Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

ENCORE!

The Best of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival

Read more

ENCORE!

Cannes 2018: and the Palme d’or goes to....

Read more

ENCORE!

Cannes 2018: Lebanese film 'Capharnaum' wows critics

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Ebola outbreak in DR Congo: vaccinations to start on Sunday

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

The Royal wedding: Pomp & controversy

Read more

ENCORE!

Cannes 2018: John Travolta brings the mob to the red carpet

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Summit or No Summit: North Korea angry over military drill

Read more

DOWN TO EARTH

Could thawing permafrost unleash long-gone deadly viruses?

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

French and noble in 2018: What remains of France's aristocracy?

Read more

FOCUS

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2010-10-18

Press freedom under threat?

The ten year anniversary of the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze comes as the country is hit by a climate of growing concern about press freedom.

"Jail Kuchma!" "Jail Litvin!" chanted demonstrators outside the Presidential administration in Kiev on Thursday evening. They were referring to former president Leonid Kuchma and current parliament speaker Volodymyr Litvin. Both are widely believed to have had a hand in Georgiy Gongadze's murder ten years ago.

Yet the prosecutor's office just published a report laying the blame solely on the former interior minister, Yuriy Kravchenko... who died in 2005. A little too convenient, said those who'd gathered to commemorate Gongadze's death.

Fears are running high in Ukraine that the bad old days are returning for media freedom. Those who oppose Viktor Yanukovych are extremely suspicious of his intentions. And the disappearance and presumed murder, in August, of another journalist, Vasyl Klymentyev, has drawn international attention.

In fact, the Klymentyev case is rather different. Whereas Gongadze had founded a major independent news website, Ukrainska Pravda, Klymentyev's Novy Stil was a low-circulation local publication, investigating corruption cases in Kharkiv. There's no suggestion the national authorities are involved. But so far, their failure to successfully investigate the crime is being seen as a bad sign.

Klymentyev's mobile phone was allegedly found at a reservoir near the eastern Ukrainian city, but Novy Stil's deputy editor Petro Matviienko is convinced that's a red herring. "They killed him in Kharkiv, and then brought not even the phone here, just the SIM card, and put it in another phone," he says.

At the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, an NGO, Andriy Kristenko retains some optimism: "It could yet be that the national authorities will decide to use this case to show that they are tough on local authorities' abuses." But the broader picture, he says, is a dark one: "This government does not care about press freedom. Here, we are dealing with more serious human rights abuses - with torture cases. I wouldn't be surprised if, in two years time, I'd face jail for giving this kind of interview."

It's common to hear such dramatic views among opponents of Viktor Yanukovych. International observers have also expressed concern, albeit more moderately: Reporters Without Borders titled its report "Temptation to Control".

Ukraine's print media remain broadly free. But most Ukrainians get their news from television. Since Yanukovych came to power, TV journalists have reported increasing pressure from their management not to criticise the government. Three employees of the state channel UT-1 resigned in early September, citing editorial constraints. The channel's management said they really left due to low pay.

Low pay doesn't seem to be an issue for the channel's deputy director, Walid Harfouche, judging by the artworks and antiques in his plush office. Harfouche famously said that the state channel's role is to report on positive things the government is doing. He gladly repeated as much to France 24, but insisted on the second part of the statment: "and leave the criticism to the private channels".

Yet Ukraine's largest private channels are controlled by four oligarchs close to Yanukovych. "Ukraine is a young country", Harfouche explained by way of an excuse, noting with a broad grin that powerful business-people with political connections control media groups in France and other Western countries, too.

The owner of Ukraine's largest media group, Inter, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, could hardly fit that description better. He is not only head of the secret services, the SBU, but also sits on the country's High Council of Justice. He flatly denies meddling in his channels' affairs. But Inter's court action against independent channels TVi and Channel 5 rather weakens his claim to support press freedom. Khoroshkovsky's group said the channels had obtained broadcast licenses illegally, and - perhaps helped by its owner's judicial connections - had those frequencies removed.

By Gulliver CRAGG

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2018-05-18 Europe

A closer look at Finland's 'open prisons'

In many countries, the prison system has become synonymous with overcrowded cells, derelict infrastructure, and repeat offenders - with jails sometimes depicted as little more...

Read more

2018-05-17 France

Video: Homophobic attacks on the rise in France

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. In France, five years after the legalisation of same-sex marriage, homophobia seems to be getting...

Read more

2018-05-16 Europe

Workers or servants? Au pairs are vulnerable to exploitation

This week a British court is due to deliver a verdict on the murder of Sophie Lionnet, a 21-year-old French au pair allegedly tortured and killed by her host family in London....

Read more

2018-05-15 Africa

30 years on: Who killed anti-apartheid activist Dulcie September?

In 1988, the anti-apartheid activist Dulcie September was assassinated in central Paris. She was the representative of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in France and...

Read more

2018-05-10 France

Aboard the Hermione, a former French warship bearing a message of peace

The Hermione is a 47-metre-high, 65-metre-long replica of the frigate that left French waters in 1780, taking the young Marquis de Lafayette to America where he would help George...

Read more