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Ukrainian TV Journalists Protest Kharkiv Channel Closures

Journalists protest the closure of local TV channels in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Journalists protest the closure of local TV channels in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
KHARKIV, Ukraine -- Several dozen Ukrainian journalists have gathered at the Kharkiv mayor's office to protest the closure of local television channels, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The protesters taped their mouths closed with black tape and brought a symbolic coffin that they said was filled with reports that were not aired because of the closures.

Journalists who took part in the protest September 19 say that Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes gave the order to stop the broadcasting of ATN television programs, which were often critical of local authorities.

"Journalists need two independent sources to carry a story, and we have five [on the charge against Kernes]," ATN Director-General Oleh Yukht told RFE/RL.

But, on September 20, Kernes rejected the charges and said the management at the Kharkiv TV channels who have criticized him should apologize for making "cynical" accusations.

"I was never interested in the closure of any [TV] channel," he said. "I think that today in Kharkiv there are enough sources of information. To accuse me without facts is cynical from your side."

Kernes said he thinks the problems of the TV channels are internal difficulties between the owners and said "these questions are [being decided] in the courts."

One of ATN's owners is reportedly former Kharkiv Governor Arsen Avakov, who chairs Kharkiv's branch of the opposition Fatherland party.

ATN shared a frequency on Channel 7 with the Tonis Center company -- which is reportedly connected to Kernes and local Governor Mykhaylo Dobkin -- until recently.

Kernes and Dobkin are members of the ruling Party of Regions led by President Viktor Yanukovych.

In July, Channel 7 severed its contract with ATN. At the same time, a state hygiene department refused to give approval to ATN for broadcasting.

ATN broadcasts were then carried by the local TV companies Fora and ATVK until they were discontinued last week. The companies say they stopped carrying ATN's signal for commercial reasons.

Last week, ATN journalists wrote an open letter to Yanukovych in which they asked him to protect press freedom in Kharkiv.

Yuri Sydorenko, an adviser to Kernes, said journalists should not appeal to the president but to the prosecutor's office.

"Their letter is an attempt to influence public opinion and, with no evidence, create an image of Hennady Kernes as an enemy of the press," Sydorenko said.

ATN journalists told RFE/RL that they have already appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office in Kyiv and the local prosecutor's office but have not received a response.

Leading Ukrainian human rights groups say the situation in Kharkiv is evidence of a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Read more in Ukrainian here, here, and here