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Ukraine18 November 2004

Growing media harassment a threat to press freedom ahead of presidential elections run-off

Growing media harassment including assaults, sackings and denial of access to information threatens press freedom ahead of the second round of presidential elections on 21 November, said Reporters Without Borders.

There has so far been totally biased media coverage of the campaign, pitting Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych against his opposition rival Victor Yushchenko, said the worldwide press freedom organisation.

"Almost every method is being used to prevent complete and full coverage of the campaign," it said.

Many journalists continue to protest at the authorities systematic use of "temnyks" or instructions to editorial offices as to how certain subjects should be handled.

Around 30 journalists working for the leading TV channels demonstrated outside the studios of public UT-1 television and private 1+1, on the evening of a televised debate on 15 November between the candidates in protest at government obstacles to the media’s work.

Some of the demonstrators tied their hands together with paper chains made out of "temnyks".

Television news presenter Volodymyr Holosnyak of UT-1 TV was sacked on 3 November for refusing to read a temnyk ahead of a televised debate in which Victor Yanukovych was taking part. The journalist insisted that he should also read a statement on the conditions sought by Victor Yushchenko to take part in the debate.

Elsewhere, there have been several assaults on opposition supporters and journalists. On 3 November, Enver Musayev, of the weekly Holos Kryma was physically assaulted and his colleagues threatened at Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea. Three thugs approached the journalist’s vehicle dragged Musavev out and struck him.

Editor of the weekly newspaper Eldar Seidbekirov, who was present during the assault, said that one of the assailants wore the uniform of a lieutenant-colonel.

On the eve of the first round of the elections on 31 October, a journalist on the main opposition television channel Kanal 5 Serghiy Skorobohatko was beaten up at a polling station by assailants who also snatched his camera.

The 17 November issue of opposition daily Silski Visti that carried an interview with Victor Yushchenko, could not be sent to its subscribers because the copies were stuck at the depot owned by the distributor, Pressa Ukrayiny, a subsidiary of the public post office.

On the same day, unidentified visitors turned up at the newspaper’s office and gave "advice" about the most appropriate way of covering the election campaign. The daily was finally distributed to its subscribers at about 3pm on 17 November after the paper demanded that parliament intervene.

The daily has suffered mounting harassment since its socialist owner Alexandre Moroz gave his backing to Victor Yushchenko. As a result a large number of readers, particularly in the south, no longer receive their papers. The local post offices come up with a range of excuses to explain it.

Editor Vasyl Hruzin said these technical problems were solely due to the newspaper’s political line. He said there had also been attempts at censorship of the paper.

The public post office at Donetsk, in the east of the country refused to send the independent weekly Svoboda to several thousand subscribers in the Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk, Kharkov and Crimea areas. The post office’s regional director Mykola Dremov informed the weekly’s editor Mykhailo Khalandski that a court in Donetsk had banned its distribution but refused to produce a copy of the ruling.

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