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Ukraine26 November 2004

Journalists go on strike

Reporters Without Borders expressed its support for journalists fighting systematic censorship, after 237 journalists and contributors to state-owned TV UT-1 went on strike on 25 November in protest at news bias.

Staff on pro-government but privately-owned television 1+1 and Inter also rebelled against censorship and appeared to have won the argument as the channel began broadcasting footage of opposition demonstrations.

Outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, charged at a meeting of the national council in the capital Kiev that the opposition Kanal 5 was "preparing a coup". He said he regretted that it had not been closed down.

"We back those journalists who are fighting the systematic censorship they have been subjected to," said Reporters Without Borders. "We call on the authorities not to close Kanal 5, the only national opposition channel."

"It would mean yet another damaging step in the crackdown on media that is not subservient to the government," the worldwide press freedom organisation added.

Fourteen journalists in the news services of UT-1 and 1+1 began a strike on 24 November in protest at the systematic use of "temnyks", the presidential office’s instructions to editorial offices on how certain subjects should be handled. Other journalists, particularly local correspondents, soon joined them. They said they would only call off the strike when the government promised to broadcast unbiased news.

Some 223 journalists and contributors to public UT-1 television joined the strike on the evening of 25 November. They put out a statement condemning the "one-sided coverage" that "deprives Ukrainian citizens of important news".

In the statement they also demanded the right to broadcast footage live from Kiev’s central square "where the history of our country is currently being written".

They also called on the channel’s management to give its official support to private opposition channels Kanal 5 et Era, both threatened with closure.

The journalists said they would strike if they received a negative reply from the management. Since the management pronounced the statement illegal, staff duly came out on strike.

Since the evening of 25 November, in response to staff pressure, the management of 1+1 and Inter have struck a deal with their employees under which both political sides would get equal airtime. As a result they began broadcasting footage from central Kiev, thronged by hundreds of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Nine journalists, mostly on 1+1 and Inter, have recently resigned to protest the widespread use of "temnyks" in their editorial offices.

Elsewhere during a meeting of the national council on co-operation between local, regional and national authorities, outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, said: "The country’s authorities and security experts have warned that the provocative coverage and so-called ’honest news’ on Kanal 5 was designed to prepare the ground for a coup".

He said that out of respect for democracy, the government had not taken any sanctions against Kanal 5, although it had "every reason to do so", since the channel "had not respected its commitments under the terms of its broadcast licence".

He said it was a pity that the government had not shut down Kanal 5 before. "If we had acted differently the hundreds of children dragged into street demonstrations would probably not be at risk of catching pneumonia," the press agency Interfax-Ukraine quoted him a saying.

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