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IMPUNITY AND INTERNET CENSORSHIP HIGHLIGHTED. The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WPC) has issued a statement saying the threat to freedom of expression in many countries is as strong today as it was when the UN Commission on Human Rights began tracking violations 21 years ago, IFEX reported on 18 March. In the past 10 years, more than 300 writers, journalists, and media-sector workers have been killed, the committee said. The vast majority of killings go unpunished due to weak governments and judicial systems, WPC noted. WPC said such impunity is most prevalent in Latin America, where many journalists and writers have been killed in the past decade. Russia and Ukraine follow a similar pattern. WPC also said it has observed an escalation in attacks against those who use the Internet to disseminate their opinions. Although very few of these so-called cyber-dissidents are charged with threatening national security, prison sentences levied against them are often severe. For a copy of the WPC statement, contact Sara Whyatt at: CC


GLOBAL WATCHDOG CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO HALT CENSORSHIP. Human Rights Watch on 17 March urged President Leonid Kuchma's administration to stop its informal censorship of televised news reports, AP reported. In a report released the same day, the group said media outlets that criticize government officials have faced "arbitrary tax inspections, denial and revocation of licenses on technicalities, and crippling libel suits." Journalists and opposition lawmakers have accused Kuchma's administration of sending weekly memos to senior news editors over the past several months telling them what events to report and how. The chief of the presidential administration's information-policy department, Serhiy Vasilyev, denied the accusations. The office distributes only press releases intended to advise journalists about events in which government officials will participate, Vasilyev said. Human Rights Watch called on the Ukrainian government to invite a UN commission to look into the protection of media freedoms. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)

KYIV TO GET NEW 'VOICE.' The launch of a new radio station called Kyiv Voice was announced at a 14 March press conference hosted by the Kyiv mayor's office, the 11-17 March Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations' "CIS Authorities v. the Press" reported. Oleksandr Krivosheenko, the former head of the informational-analytical section of the Kyiv city main directorate for media relations, will head up the new station. CC

...COMPLAIN ABOUT BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT... Oleksandr Pankov, editor in chief of the newspaper "Nasha Hazeta" and head of the regional branch of Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, noted that newspapers in Ukraine obtain only 20 percent of their income from advertisements, unlike their U.S. counterparts, who depend on advertising to pay the bills. Because of Ukraine's weak economy, however, newspapers cannot raise newsstand prices whenever costs -- such as the price of imported newsprint -- go up. The subscriber base for newspapers has also been eroded as a result of Ukraine's economic decline, Pankov said. Business-newspaper editor Davydov noted that the Ukrainian media face "arbitrary" bureaucrats and a 40 percent tax hike. "Kievskie vedomosti" Luhansk correspondent Natalia Kononova observed that it might be useful for five or six local papers to organize cooperative ventures to share in ad revenue. CC

...AND POLITICAL PRESSURE. Advertising revenue increases only around the time of national elections, according to "Kievskie vedomosti" Luhansk correspondent Kononova. Kononova, who began working for the national newspaper in 1997 after her predecessor perished in still-unexplained circumstances related to his journalistic work, said that regional newspapers tend to be more dependent on the local authorities that either own or heavily subsidize many media outlets. She said the "merger between government and private property" is most evident there. Radio reporter Grechanyk observed that state-funded media outlets basically work for one political party. As several journalists noted in response to questions about journalistic independence, if you work for a government-financed media outlet, "there are certain obligations, [and] you are not going to criticize your owner." Put another way, "every journalist has as much freedom as he or she can bear." "Kreminshchyna" Editor in Chief Prokhvatilova believes that small papers are "closest to their readers," since rural residents can simply approach a reporter and say, "You did not write the truth." CC

VOICE OF RUSSIA BEAMED ACROSS UKRAINE. Moscow-based state broadcaster Voice of Russia on 14 March launched programming on Ukraine's domestic radio channels, the company's director told ITAR-TASS the same day. The "Welcome Ukraine" program will be broadcast in Russian during prime afternoon hours every Saturday on Ukrainian state radio's Channel 3, the news agency reported. Programming will highlight historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, as well as include reports on culture, science, and the economies in the two countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March)

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES SENDING NBC BATTALION TO KUWAIT... The Verkhovna Rada on 20 March approved sending a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait, Reuters reported. The decision was backed by 253 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament. National Security and Defense Council head Yevhen Marchuk said the battalion could arrive in Kuwait in 15 days. "Ukrayinska pravda" reported that the United States is expected to finance the deployment, paying $5.8 million to ship the Ukrainian troops and equipment to Kuwait, $50,000 for feeding them while in transit, and $700,000 to support the battalion for every month it spends in the Persian Gulf. AM

SENIOR RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER WANT RUSSIAN TROOPS TO STAY. Visiting Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said in Chisinau on 20 March after talks with President Vladimir Voronin that both Chisinau and Tiraspol want the Russian contingent stationed in the Transdniester to remain after a settlement of the conflict is reached, Flux reported. Trubnikov said that both sides consider the presence of the Russian troops "a necessity," and that Russia is sympathetic to that request. Trubnikov added that the "modality" of the continued presence remains to be worked out with the OSCE and with Ukraine, which are the other two mediators in the conflict. Trubnikov called Voronin's initiative to elaborate a new constitution jointly with Transdniester representatives "a daring initiative." He also said he expects that during Russian President Vladimir Putin's planned visit to Moldova in autumn "responsible, daring, and productive decisions" for solving the Transdniester conflict will be made. Trubnikov met on 19 March in Tiraspol with members of the separatist leadership. MS