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05.09.2011

IPI Issues Report on Media Freedom in Ukraine

   

Ukrainian opposition supporters hold a rally on the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence in Kiev 24 August, 2011. Ukrainian police prevented thousands of opposition supporters marching to the presidential administration building last Wednesday during a protest against the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The International Press Institute (IPI) has released a report on media freedom in Ukraine finding that economic pressure on media and corruption remain pervasive threats.

The report – which followed a joint, fact-finding mission to Kiev from 31 May to 3 June, 2011 in conjunction with the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) – urged Ukraine’s government not to subject media to economic pressure and to respect plural views.

It also called on authorities to fight corruption even-handedly and to combat impunity for attacks on journalists, to increase transparency of media ownership and dilute media concentration, to establish media self-regulation and to reject any proposals to regulate online media, among other recommendations.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “Ukraine has made positive steps towards media freedom as it continues to emerge from the shadow of the former Soviet Union. However, economic pressures on journalists, endemic corruption and a perception of government hostility to critical reporting have combined to undermine this progress. As IPI’s report shows, thorough reforms are necessary to strengthen media independence and the public’s access to information.”

The recommendations were made following meetings with representatives of government, including members of Parliament from the ruling Party of Regions and the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, representatives of the Justice Ministry and the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, and a spokesperson for President Viktor Yanukovych. The delegation, which met with more than 30 individuals in total, also met with journalists from state and private media, including print, broadcast and online media; representatives of Ukrainian media-related non-governmental organisations; and Western diplomats.

The mission came at a worrying time for media freedom in Ukraine. Although the state of media freedom was poor in post-Soviet Ukraine, it improved following Viktor Yushchenko’s rise to power in the 2004 “Orange Revolution”.

The conflict highlighted a growing cultural, linguistic and political divide in society between those perceived to look east to Russia, such as Yanukovych, and those who were thought to look west to Europe, such as Yushchenko. Many observers told the delegation that the improvement during Yushchenko’s presidency was one of the few positive legacies of his administration, but that media freedom has since deteriorated following Yanukovych’s election as president in 2010.

The financial crisis that began in 2008, in addition to its other effects, has pushed more and more media into the hands of oligarchs, and critics complained that self-censorship – by journalists and by media owners who hold other, vulnerable business interests – has become the norm. Critics also accused Yanukovych and his Party of Regions of applying economic pressure to consolidate indirect control over the media and of seeking to stifle critical reporting, charges government representatives denied.

The IPI report criticized the control of the majority of Ukraine’s national television market by a relatively small group of oligarchs, and called for steps to cap media ownership and increase media plurality. It urged the adoption of conflict of interest policies separating government officials from media holdings, and an end to the practice whereby many media employees are paid large parts of their salary under the table, leaving them vulnerable to arbitrary reductions based on commercial or political pressure over critical reporting.

The report also endorsed the implementation of a process to evolve Ukraine’s state broadcaster into independent, public media and identified Ukraine’s new law on access to public information as a positive development for media freedom. However, it noted, the law’s impact depends in whether it is fully implemented in a timely manner.

The report further called on foreign governments and organizations to continue to monitor Ukraine and to call attention to violations of media freedom or other actions inconsistent with democratic norms. It also urged them to engage Ukraine’s government and to support constructive domestic policy initiatives to strengthen independent media and civil society.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, supports this release.

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