IFJ Report Calls for Unity to Face Climate of Fear and Corruption in Ukraine Media

The International Federation of Journalists today issued a report on the media crisis in the Ukraine that calls for unity among journalists to combat ‘fear, corruption and governmental interference’ in journalism. The Report, Unity For Justice: The Challenge of Change for Journalism in the Ukraine, also demands urgent action to find the killers of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze who was murdered almost three years ago.

The Report strongly condemns forms of political censorship and the Ukraine’s failure to meet European standards of press freedom. “Despite paper guarantees of journalistic freedom and free expression, journalists’ rights are not respected in practice,” say the authors, quoting the use of so-called “temniki” by officials to influence the content of media. The authors say the government of President Leonid Kuchma is “an obstacle to reform and the creation of a democratic culture in the Ukraine.”

“The failure to initiate long-overdue reforms in the structure, funding and regulation of media is to blame for the continuation of corrupt practices and political influence that hinder attempts to bring about reforms necessary to create conditions in line with European standards.”

Within journalism the report says political pressure on reporters and editors is compounded by corrupt labour practices and appalling working conditions.

The report is the work of Aidan White, the General Secretary of the IFJ, and John Barsby, the President of the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland, who visited the Ukraine 10 days ago.

The authors are particularly critical of the long-running and flawed investigation into the killing in 2000 of Gongadze, a critic of the Kuchma administration. “No case stirs the sense of injustice and corruption within the state more than that of Georgy Gongadze,” says the Report noting that many believe Gongadze was targeted because he exposed corruption at the highest levels of government.

The authors, who met with journalists’ leaders, media experts and officials, call for an international independent investigation into the Gongadze case unless immediate steps are taken to test evidence of high-level complicity in the killing. There is particular anger over the failure to verify tape recordings, allegedly incriminating President Kuchma, that are held by a former Major in the Presidential Guards, Mykola Melnychenko, who now lives in the United States.

“Unless the authorities redouble their efforts to test all the evidence and bring to justice those responsible for the killing, the IFJ should prepare an independent international inquiry to expose the flaws, mismanagement and political interference of the government that have hindered the Gongadze investigation,” says the Report.

Despite the country’s twilight conditions for press freedom, the Report says that there is evidence of an emerging opposition movement in journalism.

The authors recommend actions to promote unity among journalists, including

  • A proposal to hold a national conference to draft a comprehensive action plan for the future of media in the Ukraine. This conference should be held no later than May 2004 in advance of the Presidential elections.

  • Joint actions among journalists’ groups to enhance the status of journalists, improve working conditions and campaign for media reform. A newly formed independent trade union of journalists in Kiev plans to launch a national network, which may challenge the existing National Union of Journalists that has slowly begun the process of transforming itself into a viable trade union.

  • Positive steps to strengthen media professionalism including a unified national press card, support for a self-regulation and a new Media Ethics Commission

  • Projects for bilateral co-operation with other European journalists’ unions and working with European institutions – including the European Union and the Council of Europe to bring pressure to bear on the authorities to support media reform.

  • The full Report is available here.