By E. Morgan Williams, Publisher and Editor
ACTION UKRAINE REPORT (AUR)
Washington, D.C., Wednesday, March 31, 2004
WASHINGTON - U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors member D. Jeffrey
Hirschberg and RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine traveled to Ukraine on
March 22, in an attempt to meet with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
and Presidential Administration Head Viktor Medvedchuk.
Both Ukrainian officials refused to meet with Hirschberg and Dine regarding
the severe media repression problems RFE/RL has faced in recent days
regarding the rebroadcasting of their programs in Ukraine.
According to a RFE/RL background statement regarding the present status
of RFE/RL's rebroadcasting and freedom of the press the following situation
prevails in Ukraine today:
Thomas A. Dine
(1) "After a five-year working relationship, RFE/RL's Ukrainian language
broadcasts were removed from the commercial Dovira FM network on February
17, 2004 by the company's new owner, who is a political supporter of
President Leonid Kuchma. This network was RFE/RL's major affiliate, allowing
it in total to access at least 60 percent of the population of Ukraine in 20
cities or regions, including the capital Kyiv.
(2) On March 3, 2004 Radio Kontynent, a FM commercial radio station
within the city limits of Kyiv that had begun to carry 2 hours of RFERL
broadcasts on March 1, 2004, was closed by Ukrainian authorities -- its
transmission equipment was confiscated and members of its technical staff
were detained by authorities. This station also carried other international
broadcasters: Voice of America, BBC and Deutsche Welle. Serhiy Sholokh,
the owner of Radio Kontynent has fled to Warsaw and has requested political
(3) Also on March 3, a RFE/RL representative was scheduled to meet Heorhiy
Chechyk, the owner of an independent Ukrainian FM radio station in Poltava,
to finalize a contract on broadcasting RFE/RL's programming. The director
was killed in an automobile accident while on the way to meet RFE/RL's
representative. The accident may or may not have been related to the planned
(4) RFE/RL continues to be broadcast on six independent stations based in
smaller cities and towns. In addition, RFE/RL has been given additional SW
frequencies by the IBB/BBG to be heard in the areas previously covered by
the Dovira broadcasts.
(5) At the same time, RFE/RL has been searching for independent commercial
stations in Ukraine which would contract to carry RFE/RL's programming. So
far the stations which have been approached are willing to only take an hour
or two of RFE/RL programming rather than the full five hours of daily
programming RFE/RL used by the Dovira network. No new affiliate contracts
have been signed to date.
(6) In the search for new affiliates, RFE/RL is being told of threats
from the Ukrainian National Council for TV and Radio. Even in the city of
Lviv in Western Ukraine, owners of radio stations, who had previously
indicated a willingness to take programming, are declining to even meet with
RFE/RL's negotiating team.
(7) Broadcasting Board of Governors member D. Jeffrey Hirschberg and RFE/RL
President Thomas A. Dine traveled to Ukraine on March 22, in an attempt to
meet with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Presidential Administration
Head Viktor Medvedchuk. Both Ukrainian officials refused to meet, but
Hirschberg and Dine did hold meetings with US Ambassador John Herbst,
Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and other persons interested
in the fate of RFE/RL re-broadcasting in Ukraine.
(8) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also visited Ukraine on March
as part of a broader trip to the Caucasus and Central Asia. According to an
AFP report, Armitage was expected to raise the issue of RFE/RL
re-broadcasting with Ukrainian officials.
(9) Western news agencies reported that on March 9, 2004 as many as 5,000
demonstrators gathered in central Kyiv to protest the closures of opposition
and independent media outlets in recent weeks, and the Ukrainian
government's controversial constitutional reform plans.
A petition in support of independent press signed by two million
people from around Ukraine was handed to the Constitutional Court the same
day. This is evidence that the deterioration in Ukraine's media environment
has been accelerating in recent months.
(10) The International Federation of Journalists, which represents over
journalists in more than 100 countries, condemned the closure of independent
radios stations in Ukraine on March 4, 2004 calling it another example of
the government's "relentless pattern of repression."
(11) Recent studies by Ukrainian NGOs who monitor election processes and
engage in non-partisan civic education have shown that TV coverage on all
Ukrainian channels, except for Channel Five, closely adheres to government
positions and denies access to and coverage of opposition parties and
Ukraine has come under severe attack recently by groups within the European
Union, international news organizations, Ukrainian diaspora groups and
of the U.S. government and many others around the world regarding the severe
suppression of independent news and the flow of international information to
Ukraine which is found in Ukraine today just a few months before the