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Media Matters: August 27, 2004

27 August 2004, Volume 4, Number 16
By Jan Maksymiuk

Oleksandr Zinchenko, head of the presidential election campaign of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, said on 25 August that the authorities have taken a "consistent position" to pressure mass media in Ukraine. "This pressure is increasing and becoming more and more cynical and severe; this is not simply administrative resource [in use], this is a strategy," Zinchenko stressed. According to him, only a change of government may improve the situation with the freedom of expression in Ukraine.

Even if Zinchenko's assessment of the media situation in Ukraine is somewhat exaggerated, the past eight weeks of the ongoing presidential campaign have brought a great deal of evidence to support his point of view. Regular monitoring of the media behavior in the presidential campaign by Ukrainian NGOs and international organizations unambiguously shows that the Ukrainian authorities spare no effort to shape public opinion in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and miss virtually no opportunity to broadcast a negative image of his main presidential rival, Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko.

Two months ago, two Ukrainian NGOs, the Common Space Association and the Equal Possibilities Committee, started an extensive media-monitoring project "Ukrainian Monitor -- For a Conscious Choice." The two organizations focused their attention on election-related reports in 12 programs on six national television channels and 93 programs on regional television channels, as well as on those in 10 national and 126 regional newspapers. Their findings are being published in regular weekly releases at the website.

The most influential media in Ukraine are television channels, so Ukrainian television -- both state-controlled channels and those owned by oligarchs -- are the focus of attention of most media watchdogs. All but one of Ukraine's television stations are controlled and/or influenced by either the government or oligarchs supporting Yanukovych's presidential bid. Yushchenko's failure to win the support of some of Ukraine's private media moguls for the 2004 presidential campaign is widely seen as his major shortcoming.

Presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk controls the most-watched state channel, UT-1. Furthermore, in his capacity as leader of the Social Democratic Party-united, Medvedchuk wields influence over two other popular channels -- 1+1 and Inter. Viktor Pinchuk (President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law) and the Dnipropetrovsk oligarchic clan with which Pinchuk is associated control three television channels -- ICTV, STB, and New Channel. Yushchenko has only one friendly television station, Channel 5, which is owned by Our Ukraine businessman Petro Poroshenko. All of these channels -- plus the Donetsk-based Ukrayina television owned by oligarch Rynat Akhmetov, Yanukovych's closest ally -- are monitored under the "Ukrainian Monitor" project.

Since Yanukovych and Yushchenko lead in the polls and are generally expected to score the best results on 31 October, it is no wonder that the overwhelming majority of airtime on television and space in newspapers is devoted to their presidential bids, at the expense of other 24 candidates. "Ukrainian Monitor" discovered the reporting pattern that has not undergone any essential changes over the past eight weeks -- UT-1 and the oligarchic channels provide either positive or neutral coverage of Yanukovych and predominantly negative coverage of Yushchenko. Additionally, Yanukovych gets far more airtime than Yushchenko. The pattern is basically repeated at the regional television level.

The above-mentioned reporting pattern is somewhat reversed on the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5, whose programs are broadcast over some 40 percent of Ukrainian territory. Channel 5, according to "Ukrainian Monitor," provides mainly negative coverage of Yanukovych and positive or neutral of Yushchenko, even though its reports are more balanced those on other monitored channels. Channel 5 has not gone unpunished for this coverage policy -- it was temporarily taken off the air in several Ukrainian regions by rebroadcasters that usually cited various technical reasons for the move. Channel 5 claimed the reasons were political.

By comparing the content of newscasts on some oligarchic television channels, "Ukrainian Monitor" concluded that they use temnyks -- secret instructions supplied to Ukrainian media outlets by the presidential administration to tell journalists on what issues they are to report during a particular week and in what manner. One of the most glaring examples of this kind of state control over media was a temnyk quoted by some Ukrainian print media in early July, in relation to the coverage of a pro-Yushchenko's rally on 4 July: "When covering the event, do not give long shots of the rally and shots of the crowd; show only groups of drunk people with socially inappropriate or deviant behavior." Not surprisingly, perhaps, the rally was attended by unidentified individuals who distributed vodka for free.

