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Ukraine: Parliament Considering New Media Laws

Kyiv, 24 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Ukrainian parliament is considering the adoption of new media laws this month. The debate comes amid complaints by deputies about the extent of foreign influence in Ukraine's media, the overall poor quality of television programming in the country, and the predominance of Russian-language programs and publications.

Parliament last week (Feb. 16) adopted a resolution calling for a national media policy and laws that would give tax breaks to local media and limit the presence of foreigners in the broadcasting and publication markets.

The resolution followed a parliament address (Feb. 9) by Ukraine's first deputy information minister, Oleh Bai, who complained about what he called the political and cultural expansion of other countries into Ukraine.

According to Vasily Ivanina -- executive secretary of the parliament's Committee for Freedom of Speech and Information -- the adopted resolution calls for a ban on television programs filled with sex and violence. It also suggests an investigation into the possible psychological harm done to viewers by watching such programs.

Ivanina would not elaborate on the details of the new media laws being considered. He would only say they involve tax breaks for local media on paper and printing costs, as well as some form of monitoring to prevent what he called "filth" on the airwaves.

Ivanina said he also believes the present law restricting foreign ownership of Ukrainian TV channels to 30 percent is inadequate. But he promised foreign media investment will not be curtailed.

Ivanina recently told RFE/RL that "we aren't preparing to limit anyone, but we are preserving the state interests."

"These foreign firms bring in wonderful equipment, and look at the horrible films they show. I think no other country would want to watch them. Blood, racing, murder, pornography, sex -- that's all we see on the screen. I want to see good films, like 'Gone With the Wind,' but, of course, good films cost more."

Gennady Potchtar -- a director at IREX ProMedia, a support center for journalists and broadcast professionals -- says he is unimpressed by proposals being made by the parliamentary committee. He believes they are too vague and too numerous.

Potchtar says the proposals look "ridiculous" and show the proponents "do not have any idea what to do." He defends Ukraine's foreign-owned private channels. He says "from the consumers' point of view, the quality on private channels is much higher than on government TV."

The resolution adopted by parliament also requires Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to appoint an information minister. Kuchma's government, however, has been calling for the ministry's dissolution.

Fourteen editors from major Ukrainian newspapers met with Kuchma recently. They suggested that the Information Ministry -- which grants publication and broadcasting licenses -- be expanded instead of dissolved.

They suggested its name be changed to the Information Policy Ministry and that it offer legal support to the media and work on developing a national media policy.

Ivanina suggests the Information Ministry act as a monitor, ensuring the media stays within the limits defined by such a national media policy.

"But nevertheless, someone should monitor these films. A Ministry of Information is, of course, nonsense in a civilized country. But maybe at this level, the ministry could fulfill this monitors' role."

Ivanina also suggests the powers of the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting should be widened to not only grant broadcasting licenses but also to revoke them if license holders violate broadcasting laws.

In an interview with the Interfax news agency, the first deputy chairman of the broadcasting council -- Mykola Slobodian -- invited viewers and listeners in Ukraine to report broadcasts filled with "violence, cruelty and sexual immorality." The council is also asking TV and radio broadcasters to replace such offensive material with national films and music.

The predominance of Russian-language programs and publications in Ukraine has also come under attack. In his address to parliament, Bai deplored the predominance of Russian-language media. He said more than 60 percent of Ukraine's broadcasts or publications are in the Russian language.

Vasyl Horabets -- head of the Information Ministry's mass media department -- says there are 54 Russian-language publications for every native Russian speaker in Ukraine, while there are only seven such publications in Ukrainian for each native Ukrainian speaker. He called these statistics "horrible."

Ivanina said the parliament's Committee for Freedom of Speech and Information has not taken a position on the use of Russian or Ukrainian languages in the media. He said the real issue is not what languages are being broadcast. He said: "We're talking about the fact that we get the worst."