End Note: UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES ELECTRICITY, GAS RATES. The National Commission for Electricity Regulation on 10 March ordered that beginning 1 April the prices of electricity and gas be increased by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Trade Union Federation has said some 70 percent of the country's population will not be able to pay the new rates on a regular basis. Deputy Economy Minister Viktor Kalnyk predicted on 11 March that tariffs for utility payments--including rent, heat, and water supplies--will be increased by 25-30 percent. JM


Ukraine's non-government media have suffered a series of recent setbacks that have further reduced the dwindling number of independent media outlets in the country.

Late last month, the trouble-plagued opposition daily "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication after it ran out of money. Another opposition newspaper, "Polityka," announced that the state printing press was refusing to publish it, despite a court ruling in the newspaper's favor. And the state broadcasting company temporarily silenced a private TV channel, while another private TV channel claims it is being harassed and intimidated.

These four cases are the latest chapters in a saga of political and financial problems encountered by independent media in Ukraine.

'KIEVSKIE VEDOMOSTI': According to Dmytro Chekalkin, president of the broadcasting arm of the Kievskie Vedomosti media company, the newspaper does not have the financial resources to continue publishing. The newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief, Irina Titova, said staff wages have not been paid for the last four months of publication and working conditions have become intolerable, as staff have access only to three phone lines, four computers, and no news wire service or Internet access.

"Kievskie Vedomosti" has been dogged by previous misfortunes, most of which it claims were due to political persecution for its oppositionist editorial content. Chekalkin said a general decline in advertising and unfair competition were major factors in the newspaper's demise. Other Ukrainian newspapers, he noted, are subsidized by companies close to the presidential administration and the current government and sell for only 5 or 6 kopecks (less than 2 U.S. cents) per issue.

Titova said the editorial staff decided to suspend publication in an attempt to attract attention to the newspaper's plight. She said the newspaper wants its shareholders to pay attention to its problems. The newspaper's major shareholders are the Ukrainian companies Dendi, Dovira, Ukrrichflot, and Pryvatbank.

'POLITYKA': The same week that "Kievskie Vedomosti" stopped publishing, "Polityka" announced that the printing house Pressa Ukrainy was refusing to resume printing the Kyiv-based weekly.

Last November, the state printing house received a Pechersk district court order banning it from printing "Polityka." A Kyiv city court decision early last month reversed that ruling.

Editor-in-chief Oleh Lyashko said the newspaper has paid Pressa Ukrainy an advance of 28,000 hryvna (about $7,200) and provided it with 25 tons of paper. Lyashko said repeated letters and visits failed to extract any explanation from Pressa Ukrainy: "From February 8 we have all legal right to put out the newspaper, but unfortunately to date the newspaper hasn't been issued [by Pressa Ukrainy]. Why? Because Pressa Ukrainy, with which we have worked for three years, now refuses to renew the contract with the newspaper for 1999 and has given absolutely no explanation for that refusal."

While Lyashko believes the presidential administration is behind the move, an unnamed Pressa Ukrainy spokesman said the company's decision was motivated by the newspaper's financial unreliability. Last year, the spokesman said "Polityka" twice broke its contract by stopping publication.

In the meantime,. "Polityka" is due to restart publication this week under a new agreement reached with another publishing house.

NART: On the same day that "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication, the private TV channel National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NART) was taken off the air because--its owners claim--of its independent political stance. Volodymyr Tsendrovskyy, president of the Ukrainian TV Union and a founder of NART, predicted that this will be only the first in a chain of private channels to be taken off the air. He called it a "rehearsal for political censorship and economic dictatorship in the Ukrainian TV market."

Tsendrovskyy admitted that NART owes 160,000 hryvna (about 41,000 dollars) to the Ukrainian Radio and Television Broadcasting concern, the state company that controls Ukraine's airwaves. But he argued that the figure is insignificant compared with the debts of many other broadcasting companies, such as the state-run Television and radio channels, which he said owe the state broadcasters 62 million hryvna.

NART resumed broadcasting on 23 February after reaching an agreement on paying off its debt. But NART officials still maintain they are victims of political harassment since no other broadcasters owing debts have been taken off the air, even temporarily.

STB: The private television network STB issued a statement last week to President Leonid Kuchma, saying its executives have been attacked or threatened and requesting the government to increase protection.

An STB official said in the most recent incident, armed attackers broke into the Kyiv apartment of STB's commercial director and forced the man and his pregnant wife to the floor at gunpoint. In searching the apartment, the gunmen ignored money and valuables, apparently looking for documents. Several days earlier, the station official said, an STB cameraman was robbed of his camera and cassettes by unidentified attackers.

The official says harassment intensified after the network broadcast investigative reports about illegal deals in Ukraine's lucrative industries that allegedly involve powerful business groups close to the government.

The author is Kyiv-based contributor to RFE/RL. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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