A similar, even if less striking bias in favor of Yanukovych can be observed in the coverage of the election campaign by Ukrainian nationwide newspapers. Most major nationwide newspapers are openly partisan in their election preferences: "Fakty i komentari," "Segodnya," Kyivskyy telehraf," "Kievskie vedomosti," and "2000" favor Yanukovych; "Vechirni visti" and "Ukrayina moloda" back Yushchenko; "Silski visti" support Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's presidential bid.

Several independent or opposition-leaning regional newspapers -- including "Ostrov" in Donetsk and "Luhanchany" and "Na dnyakh" in Luhansk -- have had problems with finding a printing house. Earlier this month, the tax authorities froze the bank accounts of the Mega-Plus publishing house, which printed "Vechirni visti," a newspaper linked to opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, who supports Yushchenko's presidential bid.

Looking at Ukraine's media behavior from a historical perspective, it should be noted that the first large-scale -- and successful -- attempt at muzzling the media in a biased manner was made in the 1999 presidential election campaign, when the government and media tycoons worked in concert to prevent Moroz from reaching the runoff with Kuchma and vilify Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, Kuchma's rival in the second round, as an agent of "Red revenge."

The 2002 parliamentary elections were also marred by biased and partisan media behavior, even though it did not look so condemnable as that in 1999, because there were many more political parties and options involved. In 2002, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine managed to win the election in a nationwide constituency, in which seats were contested under a party-list proportional system.

However, this year's election -- apparently because of the clear-cut Yanukovych-Yushchenko choice facing Ukrainians -- seems to have driven the authorities to interfere in media election coverage on a hitherto unprecedented scale. Now Yushchenko needs to make a considerable greater campaign effort than in 2002 if he wants to offset his media handicap and persuade Ukrainians that they must choose him, not the pro-government candidate.

By Roman Kupchinsky

As the 31 October presidential election in Ukraine draws closer, the state of media freedom in the country is becoming the object of intense international scrutiny. Delegations of former U.S. administration officials and congressmen, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and European human rights groups have visited Ukraine on fact-finding missions, reminding Ukrainians that their hopes of acceptance by the West are linked not only to granting the legal right of free expression, but to its regular, unimpeded implementation.

One of the first to arrive in Kyiv carrying a message on media freedom was former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. "The Ukrainian Weekly" reported on 13 June that Brzezinski told students at the Mohyla Academy on 14 May: "Ukrainians, last but not least, must protect freedom of the press and subordinate political life to the rule of law, both of which are essential components of democratic society."

Soon afterwards, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation dispatched a mission to Ukraine to prepare a report on media freedom. AP on 5 August reported that the federation has issued its report and found that:

"Coverage in state-controlled media is heavily biased in favor of [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych, who is seeking the presidency with the backing of current President Leonid Kuchma....

"The state-owned television channels 'routinely convey negative portrayals' of the leading opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, and newspapers often publish 'strongly propagandistic' materials in favor of Yanukovych."

The most detailed and authoritative report describing the situation surrounding the Ukrainian media was made public on 8 June. That day the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) distributed a special assessment of the visit to Ukraine by OSCE representative on freedom of the media, former Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti.

The OSCE, which currently has an election-monitoring team in Kyiv, has a long record of monitoring previous elections in Ukraine and therefore is well versed in the means used in the past to manipulate public opinion. Despite past Ukrainian violations, the current OSCE assessment presented a balanced picture of the media in the country:

"Overall, media pluralism is present in Ukraine. The mere quantity of media outlets is impressive. Different views are represented; politicians of all ranks are regularly criticized in the media. A lively discussion of public issues -- alas, not exactly a dialogue -- is taking place.

