Natalia VIKULINA The Day   17-Aug-1999  Leonid Kuchma birthday present
"We seem to have landed back in a 'stagnation period,' when 'enemy' radio voices informed us about the violation of human rights and freedom of the speech." — Borys Klymenko
The article below describes some of the less brutal methods employed by Leonid Kuchma to strangle the Ukrainian press and by so doing increase his chances of being re-elected in the presidential elections this October.  The chief benefit to Leonid Kuchma of re-election will be that he avoids for a while longer prosecution for the crimes he has committed while in office.  Unfortunately for Leonid Kuchma, however, his victory this October would only delay the day of reckoning, and in the end only increase the number of crimes for which he will be answerable.

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Kuchma' s relationship with free media shows through even overseas

By Natalia VIKULINA, The Day

Leonid Kuchma got a special birthday present over the weekend — a letter from the Committee to Protect Journalists which, not for the first time, is worried about the President's «special» attitude to independent mass media.

Now the New York-based committee is preoccupied over the recent suspension of all four independent TV channels in the Crimea.  As is known, the stations were closed down for lack of a «relevant license.»  The committee, composed of representatives of the largest and most influential U.S. media, taking due account of the October 31 elections, considers such actions by the presidential administration as politically motivated.  The overseas defenders of freedom of speech also remind the President that there have already been attempts to halt the broadcasting of independent TV channels in the Crimea on the eve of the last parliamentary elections.  The committee regards this turn in Kuchma/free mass media relations as a new attempt by the President's administration «to muzzle the independent and opposition TV channels in Ukraine.»  As an example, the journalist organization cites the recent STB case.

The committee's executive director Ann Cooper asks Mr. Kuchma to allow the Crimean TV channels to resume work.  Knowing well the situation in Ukraine, the committee writes: «We further ask that all journalists in Ukraine be allowed to practice their profession without fear of reprisal.»

It is intriguing that the letter came to our President right after the head of his administration Mykola Biloblotsky had expressed indignation over the national mass media.  According to Mr. Biloblotsky, Mr. Kuchma is being poured over with «outright hardcore» and crazy criticism «which is not easy to stand up to in purely human terms.»  Odd fish are those Western do-gooders!  They do not grasp, for some reason, Mr. Kuchma's problems but advise him «not to muzzle» the fourth power.


Alevtyna BORETSKA, chief of the Ukrainian branch of the European Mass Media Institute: «We hope journalists will display corporate solidarity and support their Crimean colleagues.  Solidarity should be shown every time, as was the case when Kievskiye vedomosti was being closed.  What is the name of the game?  Today they have closed four Crimean channels, tomorrow they may do the same with The Day, and the day after tomorrow with Lviv newspapers.  The latter are now feeling pressure for taking a position other than that of the President.»

Borys KLYMENKO, president of the International Public Communications Foundation: «The practice of mass media closure can only be characterized as shameful.  This becomes especially indicative during an election campaign.  What was done to the media during the 1994 presidential elections (let us recall the closure of Gravis TRC which supported Kuchma as candidate) is baby-talk compared to the current situation.  I wish this were not noted from abroad alone: we seem to have landed back in a 'stagnation period,' when 'enemy' radio voices informed us about the violation of human rights and freedom of the speech.»