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Ukraine

Ukraine - Annual Report 2008
Area: 603,700 sq.km
Population: 46,710,000
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian
Head of state: President Viktor Yushchenko

Political pressure on the media has decreased since President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in 2005 but polarisation of the press and society does not make it easy to take an independent editorial stand.

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The country is chronically unstable. The president dissolved parliament in April 2007, then dismissed prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. Parliamentary elections in September saw the return of Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the “Orange Revolution,” as prime minister, the post she held in 2004 and 2005.

The state-run TV station UT-1 suddenly dropped its year-old political discussion programme “Toloka” in March 2007 a few days after the show featured opposition figures Timoshenko and Vyatcheslav Kirilenko. The station director claimed the presenter was unprofessional and denied he himself has acted under government pressure. Several members of parliament criticised the move as a return to censorship.

The editor of the independent daily Gazeta 24, Vitali Portnikov, resigned in October, saying in an open letter that he had been told by one of the paper’s main shareholders that he intended to direct its editorial line, especially on the political pages.

The independent weekly Dzerzhinets, in Dnieprodzherzhinsk, was shut down in January and its property seized to pay a fine of 140,660 hryvnias (€19,000) for libelling a local police chief accused of corruption. Editor Margarita Zakora was unable to attend court because she only learned of the hearings afterwards. She discovered the paper had been closed when she went to its offices and found the court order posted on the door. The authorities refused to allow an appeal, saying the legal time-limit had expired.

The car of the editor of the online version of the newspaper Ostriv (in Donetsk) was burned in September. The paper was very critical of the government and the editor said the arson was a reprisal.

Journalists exposed to violence

Journalists physically attacked in the course of their work are not always supported by the courts. Vlad Isayev, a photo-journalist for the twice-weekly paper Rivne Vechirne, was threatened by businessman Anatoli Pekhotin in February while he was covering a dispute between Pekhotin and the employees of a parking lot he said he owned. Pekhotin opened fire, damaging cars, and when he saw Isayev taking photos he aimed at him, then put the gun to his neck and threatened to kill him if he continued to write about him. Isayev filed a formal complaint but the prosecutor rejected it on 15 March saying there was insufficient evidence, despite several witnesses and the photos Isayev took.

A photographer from the daily paper Sevodnia was beaten while covering a meeting of Timoshenko’s opposition bloc in Odessa in August, three days after the paper’s offices had been evacuated because of a bomb alert and after several weeks of phone threats. Editor Igor Guzhva said the threats were linked to the paper’s lawsuit against Olexander Turchinov, of the main opposition party ByuT, who had accused Guzhva of printing lies about Tymoshenko.

Gongadze murder trial still waiting for verdict

Little progress is being made seven years after the September 2000 murder of Georgy Gongadze and three years after President Yushchenko promised to make solving the case a symbol of the new regime. The trial of three policemen accused of killing him opened in January 2006 but has been plagued with obstacles and constantly adjourned. On 24 July 2007, the prosecutor’s office ordered new medical tests to be done on the policemen before the case could continue.

Meanwhile former prosecutor-general Mikhail Potebenko, who had refused Gongadze’s request for protection in 2000, was personally decorated by Yushchenko with the nation’s highest honour, the Order of Yaroslav the Wise. Potebenko had said the Melnyshenko tapes, which implicated former President Leonid Kuchma in the murder, were forged and he has consistently opposed efforts to get at the truth.




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