"The general legal framework in the media field is considered satisfactory by independent experts from both inside and outside the country. In some instances, recent media-related lawmaking in Ukraine was even more forward-looking than relevant legislation in older democracies."

Having established that a pluralistic media exists in the country, the report goes on to specific issues and this is where many questionable practices tend to be found.

"Although, in general, political pluralism does exist in the media in Ukraine, where it seems to be least developed is in the broadcast media, specifically on television. So even as private television broadcasting exists at the national and local level, the government's position is prevalent on the most popular channels that also have the largest area reach."

The OSCE report had this to say about Ukrainian television:

"The one view dominating the airwaves is that of the government.

"The problem seems to stem from three main causes:

1. an ownership structure that is closely connected to, or influenced by, the current government;

2. temniki [guidelines on coverage issued by the government], which play an important role in homogenizing the coverage of public issues; and

3. an institutional framework of frequency allocation and licensing that allows for favoritism."

The OSCE report gave a breakdown of television coverage of political news by the major Ukrainian television stations. This showed that on UT-1, the largest and most influential station, some 95 percent of political events were presented from the pro-government point of view and less than 5 percent of airtime was devoted to diverging views. The other large stations, ICTV and Inter, followed suit.

Despite these public admonitions by the OSCE and the Helsinki Federation, the Ukrainian leadership continued to control media coverage of the campaign.

As the campaign went into its fourth week, the BBC reported on 5 August that:

"Coverage...of the presidential election campaign (26 July-1 August) by Ukraine's three most-watched TV channels continued to be heavily biased in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

"State-owned UT1, and the private Inter and 1 + 1 channels (all of whose news coverage is widely believed to be strongly influenced by the presidential administration) gave uniformly positive coverage to the activity of Yanukovych's government and to his election campaign, while devoting much attention to negative stories about his main rival, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko."

By early August, U.S. officials began to urge the Ukrainian leadership to play by the rules. AP reported on 5 August that a senior U.S. administration official, asking not to be identified, told reporters that media coverage of the Ukrainian campaign "has been decidedly tilted in favor of government loyalists." The unnamed official was quoted as further declaring "Ukrainian leaders are mistaken if they believe the United States will ease pressure on the country because of the more than 1,500 Ukrainian troops participating in the multinational force in Iraq."

The first official Ukrainian response to these charges came from the head of the presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, in an article for the newspaper "2000" on 13 August, in which he outlined his views on freedom of the press and replied to his country's critics.

"The more I try to analyze the political processes in our country, the more difficult it is for me to renounce my view that during the past few years, freedom of the press has become a weapon in the battle of the opposition with the current government," he wrote. "Furthermore, freedom of expression is both a shield and a club at the same time. One can use freedom of the press as a weapon against ones enemies at the same time it can be used to hide behind, let us say, from criminal prosecution. The point being that it is useful: you broke the law and the government is guilty."

Medvedchuk then provided his interpretation of the tactics used by critics of media freedom in Ukraine:

"The universal condemnations of Ukraine are part of the usual repertoire of some western organizations and are built along a standard scheme: some event (either fictional or at times real) is magnified to unbelievable proportions and on this basis conclusions are drawn that 'democracy and freedom of the press are missing,'" he wrote. "At the same time the details of the event in question and its underlying factors do not enter into their analysis."

By the end of the article Medvedchuk explained what he saw as the real threat.

"In the West there exist numerous so-called human rights funds and organizations that like to hand out left and right their evaluations and ratings, including about Ukraine. Needless to say, these 'findings' are then distributed by interested political circles. For example, in the Ukrainian information sphere the 'analytical materials' of Freedom House are regularly distributed," Medvedchuk wrote. "In its report published in April 2004, this organization presented its annual ratings of democracy and press freedoms. Ukraine once again found itself on the black list. These findings were then massively circulated with unbridled joy in the opposition's media which one might be led to believe exists in underground conditions.

