Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Ukraine
As of December 31, 1998

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Powerful politicians and businessmen continued to wield their influence to harass journalists and opposition newspapers, eroding press freedom and limiting the number and variety of voices available in the country. Officials have used tax and libel laws, as well as charges of illegally obtaining government documents, to close newspapers and silence journalists. Violence against the press persisted, including bombings of newspaper offices and assaults on reporters and editors, creating an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship.

Some of the hostilities were apparently timed to stifle opposition coverage of the March 29 parliamentary election. Similar activities are likely during the run-up to the October 1999 presidential election.

President Leonid Kuchma, who is expected to seek re-election, has been critical of the press, particularly media with foreign ownership, such as the joint Ukrainian-Russian and Ukrainian-American television channels, which provide what little independent news coverage is available. Harsh tax laws and high production costs force most newspapers and broadcast outlets without foreign support to seek financial aid from businesses and politicians, who then demand favorable coverage.

The government used prosecutions and crushing fines to force three newspapers -- the opposition papers Pravda Ukrainy and Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti, and the national weekly Politika -- to close their doors. And other news outlets and journalists endured prosecution and fines for their critical reporting.

Violence against the press included a Molotov cocktail attack on the offices of Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti four days before it closed.

Amendments to broadcast regulations now exempt radio and television stations from libel charges for defamatory statements made on the air during political campaigns, but the new rules took effect only three days before the parliamentary election.
Attacks on the Press in Ukraine in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
06/04/98 Kievskiye Vedomosti Legal Action
04/29/98 Slovo Harassed, Legal Action
03/22/98 Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti Attacked, Harassed
02/23/98 Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti Legal Action, Censored
01/28/98 Pravda Ukrainy Legal Action, Censored

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