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PUTIN WELCOMES DEVELOPMENT OF TIES WITH UKRAINE. Putin said on 19 July that "Russian-Ukrainian dialogue is developing positively," ITAR-TASS reported. He made his remarks after meeting Volodymyr Lytvyn, the head of the presidential administration of Ukraine. He said that his session with Lytvyn will allow the two sides "to get down to a more detailed analysis of strategic cooperation" between the two countries. PG
U.S. SAID WAGING INFO WARS AGAINST KUCHMA, LUKASHENKA. Konstantin Zatulin, who serves as the director of Moscow's CIS Institute, told strana.ru on 19 July that current media campaigns about attacks on journalists and the disappearance of opposition figures are being directed from "a single center," the United States. He said that Washington is hoping to overthrow Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma because the Americans have lost interest in him, and Belarus leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka "for reasons of principle." VY
UKRAINE TO DIG SHIPPING CHANNEL IN THE DANUBE DELTA. Transport Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko has approved "a plan of first-priority measures in 2001" to dig a shipping channel across the Ukrainian section of the Danube delta in order to link the river and the Black Sea, Interfax reported on 19 July. According to Pustovoytenko, the widening and deepening of an exit stream into a channel fit for navigation will be completed by July 2003. The government estimates that the cost of "the designing and the first stage of construction" of the channel will amount to some $5 million. Once in operation, the Ukrainian waterway would break the present Romanian monopoly on tolls for ship traffic passing between the Danube and the Black Sea. JM
MORE ELECTORAL BLOCS PLANNED IN UKRAINE. Ivan Chyzh, the leader of the Solidarnist All-Ukrainian Association of Leftists, told journalists on 19 July that his group will take part in the 2002 parliamentary elections in a bloc of parties, Interfax reported. Chyzh said Solidarnist is currently negotiating the formation of "a very original and very powerful bloc," but declined to name which forces are involved. The same day, the Yabluko Party and the Beautiful Ukraine Party signed an accord on the creation of a joint electoral bloc. Meanwhile, Natalya Vitrenko has announced that her Progressive Socialist Party is preparing for the 2002 election as "an independent political force." JM
UKRAINE'S REGISTERED UNEMPLOYMENT DECREASES. The State Statistics Committee on 19 July said there were 1.05 million registered unemployed people in Ukraine as of 1 July, which is 10 percent fewer than one year ago. The unemployment rate in Ukraine is 3.8 percent. JM
U.S. CONGRESS MOVES TO REDUCE AID OVER SLOW REFORM, MURDERS OF JOURNALISTS. William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for assistance to the newly independent states, said in Kyiv on 12 July that the U.S. Congress may reduce assistance to Ukraine because of concerns about the slow pace of reform and the killings of two journalists, Heorhiy Gongadze and Ihor Aleksandrov, AP and Interfax reported. The previous day, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to put a cap of $125 million next year on assistance to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act, down from a cap of $170 million for 2001. The move must be approved by the U.S. Senate. "A key component of the rule of law [in Ukraine] is, of course, the investigation into the Gongadze and Aleksandrov cases," Taylor noted. He added that Washington will continue to support independent Ukrainian media through training, legal assistance, and monitoring programs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
LAWMAKERS, INTERNATIONAL GROUP URGE SOLUTION OF JOURNALIST'S MURDER. The parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information has appealed to the government to use all possible measures to find out who killed journalist Ihor Aleksandrov last week, Interfax reported on 11 July. The committee said the killing of Aleksandrov testifies to "the continued onslaught on the freedom of expression in Ukraine." The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also appealed to President Leonid Kuchma to organize a thorough investigation of Aleksandrov's slaying. The organization said the case causes concern, especially as there is no end in sight to the probe into the notorious murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
PARLIAMENT DISSATISFIED WITH THE MEDIA. The Supreme Rada assessed as unsatisfactory the state of affairs in the area of media, freedom of expression, and access of people to information. This was the main conclusion of a decree issued on 7 June. The decree recommended that the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the State Committee for Information Policy and Broadcasting, and the National Council for Broadcasting take measures to ensure the observation of legal provisions in the information area and to implement citizens' rights to freely receive, use, and disseminate information. The deputies also proposed that the Cabinet of Ministers denounce the agreement between the governments of Russia and Ukraine on cooperation in the area of broadcast media that was signed on 23 October 2000. The deputies believe that the agreement inflicts damage to Ukrainian broadcasters. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