"The question is not even related to the fact that the president of such a well-known human rights organization as Freedom House is the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsley, the nature of whose former job hardly qualifies him to be a defender of human rights (imagine if the former head of the KGB were to head a similar human rights organization) -- the question is about the objectivity of its findings. These are questioned even in the West."

Medvedchuk's rhetoric, which was remarkably reminiscent of Cold War-era Soviet rebuttals to Western charges of censorship and lack of press freedom, signaled that influential decision makers in the Ukrainian presidential administration do not intend to let Western critics influence their behavior. His dark hint that the opposition hiding behind "freedom of the press" slogans to shield themselves from criminal prosecution, is a worrying one and might signal that official Kyiv is contemplating more dramatic measures to insure that its candidate is elected.

Earlier this year a number of prominent Ukrainian and Russian government figures issued statements questioning the role that Western nongovernmental organizations play in their countries, at the same time hinting that these NGOs, many of which are involved in media freedom issues, might harbor subversive intents. This line of reasoning was followed up upon on 26 July when Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Crimea during a Ukrainian-Russian summit that "the intelligence networks of our Western partners are trying in every way to hamper our movement toward each other." Putin's reference to Western intelligence agencies manipulating domestic politics was repeated in a more roundabout manner in Medvedchuk's article by his claim that "so-called" Western human rights funds headed by former CIA chiefs were channeling their findings to the opposition press as part of some sinister disinformation operation.

The West has relatively little leverage to force Ukrainian leaders to adopt modern democratic standards in media practices. The Ukrainian leadership knows this weakness and is confident that it enjoys the full support of the Russian government in what appears to be a restoration of Soviet-era media controls. When taking into account that media watchdog organizations concluded that the Russian media was highly biased in Putin's favor during the Russian presidential elections in March, it should come as no surprise if Putin refrains from criticizing Ukrainian media practices during these elections, in which both Russia and the West have much at stake.

By Daniel Kimmage

The recent history of Tajikistan's independent press gives cause for both concern and celebration. The latest permutations in the zigzag trajectory of the unofficial media include an attack on a prominent editor, a groundbreaking anniversary, and a print stoppage occasioned by a squabble with the tax police.

Rajab Mirzo, the editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Ruzi Nav" (New Day), was attacked on 29 July by an unknown assailant in Dushanbe, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 2 August. Mirzo required hospitalization after suffering several blows to the head from a blunt metal object. "Ruzi Nav" has at times been harshly critical of Tajikistan's government, and most observers saw the assault on Mirzo as signal to the country's independent press. The attack drew condemnation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan, the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF spokeswoman Colombe de Mercy told IRIN, "This can be [seen as] an indication of the deterioration in the status of press freedom in Tajikistan." In a 5 August article, "Ruzi Nav" linked the latest assault to a previous attack on Mirzo and a colleague on 18 January, calling them "links in a single chain." For its part, the Dushanbe prosecutor's office has said that it is investigating the case and will submit evidence by 30 August, Asia Plus reported on 19 August.

Ironically, the attack came just as Mirzo's newspaper was celebrating its first anniversary. The same edition of "Ruzi Nav" that contained an article about the assaults on Mirzo also featured laudatory comments by a number of prominent figures, some of them in the government, in response to the question, "Why do you read 'Ruzi Nav'?" Below are excerpts from the replies translated from Tajik:

Abdurahmon Abdumannonov, head of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's Information Office: "I read all of 'Ruzi Nav' because it contains materials that are necessary for society. At the same time, there are also a lot of scandal-mongering materials. I'm not really in favor of this kind of muckraking. I like the fact that 'Ruzi Nav' bravely delves into the issues and problems that afflict society. But it's less successful at proposing solutions."

Asliddin Sohibnazarov, deputy head of the Democratic Party: "I feel that 'Ruzi Nav'...represents a new phenomenon for the modern Tajik press. Only recently in Tajikistan, it would have been virtually impossible for the majority to accept a newspaper like this. But the fact that 'Ruzi Nav' has been established and is going about its business now provides additional proof that there are political forces, specific individuals, and groups that want society to prosper."

