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Ukraine13 February 2004

End to Radio Free Europe on FM - a worrying sign for press freedom

Reporters Without Borders and the Mass Media Institute today deplored the imminent end to FM broadcasting for the US Congress-financed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Ukraine. A privately-owned radio station now being run by a reputed government ally, Radio Dovira, announced yesterday that it will stop relaying RFE/RL on 17 February. Thereafter, Ukrainians will need a short-wave receiver to tune in.

"Radio Free Europe’s commitment to the defence of democratic values is well known," Reporters Without Borders and the Mass Media Institute said. "The sudden decision to eliminate its FM broadcasts is extremely worrying, especially as it comes just a few months before the presidential election," they said.

Dovira was bought by Ukrainian Media Holding at the end of January and is now run by businessman Sergei Kychygin, who is also the editor of the Russian-language daily 2000. Victor Yuchtchenko of Our Ukraine, the largest opposition party, and other opposition figures claim that Kychygin is an associate of the head of the presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk.

Reporters Without Borders and the Mass Media Institute said it was disturbing that the most influential news media are now controlled by the associates of President Leonid Kuchma, especially as presidential elections are to be held in October.

Dovira had been relaying RFE/RL since 1998. In a letter dated 11 February, Dovira said the decision to stop was part of a restructuring of all its programming. But RFE/RL president Thomas Dine insisted that it was a political decision taken without prior consultation and without respecting a contractual requirement to give 30 days notice.

The head of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, Alexander Narodetsky, said relations with Dovira had been good for the past five years. They had jointly held out against pressure from the government, especially over coverage of the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000, he said.

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