Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Much of 2009 was consumed by partisan conflict among the country’s three dominant politicians—President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych—as they jockeyed for position ahead of the January 2010 presidential election. The feuding stalled reforms and left journalists working in chaotic and highly polarized conditions, particularly toward the end of the year.
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 Yanukovych and secured the presidency for Yushchenko. Criminal libel was eliminated in 2001, and in February 2009 the Supreme Court instructed judges to follow the practices of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which granted lower levels of protection from criticism to public officials and clearly distinguished between value judgments and factual information, according to the U.S. State Department. Nonetheless, officials continued to use civil libel lawsuits filed in the country’s politicized court system to successfully silence critical reporting. In April, an appeals court in Kyiv reduced the damages awarded to former Vinnytsia governor Hryhoriy Kaletnik in his lawsuit against the newspaper Kanal 33 from 710,000 hryvnias (US$89,000) to 157,000 hryvnias (US$19,600). Kaletnik brought the case in response to a series of articles connecting him to illegal smuggling during his time as a customs official, the U.S. State Department reported.
Freedom of information legislation has yet to be formally adopted, and requests for official information are often ignored, particularly at the local level. In March, the deputy mayor of the northern city of Chernihiv invited journalists from state media to a city council meeting but excluded two journalists from private newspapers, claiming they were required to apply for permission to attend in advance, according to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.
In 2009, 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. Serious attacks against journalists are less common than in previous years, but prosecutors and police regularly failed to take action against suspects identified in past attacks, leading to a culture of impunity. In May, the deputy director of housing and utilities in the western city of Vinnytsia, Vyacheslav Shapalov, assaulted a journalist from the Vinnytsia Television and Radio Company, Oleksandr Ilnitskiy, and gave him a concussion after he filmed the official allegedly seeking a bribe from the manager of a circus, according to local press reports. Separately, despite Yushchenko’s promise to solve the 2000 abduction and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, his government made limited progress in the case. Another former police officer linked to Gongadze’s killing was arrested in July, over a year after authorities convicted three police officers for the slaying, but Gongadze’s family and press freedom advocates have questioned why prosecutors continue to ignore evidence that former president Leonid Kuchma ordered the murder, and have expressed suspicions that Yushchenko’s administration is protecting him.
Political infighting distracted the government from reforming politicized state media outlets and the state bureaucracy, where secrecy and corruption remain widespread. In September, journalists from the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NTU) in the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk went on a hunger strike to protest several months of unpaid wages and a series of politicized inspections by various government agencies in retaliation for the journalists’ failure to include sufficient praise for Governor Viktor Bondar in their news broadcasts, according to local press reports and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Many major outlets are owned by regional business magnates with close ties to the government, while others are dependent on state subsidies, encouraging widespread self-censorship and slanting news coverage in favor of specific economic or political interests. In June, executives at the Kyiv-based television station Novy Kanal fired the editor of the Reporter news show, Volodymyr Pavlyuk, after he aired a popular but embarrassing video clip of Tymoshenko’s reaction to a teleprompter malfunction during a speech.
With hundreds of state and private television and radio stations and numerous print outlets, Ukraine’s media sector is very diverse compared with those of other former Soviet republics, but it also faces many challenges. Throughout the year, hidden political advertising was widespread in the media and weakened the public credibility of journalists. Transparency of media ownership remains poor, as businessmen and politicians often prefer to hide their influence over news programs, but it improved somewhat due to the research efforts of nongovernmental organizations. Ukraine’s print distribution system is problematic and dependent on the national postal service. Some of these deficiencies were compounded by the country’s deep economic recession, which led to a decline in the value of the country’s currency, an increase in unemployment and inflation, and a steep rise in the price of natural gas due to a dispute with the main supplier in neighboring Russia. The economic difficulties led to a drop in advertising revenues for the media and threatened to reduce media pluralism through increased dependence on state subsidies or greater concentration of ownership, according to IREX.The government does not restrict access to foreign outlets or to the internet, which is used by around 33 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.