Mirhusayn Narziev, head of the Socialist Party: "I read every issue of 'Ruzi Nav.' To be honest, I try to analyze all of the articles. But since we work in the political arena, I read more of the articles that deal with political issues. I hope that in the future, the staff of 'Ruzi Nav' digs even deeper into the issues, since this is helping to raise the level of political literacy among our citizens."

Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of President Rakhmonov's Center for Strategic Research: "'Ruzi Nav' is one of my favorite newspapers. I read it all the time. The newspaper definitely prints articles that are of great topical relevance to Tajikistan, even if it also contains pieces that I might not agree with.... For the creators of 'Ruzi Nav,' I would like to repeat the sentiment I voiced at the newspaper's opening ceremony: 'May your newspaper be the locomotive of free speech, the locomotive of realism and the search for truth, the newspaper of democracy. May it be a newspaper that serves the people of our country.'"

Bahrom Ghafur, singer: "I think everybody reads 'Ruzi Nav.' I mean that they can find something worth reading there, something useful, or something that eases their pain. To be honest, I have a lot of respect for the work that the guys at 'Ruzi Nav' do and I don't have any complaints. If there's a flaw, it's that the newspaper's writers are excitable, and this isn't such a serious flaw. I wish the staff success."

Marat Mamadshoev, the editor of the "Internews Media Review" bulletin, provided perhaps the most pointed tribute, explaining in a 20 August article published on that "Ruzi Nav" "broadened the horizon of Tajik glasnost. Previous publications avoided the sanctum sanctorum -- the inner workings of power. They observed certain taboos in their work...'Ruzi Nav' broke with that tradition...'Ruzi Nav' dared to criticize the highest figures in power."

But even as the confetti from "Ruzi Nav's" first birthday party were still drifting to the ground, a new brouhaha broke out. On 18 August, the Tajik tax police confiscated the print run of "Nerui Sukhan" (Power of the Word), Tajikistan's other well-known independent newspaper, and closed down the printer, Asia Plus reported. A spokesman for the tax police told Tajik Television that a search of the Jiyankhon printing house turned up an actual print run of 7,097 copies, although the newspaper's declared circulation is 2,700. The tax police are investigating the possibility that the undeclared 4,397 additional copies represented an attempt to evade taxes.

"Nerui Sukhan" editor Mukhtor Saidburhon told Tajik Television that the discrepancy was the result of a technical error, and that the newspaper had decided to increase its print run to cope with rising demand now that students are returning from summer break. Bobokhon Nurullozoda, the director of the Jiyankhon printing press, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 19 August: "It's really unclear. A computer error occurred in the calculation of the print run.... We're discussing this now [with the tax police]."

"Nerui Sukhan" was not the only newspaper affected. The closure of the printer prevented "Ruzi Nav," Olamu Odam" ("The World and People"), and "Najot" ("Salvation," the print organ of the Islamic Renaissance Party) from appearing. "Ruzi Nav" Editor in Chief Rajab Mirzo told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that existing legislation gives the police the right to impose a fine for failure to pay taxes, but not the right to shut down the presses and keep other publications from seeing the light of day. Moreover, Mirzo told Asia Plus that when he tried to print "Ruzi Nav" elsewhere, other printers refused, explaining, "The tax police warned us, and we can't take the risk of printing your newspaper."

An 18 August article by Rashid Abdullo in the weekly "Asia Plus" summed up the current contradictory state of the Tajik press, viewing it through the prism of "Ruzi Nav's" first anniversary. The author wrote that in Tajikistan, as in other post-Soviet states, the ruling elite exhibits a certain inertia that acts both as a positive stabilizing factor and a brake on the development of society. He concluded: "The disproportions and various collisions primarily affect such media outlets as 'Ruzi Nav' and 'Nerui Sukhan.' In other words, the problems that these media outlets experience are, in a sense, the price they pay for being on the front line of society's progress. In trying to stay up at the front, they must be ready to accept the uncomfortable moments that come with that position."

