26 November 2004

Alert

Journalists' strike widens as electoral chaos continues in Ukraine


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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has expressed its support for journalists fighting systematic censorship, after 237 journalists and contributors to the state-owned television station UT-1 went on strike on 25 November 2004 to protest news bias.

Staff at the pro-government but privately-owned 1+1 and Inter stations also rebelled against censorship and appeared to have won the argument as the channel began broadcasting footage of opposition demonstrations.

Outgoing president Leonid Kuchma charged, at a meeting of the National Council in the capital, Kiev, that the pro-opposition station Kanal 5 was "preparing a coup." He said he regretted that it had not been closed down.

"We back those journalists who are fighting the systematic censorship they have been subjected to," said RSF. "We call on the authorities not to close Kanal 5, the only national opposition channel."

"It would mean yet another damaging step in the crackdown on media that is not subservient to the government," the organisation added.

Fourteen journalists in the news services of UT-1 and 1+1 began a strike on 24 November to protest the systematic use of "temnyks", the presidential office's instructions to editorial offices on how certain subjects should be handled. Other journalists, particularly local correspondents, soon joined them. They said they would only call off the strike when the government promised to broadcast unbiased news.

Some 223 journalists and contributors to public UT-1 television joined the strike on the evening of 25 November. They put out a statement condemning the "one-sided coverage" that "deprives Ukrainian citizens of important news."

In the statement they also demanded the right to broadcast footage live from Kiev's central square "where the history of our country is currently being written."

They also called on the station's management to give its official support to private opposition stations Kanal 5 and Era, both of which are threatened with closure.

The journalists said they would strike if they received a negative reply from management. Since management pronounced the statement illegal, staff duly went out on strike.

Since the evening of 25 November, in response to staff pressure, the management of 1+1 and Inter have struck a deal with their employees, under which both political sides would get equal airtime. As a result, the stations began broadcasting footage from central Kiev, thronged by hundreds of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Nine journalists, mostly from 1+1 and Inter, have recently resigned to protest the widespread use of "temnyks" at their editorial offices. Elsewhere, during a meeting of the National Council on co-operation between local, regional and national authorities, Kuchma said, "The country's authorities and security experts have warned that the provocative coverage and so-called 'honest news' on Kanal 5 were designed to prepare the ground for a coup."

He said that out of respect for democracy, the government had not taken any sanctions against Kanal 5, although it had "every reason to do so," since the channel "had not respected its commitments under the terms of its broadcast licence."

He said it was a pity that the government had not shut down Kanal 5 before. "If we had acted differently the hundreds of children dragged into street demonstrations would probably not be at risk of catching pneumonia," the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted him as saying.



Source

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