Ukrainian journalists have protested outside the country's parliament against a bill which will will be used to muzzle the media. More than 100 journalists held up empty posters to highlight their concerns about censorship.
The bill, backed by the
party led by President Viktor Yanukovych, calls for more severe punishment for defamation, including prison terms of up to five years. International watchdogs have criticized the measure as a government attempt to silence independent journalism.
Several leading Ukrainian newspapers and magazines have protested in recent days by publishing editions with blank covers.
The legislature is set to consider the bill in the final reading next week.
Ukraine's parliament has scrapped a defamation bill that could have seen journalists fined, banned from working or even jailed. The country's media had launched a vocal campaign to stop it becoming law.
Mustafa Nayem, a member of the Stop Censorship Movement, told euronews:
It wasn't to the government's advantage to press ahead because the image of the country would be tarnished and it could overshadow the
Opposition MPs believe the draft law was ditched because it had become too much of a political hot potato leading up to the parliamentary poll on October 28th.
As the president of Ukraine inaugurated the global conference of the newspaper editors and publishers on Monday, he was heckled by the leading Ukrainian journalists who stood up to protest against the official censorship.
The presidential security
guards interrupted and the protesting journalists in front of the international delegates, taking away placards from some journalists that read Stop Censorship .
Despite protest by the journalists, President Viktor Yanukovych continued his
speech stressing entirely the opposite of his ongoing practice of crackdown on the media that is stopped from covering the activities of opposition parties, social and economic problems, and criticism from the foreign politicians of the situation in
I can ensure you that the development of the freedom of speech and independent media will stay one of our main priorities in going forward as it is very important for our future. And we want to become a partner with you in ensuring
this , he spouted.
A banned Ukrainian television station, which had its broadcast frequencies cancelled after a court found in favour of supposed irregularities in the manner in which the stations were awarded their licences, has decided to defy the court ruling and
continue its terrestrial broadcasts.
Channel TVi called the action by the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting - which issues the licences - unfounded persecution .
TVi Chief Executive Mykola Kniazhytskyi
said in a statement sent to the International Press Institute: In accordance with current legislation of Ukraine, we do not consider the decision of the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting to revoke amendments to our
license a sufficient cause for termination of our terrestrial broadcast. We will continue to broadcast Ö [and work] to prevent further imposition of censorship in Ukraine.
Three Ukrainian television stations stopped broadcasting for an hour late Saturday, in what a protest against what they said was increasing political pressure on journalists.
5 Kanal, TVi and one regional television station are threatened with
having their licences taken away, Kiev media reported.
The stations have accused the authorities of reintroducing press censorship. The strike comes amid widespread concerns that press freedom has deteriorated since pro-Russian President Viktor
Yanukovych came to power in February.
On Tuesday the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), a media freedom watchdog, wrote an open letter to Yanukovych, saying it was alarmed at reports of an increase in the number of assaults
against journalists and a failure to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.
It also noted an apparent blurring of the lines between government office and private media ownership and said it was particularly concerned about
a Kiev court's decision to annul the allocation of broadcasting frequencies to two privately-run TV channels: TVi and 5 Kanal.
Ukraine's media landscape could
be reshaped after Channel 5 and TVi, two small stations providing the last vestiges of independent television journalism, lost a dispute over their frequencies.
A Kyiv appeals court ruled in favor of the U.A. Inter Media Group (Inter), the
nation's largest television holding, upholding a lower court decision that analogue frequencies awarded to the station in January were obtained illegally.
At the time, the National Council for Television and Radio awarded Channel 5 with 26 and TVi
with 33 analogue frequencies.
The Inter group, owned partly by State Security Service of Ukraine chief Valeriy Khoroshkovksy.
Both TVi and Channel 5 claim the court decision was unfair and marked a return to the era of censorship and
political pressure on media, two hallmarks of ex-President Leonid Kuchma's authoritarian tenure from 1994-2005.
That's just what's happened. Two independent channels who managed to withstand political pressure were deprived of the licenses they
were awarded within a totally legitimate competition, Mykola Kniazhytsky, TVi executive director said.
Both channels are preparing to contest the appeals court ruling in the High Administrative Court and in the European Court of Human Rights.
Ukraine's administrative supreme court met Tuesday in Kiev to examine the appeals of two independent television stations, TVi and 5 Kanal, against the removal of
Pressure has been applied on the two privately owned stations since President Yunukovych took office in February. Since his election, the government has been accused of attempting to restrict freedom of the press by inducing
pro-government censorship. Some journalists have claimed that top government intelligence agents have been monitoring them.
TVi and 5 Kanal are currently appealing against Judge Nataliya Blazhivska's ruling on June 8 to invalidate the National
Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting's January 27 grant of additional frequencies to both stations. These frequencies would ensure development and greater audience for both channels.
The decision was made in response to legal protests
filed by Inter Media Group (IMG), the nation's largest broadcasting group, when the Broadcasting Council allocated 33 frequencies to TVi, 26 to 5 Kanal and only 20 to IMG's stations.
