Freedom of the Press

Ukraine

Ukraine

Freedom of the Press 2009

2009 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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

55

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

20

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

Much of 2008 was consumed by political conflict among the country’s three dominant politicians—President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich—which stalled reforms and left journalists working in chaotic and highly polarized conditions. The legal framework generally provides for media freedom and is one of the most progressive in Eastern Europe, but respect for these laws has remained poor since the 2004 Orange Revolution, a popular protest movement that thwarted electoral fraud by Yanukovich and secured the presidency for Yushchenko. Criminal libel was eliminated in 2001, but officials are increasingly using civil libel lawsuits filed in the country’s politicized court system to silence critical news reporting. In March, a court in the eastern city of Slavyansk fined the television company Sat-Plus 80,000 hryvna (US$16,000) for insulting mayor Valentin Rybachuk by reporting that he used city funds for public works to buy himself a luxury car. Freedom of information legislation has yet to be formally adopted, and requests for official information are often ignored, particularly at the local level. For example, a press freedom group waited seven months to get a response from the office of the president regarding a controversial award for a judge who had allegedly obstructed the inquiry into the 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Political infighting distracted the government from reforming politicized state media outlets and the state bureaucracy, where secrecy and corruption remain widespread. During a meeting with lawmakers in May, for instance, private cable television operators complained that the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, a state media regulator, was issuing informal instructions on which television channels should be included or excluded from cable networks. In September, Cherkasy regional governor Oleksandr Cherevko fired the entire staff of the municipal youth newspaper Molod Cherkashchyny in retaliation for their critical coverage of his party and policies. 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 January, the private Kyiv-based Channel 5 television station canceled the news program Chas and fired its host, Yehor Sobolev, over his independent-minded coverage of the September 2007 parliamentary elections and criticism of politicized editorial interference in the work of journalists.

In 2008, 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. A majority of journalists reported receiving some form of threat related to their work. Prosecutors and police regularly failed to take action against suspects identified in previous attacks, leading to a culture of impunity. In June, a security guard threatened and briefly strangled journalist Andriy Dvoretsky of the Nash Gorod newspaper in the southern city of Mykolaiv because he was taking photographs of an illegal construction site. In September, police officers in the eastern city of Donetsk beat journalists Maksym Abramovskiy and Olena Mykhailova of the newspaper Ostriv as they videotaped police officers pulling cars over for roadside inspections, but prosecutors failed to open an investigation. Similarly, despite President Yushchenko’s promise to solve the 2000 abduction and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, his government has made little progress in the case. Three police officers were convicted for the slaying in March, but Gongadze’s family and press freedom advocates question why prosecutors are ignoring evidence that former president Leonid Kuchma ordered the murder, and have expressed suspicions that Yushchenko’s administration is protecting him.

With hundreds of state and private television and radio stations and numerous print outlets, Ukraine’s media sector is diverse but faces many challenges. Throughout the year, hidden political advertising—locally referred to as dzhynsa—was widespread in the media and weakened the public credibility of journalists. Transparency of media ownership remains poor because businessmen and politicians often prefer to hide their influence over news programs, but it improved somewhat due to research conducted by nongovernmental organizations. Ukraine’s print distribution system also remains problematic and dependent on the national postal service. Some of these deficiencies had been offset by strong economic growth, which increased advertising revenues and the popularity of business reporting, but the economy suffered severely from the global downturn in late 2008. The government does not restrict access to foreign outlets or to the internet, which is used by approximately 15 percent of the population. Although internet publications are not required to register with the authorities, the government retains the ability to monitor websites and e-mail.