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MEDIA FREEDOM AT RISK. Media freedom is now at risk in the Russian Federation and in many other post-Soviet states, according to Alexander Lupis, coordinator of the Europe and Central Asian Program at the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) speaking at an RFE/RL briefing this week. He appeared in connection with the release of CPJ's annual report, "Attacks on the Press in 2000." Citing that report, Lupis noted that in Russia, "the ascendancy of President Vladimir Putin sparked an alarming assault on press freedom," including the imposition of censorship in Chechnya and attacks on journalists and media outlets "in the name of strengthening the state." Elsewhere in the post-Soviet region, Lupis said, the CPJ had found that conditions for journalists have deteriorated as well. In Ukraine, the problems are seen in the government's apparent involvement in the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze. Lupis noted that media defense organizations like CPJ have an especially difficult time in tracking moves by governments concerned about their public image even though they seek to restrict the media. In some post-Soviet states, regimes use economic pressure and other less obvious but very effective restrictions in muzzling the media. (RFE/RL Press Release, 20 March)
TV ANCHOR: OFFICIAL VENGEANCE FOR INDEPENDENCE... On 8 February, an anchorman of a leading Ukrainian TV channel, 1+1, publicly expressed his profound concern about freedom of speech in the country. He demanded that President Kuchma, as the guarantor of the right to freedom of information, should promptly discharge the chairman of the Security Service from his post and immediately stop the use of army and police to pressure the media. The statement, submitted to Interfax-Ukraine news agency, claims that it has become a rule for state officials not merely to interfere directly with the media coverage of political developments, but also to use their official status to take vengeance on mass media which dare to express independent views. The statement goes on to say that lately, the TV company has had to face this type of systematic treatment on the part of Security Council leadership. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
...WHILE INDEPENDENT WEBSITE HACKED. After a routine update of the website of "Antenna" (http://www.antenna.com.ua), the page suddenly stopped working on 16 February. Investigation revealed that the server had been cracked and the host DNS tampered with. The hacker may have had political motives, since "Antenna" is an independent political newspaper published in Cherkassy and well known outside its home region. Its full online version is one of the few websites of regional media critical of President Kuchma. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
'IZVESTIYA' CENSORED... On 9 February, the "Izvestia" daily wrote that its local issue, printed in Kiev under agreement with the Kievskaya Pravda publishing company, had been censored. Three features on its first page had been deleted and replaced by other articles. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
... AS IS 'KOMMERSANT-UKRAINE'... On 7 February, the Military Cartographic factory of Kiev refused to print the current issue of "Kommersant-Ukraine," in violation of its contract with the newspaper. The editorial board made it known that its 7 February issue did not appear for reasons of political censorship by the printing house, because its first page showed a photograph that could be understood to have anti-presidential meaning. According to the editorial board, the printing ban was stated orally over the telephone by the head of the printing factory. The article in question was about the Ukraine without Kuchma movement. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
...CENSORSHIP PROTESTED. The Ukrainian board of "Kommersant" has made an official statement that, although not involved with the Ukraine without Kuchma movement and having due respect for the president of Ukraine, it sees its professional duty in providing its readers with the most comprehensive and unbiased information on events in Ukraine and in the rest of the world. This standpoint will not change under any pressure. The incident happened on the eve of meetings between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia scheduled for 11-12 February. The newspaper board demands that measures should be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in the future, since they are not only incompatible with democracy, but lead to tension in Ukrainian-Russian relations. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
THIEVING COPS BEAT ON-THE-SPOT REPORTER... On 5 February in Kherson, four militia officers battered the editor-in-chief of "Novy Den" independent newspaper, regional council member Anatoly Zhupina. The attack was reported by the "Forum" web-newspaper (http://www.for.com.ua). Anatoly Zhupina told a correspondent of Den newspaper over the phone that in the evening of 5 February, he had been sitting in a cafe where there were four divisional inspectors from various parts of Ukraine, who had come to Kherson for an advanced militia training course. According to witnesses, after a few drinks one of the officers decided to inspect the contents of the cash register. The cashier asked the customers for help and they tried to calm the cop. His friends came to his aid and started a fight. Anatoly Zhupina used his cellular phone to call the local Suvorov district militia department. The "heated-up" militiamen did not like this and set upon the journalist. The fight left the 46-year-old editor with a broken nose and heavily bruised face. A militia squad soon arrived and put an end to the squabble; however, it appeared that patrol militia sergeants have no right to arrest militia officers.
