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Ukraine18 May 2005

Pro-opposition television channel taken off air

Reporters Without Borders has protested after regional public television in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, LOSTRC, halted programmes on pro-opposition station LOT on 14 May.

"The government is trying to silence those who think differently", the station’s chairman, Rodion Mirochnyk had said on 13 May, complaining of political harassment by the regional authorities. Valentine Dzon majority shareholder of LOT, founded in February 2004, is a pro-opposition figure. Mirochnyk had added that he would ask the national broadcast council to adjust the air time allowed to the station by LOSTRC, with which it however had a contract until the end of 2005.

"President Viktor Yushchenko made respect for press freedom one of the priorities after his election," Reporters Without Borders said. "Closing a TV station that is close to the opposition, for whatever reason, damages pluralism of news and information."

"LOT is the second pro-opposition station to be threatened by the authorities. We hope they will in future guarantee greater transparency and fairness in the granting of licences and allocation of radio and television frequencies".

"We urge the national broadcast council to do its utmost to ensure that journalists do not become hostage to political quarrels," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Oleg Nedolsin, interim director of the regional public television, said that station’s programmes had been taken off air because of "irregularities in LOT payments, made with public funds". The station apparently benefited from extremely favourable financial arrangements and the administrative authorities are now demanding repayment of more than 25,000 euros before 23 May to extend the agreement with the LOSTRC.

The ban follows the controversial cancellation of the licence of pro-opposition national television NTN, which exposed political obstruction, on 31 March 2005. The supreme economic court on 28 April upheld the validity of the station’s licence.

The government said on 17 May that it would examine the issue of regional public media. "Several disagreeable conflicts are linked to lack of understanding about the real role of regional public TV and radio," deputy prime minister Mykola Tomenko, told Reporters Without Borders. "It is not right that 78% of regional public television and radio frequencies should be used by private companies. They are overstepping the rights that the state allowed them", he added.

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