The International Federation of Journalists today accused Ukrainian leaders of taking the country “into the shadows of old-style censorship and media controls” following the attacks on the only independent national broadcaster, Kanal 5, whose accounts have been frozen following a decision of the Pecherikiy District Court in Kiev in 18 October. Earlier Kanal 5’s license to broadcast in Kiev was also suspended and the station could be prevented from broadcasting in the capital at any moment.
“These actions against an independent media voice are shocking in a country that claims to be making a transition to democratic pluralism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is even worse that they come in the middle of an election campaign and they reveal how the country is being led back into the shadows of old style censorship and media controls.”
The court decision followed a defamation case brought by parliamentarian Volodymyr Sivkovitch against one of Kanal 5's owners, opposition politician Petro Porochenko.
With only days to go before the country goes to the polls in presidential elections the IFJ says the authorities have resorted to desperate tactics to silence independent media prepared to break with the official version of events.
All other broadcasters have given persistent support to the government candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and relentless criticism of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
“Kanal 5 is being victimised for breaking with government propaganda and introducing some balance to the election coverage,” said White. “Journalists have witnessed a barrage of attempts to intimidate and silence independent media in the Ukraine over the past four years. Starting with the assassination of investigative Gyorgy Gongadze in September 2000, there has been a catalogue of mysterious deaths, beatings, and closures enacted against independent journalists and media.”
Media monitors, including the Institute of Mass Information in Kiev and Article 19 the London based freedom of expression NGO, have already expressed deep concern over the lack of balance in media coverage of the election campaign, the issuing of direct editorial instructions by the government through the system of Temnyky, and the persistent harassment of non state media. In the past year, Kanal 5 has also had their broadcasting discontinued by cable companies in Kriovograd, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Uzhhorod.
Journalists at Kanal 5 are threatening to go on hunger strike from Monday 25th October unless the order is repealed. “This election is crucial for the future of democracy in the Ukraine. Journalists recognize this and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to express their view,” said Arne Konig, Chair of the European Federation of Journalists, the regional body of the IFJ. “The EFJ and IFJ offer full support to the protesting journalists.”
The Executive bodies of the IFJ and EFJ are meeting this weekend in Brussels and will put the developments in the Ukraine at the top of their agendas. Meanwhile the IFJ calls on national governments and intergovernmental bodies including the European Union, Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to send the strongest possible signal to the Ukraine that these measures will not be tolerated.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries