The International Federation of Journalists today condemned blatant attempts to prevent Ukraine journalists from reporting the protests following the hotly contested Ukrainian election.
“The situation is very tense and we have extremely worrying reports about attempts to distort the news and control the media”, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Many broadcast journalists are risking everything by refusing to bow to pressure and censorship.”
Meanwhile print media fear that their publications will be blocked in the coming days following a series of incidents in the week prior to Sunday’s poll. (Details attached below.)
The IFJ election observer in Kiev has reported that:
The IFJ calls on the Ukrainian authorities to end this intimidation and to allow journalists to report freely and accurately.
“The Ukrainian electorate needs clear and objective reporting if it is to respond adequately to events and journalists must be allowed to provide balanced and accurate coverage”, added White.
IFJ Report on Media Coverage of the Elections in October
The “orange revolution”
At Ukraine’s presidential elections on Sunday, the government candidate Viktor Yanukovich was announced the winner by a margin of under 3%. The media was overwhelmingly biased in his favour and against the challenger, Viktor Yushchenko.
Moreover, there is evidence of widespread fraud: high ranking police officers and tax inspectors in the east and west of the country have gone public about the large-scale fraud in which they were ordered to take part.
Finally, exit polls suggested Yushchenko won by a margin of some 10%.
For these reasons, and because Yanukovich has failed to fight corruption while the vast majority of Ukrainians live in abject poverty, Yushchenko supporters are convinced the official election result is illegitimate.
The role of the state-controlled media in spreading propaganda against Yushchenko while heaping praise on Yanukovych means that journalists’ protests against censorship have taken on massive significance.
State television: journalists fight back
A month ago, just a few days before the first round of voting in the presidential elections, 42 journalists on 5 central TV channels issued a signed, public statement attacking the censorship under which they are expected to work. The number of signatures has now reached 330 – all of them broadcast journalists.
The statement obliges them to refuse to work on reports that do not meet stringent standards of professional journalism.
Since then there has been a battle to force the management of the TV channels to agree with their journalists ethic standards for news reporting and analysis.
On Channel 5, the only nation-wide channel to make a serious attempt at balanced reporting, a week-long hunger-strike by staff in late October succeeded in beating off attempts to close down the channel.
Newspapers: a pattern of attacks
Tuesday’s issue of Silski Visti (November 16) was blocked at the printers and was not distributed for several days. The entire print run of this major national daily remained at the printers. The issue carried a large interview with Mr Yushchenko – the number had been produced with Mr Yushchenko’s backing and with an extra large print run. A week before the paper had produced a special issue on Yanukovych.
Saturday’s issue of Den (November 20) didn’t come out – the first time in eight years that the national daily had not reached its readers. It’s editorial was critical of Mr Yanukovych, and the paper reportedly declined to print the text of a report by a parliamentary commission investigating accusations that Mr Yushchenko had been poisoned (the report said no evidence had yet been found to confirm he had been poisoned). Over the weekend the paper’s o! wners, linked to the government, tried to replace the editor, Oleg Ivantsov, but journalists refused to accept his replacement, Valery Stepanyuk, who previously worked as a state censor on TV channels Inter and 1+1.
In the city of Sumi in northern Ukraine, on Thursday (November 18) unknown persons seized some 500 copies of the weekly newspaper Panorama from sellers at the city’s central market, saying that the paper was “opposed to the government” and contained pro-opposition leaflets. The staff reject these accusations, pointing out that if a paper is not actively pro-Yanukovich it is automatically accused of being pro-Yushchenko. The editor in chief of ! the newspaper says he harbours “serious fears that the new issue won’t be allowed to get out.” (On the day of the first round of elections (October 31), a tear gas canister exploded in the building housing the Panorama offices and the offices of radio station Nochnoi Dozor, with which the newspaper collaborates closely. Several staff were injured by the gas.)
In Kharkov, eastern Ukraine, a week before the first round of the elections police attempted to close down the printers where weekly newspaper Obiektiv-NO is printed. When the printers refused, police were stationed at the gates and stopped and checked every car going in. Newspapers then started appearing that looked similar to other well-known newspapers, but were full of propaganda; also “opposition” leaflets appeared with extremist demands, such as calls for civil war. (Before the first round of the elections, police searched the second home of the editor of Obiektiv-NO, Natalia Stativko. Despite all her efforts, she has still received no adequate explanation for the search.)
In Nikolaev, in southern Ukraine, the weekly paper Yuzhnaya Pravda was printed on Thursday (November 18) but was not distributed. Journalists on the paper interpret the problems as a repeat of the scenario observed at Silski Visti, and see it as just one of “a mass of such instances in Ukraine”.
For more information call IFJ observer David Crouch in Kiev, tel +44 7801 789 297, or +38 097 330 6009.
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries.