Ukraine | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Ukraine

Ukraine

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 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)

20

Much of 2007 was consumed by political conflict within the government among the country’s three dominant politicians—President Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western Yulia Tymoshenko, and pro-Russian prime minister Viktor Yanukovich—which stalled reforms and left journalists working in chaotic and highly politicized conditions. The fragile governing coalition between Yushchenko and Yanukovich collapsed in May, leading to parliamentary elections in September and the appointment of Tymoshenko as prime minister in November.

The legal framework generally provides for media freedom and is one of the most progressive in Eastern Europe, but respect for these laws has decreased in practice over the last few years following the 2004 Orange Revolution, in which Yushchenko won the presidency. Criminal libel was eliminated in 2001, but some officials use civil libel lawsuits filed in the country’s politicized court system to silence critical news reporting. In January, a court in the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk fined the newspaper Dzerzhinets 140,660 hryvnia (US$29,000) in civil libel penalties and ordered its property seized after the newspaper published articles about a corrupt local police chief. While the Parliamentary Election Law prohibits the media from engaging in vaguely defined “election campaigning” and provides sanctions for this offense, this provision was not used against the media during the September parliamentary election. Access to public information is still cumbersome, while freedom of information legislation has yet to be formally adopted. As a result, official requests for information are often met by little more than silence, particularly at the local level.

In 2007, threats, harassment, and attacks against the media continued as the country’s weak and politicized criminal justice system failed to protect journalists from regional politicians, businessmen, and criminal groups. In fact, a majority of journalists reported receiving some form of threats related to their work. In February, in one of many similar incidents, Andriy Shynkarenko, the 9 Kanal television news director, was attacked and seriously beaten by two men he said were associates of a local politician he had been investigating. Separately, in September, the editor in chief of the critical online outlet Ostriv was the victim of an arson attack when his car was set on fire. Prosecutors and police regularly failed to take action against suspects identified in these previous attacks, leading to a culture of impunity. For example, in July, prosecutors in the capital city of Kyiv cited a “lack of evidence” when stating that they would not press charges against a politician from Prime Minister Yanukovich’s conservative Party of Regions who reportedly attacked two STB television journalists outside the parliament in August 2006. Similarly, despite President Yushchenko’s promise to solve the September 2000 abduction and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, his government has made limited progress in the case. The trial of the three police officers charged with the slaying continued throughout 2007, while a fourth suspect, a senior police official, remained a fugitive. Gongadze’s family and press freedom advocates question why prosecutors are ignoring evidence that former president Leonid Kuchma ordered Gongadze’s murder, suspecting Yushchenko’s administration of protecting the former president. 

With hundreds of state and private television and radio stations and numerous print and electronic news outlets, Ukraine’s media remain diverse. However, many major outlets are owned by regional business magnates with close ties to the government, while others are dependent on state subsidies, making self-censorship widespread and slanting news coverage in favor of specific economic or political interests. In fact, in March, state-run Ukrainian National Television canceled a popular current affairs debate program only a day after Tymoshenko appeared on the program and brought in record ratings for the show. During the campaign for the September parliamentary election, hidden political advertising was widespread in the private media, while the state media provided primarily positive coverage for Yushchenko and Yanukovich. Political infighting distracted the government from reforming politicized state media outlets as well as the state bureaucracies, where secrecy and corruption remain widespread. At the beginning of the year, the Party of Regions pressured state media outlets for more favorable news coverage and tried unsuccessfully to oust an outspoken reformist politician as chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information. Transparency of media ownership remains poor because businessmen and politicians often preferr to hide their ownership of and editorial influence over news programs. Ukraine’s print distribution system also remains problematic and dependent on the national postal service. Some of these deficiencies were partly offset by strong economic growth, which increased media advertising revenues as well as the popularity of business reporting. The government does not restrict access to foreign outlets or to the internet. Although it also does not require internet publications to register with the authorities, it does retain the ability to monitor websites and the e-mails of the 12 percent of the population that use the internet regularly. The country’s growing economy continued to boostd demand and readership of news and other websites.