MEDIA OWNER THREATENED. On 8 February, the owner of Continent radio station Sergei Sholokh solicited the help of Ukraine's Prosecutor-General after receiving a series of threats. In late January, Sholokh's car was hit by a heavy truck; on 30 January, he received phone threats. On 3 February, during a disagreement in Sholokh's apartment block, his neighbor "tried to break into my flat brandishing a stool...and threatened to kill me. [He also] said I would never come out into the street alive because his friend the district militia officer Oleg would take me to jail for the night, and there I would get it." Sholokh asked the Prosecutor-General to verify the situation and if warranted to instigate proceedings on "life threats from unknown persons" and to take necessary protective action. Sholokh concluded by saying, "I hope you will not respond to this statement as you did to similar statements made by my late employee, Gongadze." (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 19 March)
FBI ASSISTANCE FOR NEW AUTOPSY OF GONGADZE? In a 16 March letter to the United States ambassador in Kyiv, Reporters without Borders (RSF) urged the FBI team in Ukraine to perform a new autopsy on the body of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. According to RSF information, the public prosecutor rejects any new autopsy of the murdered journalist's body despite his mother's wishes and has only acquiesced to a new DNA test by the FBI team, which has been in Kyiv for more than ten days, after President Kuchma agreed to an FBI offer of help. Although the American team's procedures and expertise must be submitted for approval to the Ukrainian authorities, the team's presence may lead to clarification of aspects in the official Ukrainian investigation. To date, the Ukraine ProsecutorGeneral has rejected all cooperation with the parliamentary investigative committee and continues to refuse Gongadze's mother and wife full access to the file. (Reporters without Borders, 16 March)
PREMIER CALLS FOR FULL INVESTIGATION OF GONGADZE CASE. Viktor Yushchenko on 16 March called for a thorough investigation into the murder of Gongadze, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that he does not believe President Kuchma ordered Gongadze to be killed. "Morally, I cannot assume that the country's president may somehow be involved in Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearance. It would be a tragedy for me," Yushchenko said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
U.S. AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION. Carlos Pascual on 16 March criticized the actions of both opposition demonstrators and the authorities during violent protests in Kyiv on 9 March. "The events on 9 March were disappointing from all sides. The challenge for Ukraine's authorities is to give the people confidence that they can express dissent without fear of violent repression. Peaceful action is also very important on the part of demonstrators and restraint is also required [on their part]," AP quoted Pascual as saying. Pascual spoke after presenting a new $750,000 media development fund in Ukraine, a two-year project sponsored by the U.S. to encourage an independent press. The fund is aimed at improving the legal, administrative, and tax environment for Ukrainian media, expanding the use of the Internet, improving professional standards among journalists, and providing direct grant support for Ukrainian media and nongovernmental organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN PASSES BILL ON PROPORTIONAL ELECTION SYSTEM. The parliament on 22 March voted 284 to nine to pass a new bill on the introduction of a proportional party-list system in parliamentary elections, taking into account 23 out of the 38 changes proposed by President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. The bill stipulates that only parties supported by no less than 4 percent of voters nationwide can be represented in the parliament. Kuchma vetoed the previous bill, arguing that it limited citizens' constitutional right to elect their representatives to the parliament by shifting a majority of election process prerogatives to political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). JM
WORLD BANK PLEDGES $120 MILLION TO EXPEDITE UKRAINE'S LAND REFORM. Deputy Agricultural Minister Roman Shmidt told journalists on 22 March that the World Bank will give Ukraine a preferential loan of $120 million to speed up the process of land reform in the country, Interfax reported. Shmidt said the money will help finance the issuance of documents certifying private property rights on land lots and the creation of a registration system for real estate rights. Shmidt noted that one of the main conditions for the loan is the adoption of a new Land Code, which is expected to be discussed in the parliament soon. Currently, only 900,000 out of a total of 6.4 million farmers have received certificates documenting the private ownership of their plots. JM