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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 16:32 GMT
Ukraine media moves to curb bias
Ivan Khokotva
BBC Monitoring

One Plus One TV now gives more airtime to the opposition

A victory for free speech, a hedging of bets by media moguls, or a cunning trick by government spin doctors?

Whatever you care to call it, something is definitely astir on Ukrainian television.

As the 21 November presidential runoff between the pro-Western opposition challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych draws near, some of the previously docile TV channels are barely recognisable.

After years of being barred from the TV screens and enduring stinging criticism, Mr Yushchenko is finally being given a chance to make his voice heard and hit back at his critics.

And although Mr Yanukovych still heavily dominates the news, protests by journalists against what they see as government censorship finally appear to be making some headway.

More balance

"Did you just see the news on One Plus One TV? I nearly fell off the chair! It's all IMPARTIAL!", read one excited message on Ukraine's leading pro-opposition online forum, Ukrayinska Pravda, in early November.

For the first time in years, Mr Yushchenko is shown making sensitive political statements on the leading national channels
And while progress towards more balanced reporting is slow and patchy, the excitement is understandable.

Mr Yushchenko, who had long been Ukraine's most popular politician, narrowly beat Mr Yanukovych in the 31 October first round, though falling short of the 50% needed for an outright victory.

For most of the election campaign, however, his TV appearances were few and far between, and he was not given a chance to respond to numerous criticisms levelled at him by political opponents or TV journalists.

But on 28 October dozens of journalists from leading TV channels signed a statement protesting against government meddling in editorial policy.

"In breach of professional journalism principles, the authorities and some of the owners and managers of TV channels... are ignoring important events and twisting facts," the statement read.

The journalists pledged to push for more balance in TV news, which the opposition says have long been manipulated by the "temnyky" - theme lists or secret orders from government analysts.

'Breakthrough'

It is not clear whether it was the journalists' protest that did it or a change of course by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's allies - who own or control the channels - but a shift in the tone of reporting is now obvious.

For the first time in years, Mr Yushchenko is shown making sensitive political statements on the leading national channels.

Viktor Yushchenko
Yushchenko's claims of vote-rigging have been ignored

On One Plus One, cameras are no longer avoiding panoramic shots of the large crowds Mr Yushchenko pulls during his regional tours.

Mr Yushchenko's allies are shown criticizing government policies, and the kind of reports described by the opposition challenger as "character assassination" have largely ceased on some channels.

Meanwhile, ICTV television, owned by Mr Kuchma's son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, has made an unprecedented attack on the Yanukovych government over a controversial sale of land plots to government allies.

"The last edition of evening news [on One Plus One] has become a real breakthrough by the pro-government channel towards professional news," enthused the media analysis web site Telekritika earlier this month.

Proposal rejected

While the excitement is real, media analysts say it would be wrong to think that all is now well on Ukrainian TV.

Almost all pro-government channels ignored Mr Yushchenko's claim that government computer experts were intercepting and manipulating electronic voting results on the election night of 31 October.

And on the state-owned UT1, what little change there was after the journalists' protest has all but fizzled out.

A news presenter has been sacked after refusing to read out what he said was a biased report, and the management rejected journalists' proposal to sign a binding agreement on editorial standards. The 13 journalists who came up with the idea say that all the politically sensitive stories are given to other reporters.

"Pressure on journalists has increased significantly ahead of the election. It has reached the point where journalists and cameramen are simply not needed," said journalist Fedir Sidoruk.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Ukraine poll failings condemned
01 Nov 04 |  Europe
Timeline: Ukraine
10 Nov 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ukraine
21 Apr 04 |  Country profiles


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