Reporters Without Borders is today publishing the report of the fact-finding visit it made to Ukraine from 19 to 21 July. Entitled “Temptation to control,” it looks at the marked increase in press freedom violations since Viktor Yanukovych’s election as president in February.
During their visit, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, and the head of the organisation’s Europe and Ex-USSR desk, Elsa Vidal, met national and local media representatives, members of press freedom NGOs, and parliamentarians from both the ruling party and opposition.
Cases of physical attacks on journalists, direct obstruction of their work and acts of censorship of various kinds were reported to the organisation.
The reports conclusion’s have unfortunately been borne out by investigative journalist Vasil Klimentiev’s disappearance on 11 August and this week’s court decision that the allocation of new broadcast frequencies to two privately-owned independent TV stations, TVi and 5 Kanal, was illegal.
The allocation of broadcast frequencies is a crucial issue. A Kiev administrative court ruled on 30 August in favour of the action brought against TVi and 5 Kanal by rival TV station owner Valeriy Khoroshkovsky – who also happens to be the head of the SBU, Ukraine’s main security agency, and a member of the Judiciary Supreme Council – and ordered that prosecutions be brought against members of the National Broadcasting Council.
The ruling has dealt a blow to the independence of TV stations and the National Broadcasting Council. Reporters Without Borders regards it as an act of censorship against the two TV stations that are most critical of the current government.
During a discussion of civil liberties in Ukraine on 30 August with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Yanukovych said it was it was a matter of the “utmost interest” to him that the process of democratization in Ukraine should continue successfully.
Reporters Without Borders hopes that these pledges are real and that every effort will be made to shed light on Klimentiev’s disappearance and avoid a recurrence of the impunity and obstruction that has marked the investigation into the September 2000 abduction and murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
The Gongadze case has still not been concluded, although government officials and politicians have repeatedly claimed that this was their desire.
The increase in press freedom violations detailed in the report needs a strong reaction from the international community, especially the European Union, so that media freedom can be guaranteed in Ukraine.
Reporters Without Borders is open to dialogue with Ukrainian politicians and is due to return to Ukraine soon to meet with President Yanukovych at his invitation.
The entire report is available in English, French, Russian and Ukrainian on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org).