company.

If the dispirited public is not up in arms in protest, international free-press monitors are riled.

Aletvina Boretskaya, director of the Kyiv-based office of the European Media Institute, said: "We hope that journalists will support one another and support their Crimean colleagues.  It is necessary to demonstrate solidarity each time press freedoms are violated.  ...  Otherwise, tomorrow, the authorities will close the newspapers in Lviv for expressing opinions different than those of our president."

Gennady Potchtar, director of the Kyiv-based ProMedia Information and Press Research Center, confirmed findings recently reported by the institute, a non-profit group that supports free media.  Those findings show that the electronic media in Ukraine are almost completely under the thumbs of government officials and businessmen, who are actively supporting President Kuchma's bid for re-election.

According to ProMedia's resident adviser Tim O'Connor, international condemnation of the Kuchma administration's media muzzling has been muted.

Despite calls from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to link economic aid to the Ukrainian government's adherence to press liberties, diplomats from United States and European Union states have not publicly expressed their displeasure with the press crackdown currently under way in Ukraine.

Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. and European Union assistance continues to flow into government bank accounts.

It was the same situation in Belarus, which was receiving "economic assistance" at the same time Lukashenko was de-privatizing the commercial sector.  Most international assistance to Belarus was eventually suspended in 1997.  But, by then, the damage was irreparable.

A widely known political analyst on the Ukrainian scene, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that non-governmental media in Ukraine are being squeezed.

The analyst compared the state-sanctioned throttling of the press to the underlying rationale of NATO's intervention in Kosovo: The ends justify the means.

"When NATO intervened in Kosovo, it did so illegally, but for the right reasons, he said, adding: "Just think what a tragedy it would be for Ukraine if Vitrenko or Moroz were elected!"

This view was echoed by Yury Voloshin, a veteran Ukrainian correspondent based in Minsk.  He said: "The methods used to control media in Ukraine are the same as were employed here in Belarus.  It's all part of post-Soviet election campaigning."

After the election, Voloshin predicted conditions will get better: "It takes tremendous economic and political resources to control media and, unlike Belarus, the government in Ukraine simply does not possess the required reserves to manipulate the press indefinitely.  After [Kuchma wins] the election, the pressure will probably let up."

Until then, Ukrainian journalists could face the same difficult choice as their Belarusian counterparts: Suck it up and work in the interest of the man in charge, or find another job.

If recent comments from U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer are any indication, the Western diplomatic community doesn't see any problem.  On July 28, Pifer told Den, the Ukrainian national daily newspaper: "There is a huge difference between what we see with regards to the press in Belarus and what we see in Ukraine.  I think there is an understanding here that a vibrant democracy needs to have a full and really functional press.  And that's going to be part of the criteria by which Ukraine is accepted in Europe ..."

Responded the newly out-of-work programming director of Black Sea TV, Yulia Orlov, in the same newspaper in the Aug. 3 edition: "Ukrainian officials may have convinced Western diplomats of their 'understanding,' but for us actions speak louder than words."


HOME  DISINFORMATION  PRESS