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Ukraine3 November 2004

Kanal 5 journalists call off hunger strike and bring action against broadcasting council

Journalists working for the TV station Kanal 5 yesterday announced that they were calling off the hunger strike they began a week ago. At the same time, they brought a court action against the National Broadcasting Council (NBC) with the aim of obtaining a definitive licence to broadcast in Kiev. They suspect that the NBC’s contradictory decisions about Kanal 5’s licence are turning into a way to pressure the station to change its editorial line.


Journalists protest against censorship on eve of presidential election

Seven journalists with the privately-owned TV station 1+1, which is controlled by presidential chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk, resigned today in protest against its biased coverage of the campaign for the 31 October presidential election. "We refuse to take part in an information war which the authorities have declared on their own people," they said.

They said they were leaving the station after trying in vain to convince their superiors to stop censuring the news and ignore the "temnyks," the memos from Medvedchuk’s office saying how certain subjects should be covered. The 1+1 management declined to comment.

More than 160 journalists have meanwhile signed a petition protesting against campaign coverage censorship and bias in favour of the government-backed presidential candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. "Defying the norms of professional journalism, the government and - under government pressure - the TV station owners are trying to ignore major events or cover them in a biased manner," the petition says.

Launched yesterday by 42 journalists working for such national TV stations as Novy Kanal, ICTV, Inter, TNT and 1+1, the petition calls on reporters "to inform society about all major events, to present all important viewpoints and to verify and give the source of the news being broadcast."

Kanal 5’s bank accounts, which were frozen on 18 October as a result of a defamation suit, have meanwhile been unblocked by court order. The TV station’s journalists are nonetheless continuing the hunger strike they began on 25 October to protest against the various kinds pressure to which they are being subject, including the threat of losing their broadcast licence.


TV station journalists go on hunger strike over threatened withdrawal of licence

Andriy Chevchenko, the news director of Ukraine’s only opposition TV station, Kanal 5, announced on the air at about 9:30 p.m. yesterday that the station’s journalists are going on hunger strike to protest against the various forms of harassment to which it is being subjected.

The announcement came amid moves suggesting some of the pressure on the station was being lifted. Independent legislator Volodymyr Sivkovitch announced the withdrawal of his defamation suit against opposition legislator Petro Porochenko, one of the station’s owners.

The National Broadcasting Council also decided that, for the time being at least, it is not withdrawing Kanal 5’s licence to broadcast in the Kiev area.

Chevchenko insisted, however, that Kanal 5’s bank accounts were still frozen as a result of the defamation suit and the threat of losing their licence was still a sword of Damocles hanging over the journalists.


Defamation case ruling threatens sole opposition station

A Kiev court’s decision to freeze the financial assets of Ukraine’s only opposition TV station, Kanal 5, because of a defamation suit and thereby obstruct its work just two weeks before the presidential election was "totally abnormal and very disturbing," Reporters Without Borders said today.

The banks accounts were frozen on 18 October as a result of an action brought by independent legislator Volodymyr Sivkovitch against one of Kanal 5’s owners, opposition legislator Petro Porochenko.

"It is unacceptable that a news organisation and its journalists should have to pay the price of a political dispute between two parliamentarians," Reporters Without Borders said. "We hope that, on appeal, the justice system will overturn this disproportionate decision of which the consequences are very dangerous for media diversity in Ukraine."

Claiming that freezing Kanal 5’s accounts was the only way to get Porochenko to apologise, Sivkovitch said he did not want to wage a "war against journalists."

Kanal 5 chairman Vladislvav Liassovski described the case as political. "We are the only Ukrainian TV station to offer the airwaves both to sectors that support the government and to the opposition, and the authorities do not like that," he said to Agence France-Presse.

The TV station’s news director, Andriy Chevchenko, told Reporters Without Borders that the station had major problems broadcasting in the provinces, especially in the east of the country where Prime Minister Viktor Ianoukovitch, the ruling party’s candidate in the 31 October presidential election, comes from.

Chevchenko said the refusal of several regional operators to broadcast Kanal 5’s programmes was politically motivated. Another blow to Kanal 5 came on 14 October when it lost its licence to broadcast its programmes in the Kiev area.

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