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Iraq is proving to be a difficult place to work for even the most seasoned journalist. Several journalists have disappeared or been taken hostage in recent days; A French-American journalist and his interpreter were kidnapped on 13 August by Shi'ite militiamen in Al-Nasiriyah. The men were released from captivity on 22 August after an aide to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr intervened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004).

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported on 26 August that Italian journalist Endo Baldoni has been executed by militants holding him captive in Iraq. Baldoni was taken hostage on 19 August; his interpreter, who was traveling with him when he was abducted, was earlier found dead. The Islamic Army in Iraq had issued a statement on 22 August demanding that the Italian government withdraw its forces from Iraq; Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to meet the demand. The militant group sent a videotaped statement to Al-Jazeera that purportedly depicts the execution. The group said that it executed Baldoni following a verdict by what it termed its religious court. Al-Jazeera did not broadcast the videotape out of consideration for Baldoni's family.

Reporters Without Borders reported on 23 August that two other journalists are missing in Iraq: Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, and Georges Malbrunot of the French dailies "Le Figaro" and "Ouest France." According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), neither man has been heard from since 19 August. British journalist James Brandon was taken hostage by al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Basrah on 12 August, when some 30 gunmen stormed his hotel room while he was sleeping. He was released after 15 hours in captivity after al-Sadr representatives intervened, Sky News reported on 13 August.

"The numbers of foreign journalists missing are rising, and we fear that journalists are now becoming the No. 1 target of armed militants," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said in a statement posted on the federation's website (

As if the recent targeting of journalists was not enough to contend with, the interim government has also placed a number of obstacles in front of journalists that threaten to prevent the flow of free information.

As the standoff with the Al-Mahdi militia intensified in Al-Najaf last week, police there instructed journalists to leave the city, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Journalists remained in the city, however, and were confronted by police officers at a hotel where many of them have been staying, Reuters reported on 15 August. "I have an order that all journalists must leave Al-Najaf now. Anyone who does not leave will be arrested," a police lieutenant announced at the hotel. The news agency reported that several officers on the scene brandished their rifles in an apparent show of force.

Police chief Ghalib al-Jaza'iri told reporters at a 15 August press conference that the order came from the Interior Ministry, Al-Jazeera reported on 17 August. "The order is still technically valid, but I have contacted the Interior Ministry this morning and told them it sounds unreasonable to have a city with no media. This will turn [the media] against us," he said. Journalists said they fear the order was an attempt by officials to impose a news blackout on the city, although officials contend that the order was issued to ensure the safety of journalists. The incident occurred just days before U.S. forces launched a major incursion against Shi'ite militiamen in the city.

Police later arrested several journalists in Al-Najaf, including an Al-Arabiyah television correspondent on 16 August. Al-Jazeera television reported on 17 August that police officers again visited a hotel where journalists were staying, and one police lieutenant announced: "We will kill you if you leave the hotel. I will put four snipers on the roof to shoot anyone who leaves." Police also fired into the air and pointed their guns at the hotel, witnesses told Al-Jazeera.

Police again detained dozens of Iraqi and foreign journalists in Al-Najaf on 25 August, Reuters reported on the following day. The detention followed an evening raid on a hotel housing journalists. Police reportedly fired weapons in the air -- and in one instance at a cameraman -- during the raid. "Journalists were just eating dinner and suddenly the police appeared in the lobby and started firing in the air," an unidentified journalist told Reuters. Another witness said that 50 journalists were taken into custody during the raid; they were later released.

Several Iranian journalists have been prevented from covering stories and some were even arrested in recent weeks. Iraqi police arrested the head of IRNA's Baghdad bureau and three of his journalists on 9 August. The men are reportedly being held at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. Iraqi officials have not said why the men were arrested. Iran's special parliamentary journalist's committee sent an appeal signed by 234 journalists to Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi on 23 August appealing for the release of the men. The group made a similar appeal asking UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to intervene in the affair on 20 August.