By Tim Vickery, Associated Press, Kiev, Ukraine, March 3, 2004
KIEV, Ukraine - Ukrainian authorities pulled a private station off the air
Wednesday, four days after it began broadcasting U.S.-funded Radio Liberty's
Radio Kontinent, a station sympathetic to Ukraine's political opposition,
started FM rebroadcasting of Radio Liberty - making it more accessible to
listeners - on Saturday.
Radio Kontinent claimed its broadcasts were jammed on Monday and Tuesday
and, on Wednesday, it said more than a dozen police arrested two station
employees and confiscated its transmitter.
Pavlo Slobodaniuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian Broadcasting Authority,
denied any confiscation, but said Kontinent was removed from the air for
"broadcasting without a license," the Interfax news agency reported.
Deputy technical director Oleksander Demidev, one of the two arrested
station employees, said that when he arrived to check on transmission
problems, "the transmitter was already out of the room and switched off
completely," Interfax said.
The move came two weeks after FM rebroadcasts of shortwave Radio Liberty
were canceled by a private Ukrainian radio station after it demanded format
changes, a move that led to claims of an official campaign to keep the
Prague-based station off the air.
Alexander Narodetsky, director of Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service, told
The Associated Press he believed Wednesday's action was part of a three-year
campaign by authorities to get his service off the air. "Today, the voice is
very strong and very clear, they will do everything to control everything,"
Kontinent general director Serhiy Sholokh said he would appeal to local
courts and the International Court for Human Rights. Kontinent also ran
programs by Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Polish Radio.
Thomas Dine, the director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, denounced the
closure, calling it "a blatant act in suppressing factual news and
information ... Ukraine's name and its people are badly damaged."
The statement decried "the evolving pattern of pressure applied by Ukrainian
authorities on independent media and freedom of speech as such."
President Leonid Kuchma's administration has come under increasing criticism
from Western governments, human rights groups and journalists who accuse him
of muzzling the press.
Ukraine's media environment has been tense since the 2000 death of Heorhiy
Gongadze, an Internet journalist who crusaded against high-level corruption.
His decapitated body was found in a forest outside Kiev. Opposition groups
allege Kuchma was involved in Gongadze's killing, but Kuchma denies that.
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