Reporters Without Borders condemns a ruling by the Kiev administrative supreme court on 26 January upholding a lower court's decision to withdraw the over-the-air broadcast frequencies that were assigned to two privately-owned TV stations, TVi and 5 Kanal, in January 2010.
The lower court's decision was issued on 8 June 2010 in response to a complaint by Inter Media Group. Ukraine's biggest broadcasting group, IMG is owned by Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, who also heads Ukraine's main domestic intelligence agency, the SBU,
and is a member of the Judiciary Supreme Council, which appoints and dismisses judges.
The appeal to the Kiev administrative supreme court was the last chance that TVi and 5 Kanal had to recover their frequencies by going to the Ukrainian courts.
Ukraine's supreme court could in theory overturn the decision but the case would have to be referred by the administrative supreme court (usually regarded as highest court in such matters) and that is highly unlikely.
TVi director-general Mykola
Knyazhytsky and 5 Kanal's representative, Tetyana Malashenkova, say they now want to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The 26 January ruling seems to confirm that the judicial authorities take their orders from the government, and that
the government wants to reduce freedom of expression and the publicís access to information.
Reporters Without Borders condemns a Kiev court's decision on 8 June to cancel the licences of TV5 Kanal and TVi, two stations that are regarded as critical of President Viktor Yanukovych's administration, especial TVi, which regularly interviews
independent experts or opposition figures who openly criticise the government.
On 7 June, the eve of the court's decision, the journalists at TV 5 Kanal released the text of an open letter to the president claiming they were being harassed by the
SBU, Ukraine's main security agency. Calling for the protection of their rights under the constitution, they said they wanted to meet with Yanukovych to explain their fear that their station was about to be broken up.
Their fears were confirmed by
the 8 June decision cancelling the allocation of TV broadcast frequencies announced on 27 January, several weeks before the current administration took office. The court, which issued its ruling in response to a legal appeal by the Inter group, withdrew
the licences of TV5 Kanal and TVi.
Reporters Without Borders voices its support for the two TV stations, their condemnation of an unprecedented and unacceptable conflict of interests and their call for Khoroshkovky to resign from some of his
The multiple posts held by Khoroshkovky are incompatible in a democracy with the principles of freedom of expression and impartial regulation of the media. Reporters Without Borders also believes that is vital that the National Council
of Television and Radio Broadcasting should be impartial and free of external pressure.
Mykola Knyazhytsky, the head of TVi, and Ivan Adamchuk, the head of TV5 Kanal, said they would appeal against the court's decision.
The parliamentary committee for freedom of speech and information has called on the Verkhovna Rada to form a special commission to investigate cases of censorship
and pressure on the freedom of speech, as well as cases of the blocking of the professional activity of journalists.
The committee also proposed that the parliament hear reports by the heads of the TVi Channel and the Fifth TV Channel,
representatives of the Inter group, Security Service Chief Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, and representatives of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting regarding the issues of the withdrawal of television frequencies allocated to the Fifth TV
Channel and the TVi Channel.
This could take place even [on June 16]. If not, we will insist on hearing [these reports] by the end of the week, said the first deputy head of the committee, Andriy Shevchenko.
Dozens of Ukrainian journalists were wearing T-shirts reading stop censorship at a news conference by President Viktor Yanukovynch in Kiev.
Media concerns regarding freedom of speech are growing in Ukraine since President Yanukovynch's
The president assured the media that he shared their concerns. No-one is putting pressure on you or will put pressure on you, he claimed at the press conference.
He read a letter signed by several journalists and asked the
security services and interior ministry to investigate the complaints. He even accepted one of the T-shirts via a bodyguard.
Ukrainian television journalists from the private 1+1 and STB channels issued a petition last month, complaining of an
increase in censorship on certain subjects.
When Yanukovych was hit on the head last month by a gigantic wreath at a memorial ceremony, officials ordered journalists not to broadcast the footage. But the presidency later admitted they had
overstepped the mark.
Ukrainian journalists with the Television News Service (TSN), a new program that is broadcast on the 1+1 television channel, have complained that they are being censored during preparation of news materials.
The journalists made the complaint in
an open letter posted on the internet website of the Telekritika publication.
We, the journalists of TSN, want to state that censorship is being introduced on the 1+1 television channel. We have been prohibited from covering certain issues and
events. Our news materials containing criticism of the current authorities are being taken off air for political reasons, the journalists said in the letter.
The journalists said that they wrote the letter because they understood their
responsibility to the society and because they valued their own reputation and refused to go outside the moral framework.
We do not want to be farmhands and propagandists. For us, freedom of speech is not just empty sounds by the foundation of
our progression. This is specifically why we re are announcing that we categorically disagree with pressure on freedom of speech, the journalists said in the letter.
We are demanding an immediate end to the manual control of the Television
News Service. We are demanding an end to the disgraceful practice of 'directives,' 'valuable instructions,' and bans on one topic or another. We are demanding a return of TSN to the basic principles of journalism: objectiveness, balance, equal distance
from all political forces
The journalists said they were considering the possibility of a one-day warning strike if their demands were ignored.