By Ivan Khokhotva, BBC Monitoring research, Kyiv, Ukraine
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, Feb 16, 2004
KYIV.......Radio Svoboda, the Ukrainian-language service of US-funded
Radio Liberty, has joined the growing list of critical media outlets to be
put out of business in Ukraine this year. Svoboda's Ukrainian partner Radio
Dovira has said it will stop rebroadcasting Svoboda's news and current
affairs programming on the popular FM band on 17 February.
Listeners of Svoboda, one of the few media outlets not controlled by
President Leonid Kuchma and his supporters, will now have to rely on
crackling short-wave broadcasts, just as in Soviet times. Dovira says its
decision was commercially motivated, arguing that Svoboda's programmes
were clashing with its new entertainment format.
But President Kuchma's critics at home and abroad say Svoboda's difficulties
are part of a campaign to muzzle the free media. The European Union, the
media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and Radio Liberty itself have
issued strongly-worded condemnations of Svoboda's closure.
The US embassy in Kiev said it was "especially deplorable in an election
year in Ukraine, when the need for news and information from a variety of
independent sources is greatest".
Of Kiev's 20-odd FM radio stations, only three could be described as having
an opposition leaning. Dovira was one of them - until its boss was replaced
by a supporter of President Kuchma last month. The second radio station,
Radio Roks, had its transmitters switched off last month by the local health
authority, in what critics suspect was another case of the government using
the state machinery to silence opponents.
The last of the three stations, Radio Kontynent, which rebroadcasts the BBC
Ukrainian Service, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle in Kiev, has often
been on the brink of closure. The station finally obtained registration in
January, after several years of trying. But it is still suffering from what
media analysts describe as "soft jamming" - constant interference from
another FM station which makes the quality of reception a turn-off for all
but the most avid listeners.
Television and papers aren't immune to such problems, either. A court in
Kiev ordered in late January that the largest-circulation opposition daily
Silski Visti be closed down, on the grounds that it had published two
The author of the articles, the head of a management academy loyal to the
government, and the academy's own magazine which published similar articles,
escaped unscathed. The opposition paper Lvivska Gazeta was ordered to
pay a heavy fine by the taxmen after running a series of articles alleging
corruption in the tax service.
And Channel 5, the last independent television station regularly featuring
President Kuchma's opponents, has been dragged to court by a smaller rival,
and is facing the threat of losing its right to broadcast. Analysts say
similar tactics were applied by the government against the once-feisty One
Plus One channel in the run-up to the 2002 parliamentary elections.
Viktor Yushchenko, the reformist former prime minister who leads opinion
polls ahead of the October election, described Svoboda's closure as "an
undeniably political decision made at the highest level". The government
insists it had no hand in Svoboda's woes. Svoboda itself says it will do all
it can to persuade Dovira to change its mind or find another Ukrainian
A senior Radio Liberty delegation from Washington is now expected in
Kiev in an effort to resolve the stalemate. But if Yushchenko is right, the
US-funded radio will have its work cut out trying to get its news back on
the Ukrainian airwaves.
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