Ukraine | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Ukraine

Ukraine

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

59

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

21

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

23

Status change explanation: Ukraine's rating improved from Not Free to Partly Free to reflect significant openings in the media environment following the November 2004 presidential elections.

With a constitution providing for freedom of speech and press and a law guaranteeing citizens access to information, Ukraine's legal framework is considered satisfactory; however, the media's legal rights were not respected in practice under former president Leonid Kuchma's administration throughout most of 2004. The government used politically motivated libel cases and politically biased licensing mechanisms to harass media outlets that criticized the government. In October, the opposition television station Kanal 5 lost its broadcast license in the Kyiv area and then had its assets frozen by a Kyiv court, after parliamentarian Volodymyr Sivkovitch brought a civil defamation suit against one of Kanal 5's owners, reformist parliamentarian Petro Poroshenko. The government misused the criminal justice system to punish journalists and stonewalled investigations into the unsolved murder cases of journalists, such as Heorhiy Gongadze, publisher of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

 The state also used extensive administrative resources and media control during the 2004 presidential election campaign to promote the pro-government candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. News media received restrictive temnyky (themed directives from the authorities instructing editors on news coverage), leading to unequal access in favor of Yanukovych and negative propaganda against opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Meanwhile, independent journalists reporting on sensitive issues such as official corruption continued to face intimidation and physical violence. 

 Despite the diversity of media ownership in Ukraine and despite significant private ownership, most major media outlets were owned by individuals close to President Kuchma-including his son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, and former head of the administration Viktor Medvechuk-resulting in controlled and slanted coverage throughout much of 2004. In February, the new management of Radio Dovira, who had links to Kuchma's political party, terminated Ukrainian-language broadcasts by the international communications service Radio Liberty, in what was criticized as an attempt to suppress alternative political opinions on the mainstream FM networks. Serhiy Sholokh, director of the independent Radio Kontynent, who announced that his station would rebroadcast the Radio Liberty programs, was then threatened and fled the country, while police raided and shut down the Radio Kontynent office in March. Authorities also restricted journalistic production and distribution, one example being the refusal of the public post office in Donetsk to send the independent weekly Svoboda to several thousand subscribers in November. 

 The media environment changed rapidly in November as public protests following the fraudulent November presidential elections began to grow. Masses of protesters took to the streets, and many journalists rejected pressure to toe the pro-government line, choosing instead to report more independent and objective news. Hundreds of television broadcasters conducted a "journalists' rebellion," denouncing intimidation and political censorship during the presidential election, and for the first time in years, independent and opposition views were aired in a balanced manner. In the period of the presidential election (October-December 2004), domestic and international pressure enabled opposition broadcast media-including independent cable Channel 5 and Era-to play a bigger role. Moreover, the print runs of pro-reformist newspapers were increased, enabling them to reach millions of readers. The objectivity shown by Ukrainian media at the end of 2004 and the victory of President Yushchenko, who has vowed to promote press freedom, were cause for cautious optimism at year's end.