Ukraine: Media policies reveal divergent values

world | May 23, 2007 | By Marta Dyczok

The current situation is very much a continuation of the political struggle from 2004. One of the slogans of the Orange Revolution was "No More Lies!" (Ni Brekhni!), and since coming to power Yushchenko has started to deliver on this promise.

However, after the Party of Regions of Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won at the parliamentary polls in spring of 2006, they and their coalition partners have been enacting a creeping coup, slowly moving back into positions of power and reintroducing the old way of doing things. Nowhere is this more visible than in the media.

Divergent political values

So the real question is: what kind of relationship does the government have with the media? Yushchenko and Yanukovych appear to have very different ideas about the relationship between media and the state.

Since becoming president, Yushchenko has adopted a liberal approach to media policy, with minimal state intervention beyond general regulatory measures and overseeing a slow process of removing the state from media ownership. He has allowed media to write, print, broadcast and post whatever they wish, and this has allowed freedom of speech to flourish for the first time in the country's recent history.

Despite facing constant criticism from the media, Yushchenko has not taken any steps to reintroduce state-sponsored censorship, and this is the behavior of a democratic leader. Where Yushchenko falls short, as with so many other issues, is in doing little to introduce or facilitate structural changes which would help consolidate these gains.

Prime Minister Yanukovych and his coalition partners are taking advantage of this and gradually moving to reestablish control - the creeping coup. Their behavior toward media suggests that their political culture remains stuck in pre-2004 semi-authoritarianism.

A telling incident occurred shortly after the Party of Regions began their political comeback. On 12 July 2006, only a few months after the elections, Party of Regions lawmaker Oleh Kalashnikov attacked two journalists just outside parliament.

The journalists, Marharyta Sytnyk and Volodymyr Novosad from STB television, had the audacity to film him near the Verkhovna Rada. Despite a major outcry from journalists, Kalashnikov faced no consequences - he continues to sit in parliament and make statements about the importance of constitutional government and the rule of law.

Since the Kalashnikov incident, attacks on the media, some physical, have increased. A recent example took place on 30 March 2007, when Crimean journalists Olena Mekhanyk and Oleksandr Khomenko from the Chornomorka TV station were attacked as they filmed coalition supporters boarding trains headed for Kyiv.

Kuchma-era tactics such as legal actions, harassment and other forms of intimidation have been on the rise. The pioneering "Ukrayinska pravda" website has been sued six times over the last six months by Parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Moroz.

Renat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and an influential member of the Party of Regions, recently launched legal action against the popular website "Obozrevatel," after its reporter Tetyana Chornovil found some old neighbors from his home town of Oktyabrskoye and published a series of stories about his youth.

The newspaper "2000" ran what turned out to be a fabricated story, which falsely quoted Renate Wohlwend, rapporteur with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as saying Yushchenko's 2 April decree dissolving parliament was unconstitutional and he should resign.

Equally troubling was a remark to the press by Vadym Dolhanov, the husband of Constitutional Court judge Syuzanna Stanik, who was dismissed from her post by Yushchenko as the court was considering the legality of the president's 2 April decree. Responding to a question from a female journalist about the couple's property holdings



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