Ukraine | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Ukraine

Ukraine

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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

53

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

19

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

21

Immediately following the Orange Revolution late in 2004, newly elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko promised to cease state manipulation of the media and promote freedom of the press. At the beginning of 2005, optimism about greater media freedom was high, and throughout the year Ukraine's media environment was lauded as a bright spot for the government and more independent and balanced in its coverage than under previous administrations. An overall decrease in political interference with the press and several important advancements occurred in 2005. Nonetheless, progress was incremental, and various violations of media rights continue to be reported.

Ukraine's legal framework, considered satisfactory and moving toward international standards, includes a constitution that provides for freedom of speech and of the press and other laws that guarantee citizens' access to information and protect the professional activities of journalists. However, the Ministry of Transport and Communication put forth a new website registration decree, effective in May 2005, that both required an administrator to regulate the registration of websites and prohibited internet posts that call for a violent change of government, damage an individual's honor or reputation, or include foul language and pornography. The decree, criticized by international media watchdog organizations as vague and restrictive of freedom of speech, was then rescinded by the ministry in October. At the end of 2005, groups such as the International Federation of Journalists and the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine protested against the current law governing the March 2006 parliamentary elections, which they said could stifle and threaten the media because it contained articles requiring journalists to report on political candidates equally and without commentary and permitting the closure of media outlets without court order in some circumstances (for instance, if false information about a party is knowingly disseminated).

The harassment and abuse of journalists for reporting on stories sensitive to government officials has not completely ended, as evidenced by the May 2005 attack on Mykhailo Kucherak, editor of the independent weekly Oberih, in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytski for publishing articles about the mayor's alleged embezzlement of funds and an opposition party member's links with organized crime, or the beating of Kanal 34 journalist Natalia Vlassova in Dnipropetrovsk in October for her investigation of corruption within the regional branch of the Batkivschina Party. The reporting of the celebrity magazine Paparazzi on President Yushchenko's teenage son's extravagant spending habits also caused a stir when the president himself admonished the reporter during a press conference.

Yushchenko promised to make the high-profile case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze a priority of his administration and quickly announced three months into his presidency, on March 1, that Gongadze's killers had been identified and the murder solved. Three policemen-Valery Kostenko, Mikola Protsov, and Oleksandr Popovych-were eventually accused by the Office of the Prosecutor General and arrested for kidnapping Gongadze outside his home and murdering him by strangulation, while an international arrest warrant was put out for a fourth suspect who fled the country, senior police official General Olexi Pukach. Meanwhile, an unidentified assailant threw a hand grenade at one key witness in the case, Yuri Nesterov, while another key witness, former minister of internal affairs Yuri Kravchenko, was found dead next to a suicide note. The death is considered suspicious because of the two bullets in Kravchenko's temple. In September, an inquiry by a Ukrainian parliamentary commission accused former president Leonid Kuchma and other high-level officials of ordering Gongadze's murder, but besides questioning the former president, no action has been taken based on the findings of the commission, which has no judicial authority. Myroslava Gongadze, the victim's wife, also filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, despite a settlement of Euro 100,000 (US$127,789) offered by President Yushchenko in exchange for withdrawing the claim. In November, the ECHR condemned the Ukrainian authorities for having "failed to protect the life of the applicant's husband," treating Mrs. Gongadze in a degrading manner, and denying her right to an effective remedy, and ordered the Ukrainian government to pay her Euro 100,000 (US$127,789) in damages. The court proceeding of the three arrested police officers was set to begin at the end of 2005.

With hundreds of state and private television and radio stations and numerous print and electronic news outlets, Ukraine's media remain diverse. Radio Free Europe has resumed broadcasting in the country after being shut down by President Kuchma in 2004. However, because many major media outlets are owned by oligarchs and individuals with close ties to the government, coverage can often be slanted or can favor specific economic or political interests. Additionally, Ukraine's distribution system remains problematic and dependent on the national postal service. After the Orange Revolution, additional printing facilities became available as more publishers began to establish their own presses. The government did not restrict access to the internet, but it had the ability to monitor all internet publications and e-mail for the 11.4 percent of the population with internet access.