Media Freedoms In Ukraine And The Cis: A Gloomy Picture

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 8

In the first week of May two human rights organizations, the Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers and the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information, released reports on the state of media freedom in the world and in the CIS and Ukraine respectively. The picture both organizations provide of media freedom in the CIS and Ukraine is a gloomy one.

The worst CIS offenders against independent media, Reporters Without Frontiers noted, were Russia (described as a “Fictional Democracy”), Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine (said to be led by “Authoritarian Leaders”) and Turkmenistan (which was listed under “Dictators”). Only a week ago Uzbekistan was itself included by the New York-based Freedom House as among the ten worst offenders of human rights in the world.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has twice been included in the New York-based Committee to Defend Journalists (CPJ) annual top ten worst enemies of the media. Kuchma was named in 1999 and again in 2001, after the death of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The CPJ no longer prepares these annual lists.

Kuchma, moreover, has chosen not to rest on his laurels. Reporters without Frontiers included him in their annual lists of the most dangerous threats to the media in 2001, 2003 and again this year.

The Institute of Mass Information’s report on media in Ukraine in 2003 concluded that the perpetrator of the worst infringements of the rights of Ukraine’s media is in fact the authorities themselves. Of the 146 conflicts that involved the media last year, 106 involved the authorities. “These tendencies prove that organized crime is a far lesser problem for civil society and, particularly, for freedom of the press, than the current authorities…,” the report states.

The most dangerous regions of Ukraine for independent media are those in which oligarchs are in control (Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts) and in the Crimea (where inter-ethnic relations are strained). The year 2003 also witnessed the growth of media conflicts in Lviv, a battleground between the opposition Our Ukraine and Viktor Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic Party united (SDPU-o). Until January, Serhiy Medvedchuk, Viktor’s brother, ran the Lviv Tax Administration and used his position to investigate businesses and media loyal to Our Ukraine.

The Institute of Mass Information warned that the authorities are continuing their attempts to control the media. As the October presidential election approaches, the institute believes that “this control will become more severe and these methods of control will become more brutal” (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 3; [Reporters Without Frontiers]; [Institute of Mass Information]).