OPPOSITION DEMANDS AIRTIME. The Council of the Forum for National Salvation demanded that airtime be provided to the Forum in national TV and radio channels. In a letter to the top officials of the Ukraine National TV and Radio Broadcasting companies, the opposition organization demanded that airtime be provided in relation to the fifth anniversary of the Ukrainian Constitution and on the basis of the "PACE's April resolution." The opposition has been asking for access to the electronic media for almost half a year to no avail. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
DIGITAL TV PLANNED FOR KYIV. The State Committee for Communications and Information Processing and the Radio and TV Broadcasting Corporation will soon submit to the government a proposal to create a test area for digital broadcasting in Kyiv; there are plans for later extending digital broadcasting to the entire country. Oleg Shevchuk, the Committee's chairman, said that the Corporation had already purchased the needed equipment. Digital broadcasting will be tested by five national TV channels. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
JUNE MEDIA BULLETIN ISSUED. The European Institute for Media released its second online version of its bulletin on media developments in Ukraine in the "Ukrainian Media Bulletin" for June. This 11-page bulletin contains information on media news, media and government, media law, media conferences, and new media technology. To receive the bulletin in Ukrainian contact Svetlana Selyutina at firstname.lastname@example.org (European Institute for the Media, 16 July)
UKRAINIAN COUNCIL FOR INTERNET BROADCASTING. The National Council for Broadcasting has launched its own website (http://www.nradatvr.kiev.ua). Visitors can find information on the regulatory base of the broadcast media and organizational structure of the Council, announcements about scheduled tenders for channels and frequencies, and also results of the contests carried out. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
Reporters sans Frontieres, RSF, a Paris-based media defense group, has called on Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to take action against a rising tide of violence directed against journalists, a development that threatens prospects for democracy there.
In an open letter released on 19 July, RSF said that "not only violence against the press but also the general impunity of those who commit such actions is the awful day-to-day reality of modern Ukraine." The organization issued the letter because of three attacks on journalists since the beginning of July.
On 3 July, TOR television director Ihor Aleksandrov was killed in Slaviansk by bat-wielding assailants who have not been identified or arrested. On that same day, Oleh Breus, the founder of the Luhansk newspaper "XX Vek" was shot and killed while entering his office. Again no one has been charged in the case. And on 11 July, Oleh Velychko, the head of the Aversk media group in Lutsk, was badly beaten. He survived but remains hospitalized.
These attacks come on the heels of the much publicized killing in September 2000 of Heorhiy Gongadze, an Internet journalist who reported on corruption in the Ukrainian government. That case has attracted international attention and led many media groups and governments to condemn the Ukrainian government for its failure to move expeditiously to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
The open letter of RSF is only the latest criticism of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states for attacks against journalists and even more for the failure of the governments involved to find and bring charges against those responsible.
Both the attacks and even more the failure to punish those responsible have created a climate of intimidation in which journalists are constantly looking over their shoulders to determine whether and how they should report a particular story.
Poorly paid and with relatively low social status, journalists in these countries appear increasingly reluctant to look into stories involving official corruption or other issues that may invite reprisals. Such a climate feeds on itself: as journalists report less out of fear, their readers and listeners decide that the media are ever less useful, the status of journalists falls still further, and so on in an often vicious circle.
But the events that RSF have called attention to have a significance far beyond the lives of journalists and their work. Such attacks, coupled with widespread efforts by governments in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere to take control of the media, are reducing the ability of the media to play a major role in a democratic society.
And that in turn means that the attacks on journalists that RSF have chronicled represent in fact attacks on democracy itself. In Western democracies, attacks on journalists typically quickly generate popular outrage, but in countries like Ukraine, these attacks have not had that effect, sometimes because the statecontrolled media do not report them and sometimes because the audiences does not fully understand what is at stake.
Consequently, international groups like RSF or its sister organizations like the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists have a special role in post-communist countries, not only in helping to spark public outrage in these states but also in bringing to the attention of the wider world the unpunished crimes against journalists and others, crimes that are preventing these societies from making the transitions to democracy.
A decade ago, many in these countries and in the West assumed that journalists would be able to play their positive role in promoting democracy in these countries with freedom . But the murders and attacks on journalists across this region have shown that the need for a free press and for watchdog groups that seek to protect it has not gone away and is unlikely to do so anytime soon.