End Note: OBSERVERS EXAMINE UKRAINE'S MEDIA AFTER
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES PUSTOVOTENKO AS PREMIER FOR NEW TERM. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told deputies on 2 December that President Leonid Kuchma has proposed Valeriy Pustovoytenko for the post of prime minister, Interfax reported. Pustovoytenko submitted his resignation as premier following Kuchma's inauguration on 30 November and is now acting head of the cabinet. Pustovoytenko told Interfax the same day that if he is confirmed as prime minister for Kuchma's new term, he will "certainly" implement "more radical reforms." Pustovoytenko must win at least 226 parliamentary votes to retain his post. In 1997, he was approved with 227 votes. JM
WORLD BANK BLASTS UKRAINE FOR BAD INVESTMENT CLIMATE. "The investment climate in Ukraine is one of the worst in the region," World Bank director for Ukraine and Belarus Lily Chu told journalists in Kyiv on 2 December. Chu added that foreign investors in Ukraine are faced with too many licensing regulations and inspections as well as a complicated tax system. The World Bank said Ukraine can count on a $800 million loan next year if the government meets its pledges to carry out reform. The bank's main lending terms for Ukraine include administrative reform, the creation of a friendly environment for business, and $1 billion proceeds from privatization. Meanwhile, IMF official John Odling-Smee said the same day in Kyiv that the continued cooperation between the IMF and Ukraine is conditional "on the government's willingness to implement all reforms that were planned," according to Interfax. JM
UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER'S WIFE LOCKED OUT OF HOME. Tamara Lazarenko, the wife of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko who is seeking political asylum in the U.S., returned to Ukraine on 2 December but could not enter her apartment. According to her lawyer, Tamara Lazarenko returned to demonstrate that she is innocent of money laundering, for which her husband is currently being investigated, but was locked out of her apartment by prosecutors. "This contradicts the constitution and is a groundless ban," her lawyer commented. There was no immediate comment from the Prosecutor-General's Office, according to AP. JM
OBSERVERS EXAMINE UKRAINE'S MEDIA AFTER PRESIDENTIAL POLL
Ukrainian presidential elections, which took place in two rounds in late October and mid November, focused world attention on the country's media. International watchdogs from the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Institute for Media all concluded that Ukraine's television, radio, and print media were overwhelmingly biased toward one or another candidate. Thus, they argued, Ukrainians were denied access to objective information.
Observers condemned government intimidation of the media in the form of tax and fire inspections and law suits. They also lamented the fact that oligarchs own most media outlets and use them for their political ends.
Some observers, however, think the several reports produced by human rights and freedom of speech watchdogs were exaggerated.
The latter view is held by Taras Kuzmov of Internews, an internationally-funded training project for television and radio journalists. Kuzmov told RFE/RL that reports focused overwhelmingly on Kyiv-based media and ignored Ukraine's extensive regional media outlets. Most broadcasting outlets, he added, were approached neither by government officials nor by presidential candidates: "Without question there were some precedents of pressure on TV companies, but there were many stations that didn't experience any such pressure."
Vadym Denysenko, chief editor of the national television channel STB, argued that the reports did not provide sufficient explanation of their monitoring results, which recorded the airtime accorded to each candidate and whether the coverage was positive or negative.
"Basically, Channel X is 99 percent positive about [incumbent President Leonid] Kuchma and 70 percent negative about [the challenger, Petro] Symonenko," he remarked. "I don't see the mechanism, they didn't explain how they calculated these numbers. It's like I'd say this woman is beautiful and this woman is not beautiful--it's my personal subjective view, nothing more, until I explain my conclusions. And for this reason, I can't absolutely trust all these reports."
While few would deny that the state of the Ukrainian media leaves much to be desired, many say that to blame only government interference is an over-simplification. According to Denysenko, the single biggest problem facing STB is the country's economic decline. Prior to the elections, however, STB complained loudly of what it called government repression when its bank accounts were frozen by tax inspectors. Its cause was taken up by the Committee to Protect Journalists and was cited as an example of state coercion by the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
After a management reshuffle at STB, and the unfreezing of bank accounts, the complaints have disappeared. Denysenko is now keen to downplay any problems with the government. He told RFE/RL all difficulties have now been solved and that STB was able to continue objective coverage of news in the month before the election and since.
But others see STB's new tone as a form of selfcensorship. Kuzmov of Internews says that it is a tactic that allows Kyiv-based media like STB to remain in business. He says these media outlets are overwhelmingly dependent on big business, and the interests controlling them usually back the ruling power. He says if journalists tried to be completely objective in their coverage, the outlet would simply go out of business, so Ukrainian journalists choose pragmatism over idealism.
"I think the Ukrainian mass media doesn't know what direct political censorship is," Kuzmov argues. "Instead, self-censorship exists. One journalist got to the heart of it when he said Ukrainian journalists have freedom of speech, but they have the wisdom not to use it."
IREX ProMedia is a sister organization to Internews, also promoting free media in Ukraine. IREX ProMedia's Tim O'Connor advocates ownership by foreign media companies as one possible way of improving standards because a foreign company is more interested in profit than politics and can bring international experience. He says two newspapers in regions of Ukraine have already been bought by a Norwegian company and are doing well.
O'Connor says that the poor pay given most journalists is another problem. He says Ukrainian journalists receive such low wages that some take extra money to write articles in favor of political candidates. But O'Connor says the professionalism of many journalists in Ukraine is also undermined by Soviet press traditions: "[Journalists] very often see their role as someone who is responsible for sifting through information and then telling their readers or viewers what to think about it. They don't actually give them the information and let them make up their own minds, they see themselves as the analysts...which is very much a continuation of the old traditions."
According to O'Connor, Ukrainian journalists "absolutely did not try to be independent" during the elections. But he adds the Ukrainian public needs to become more discerning too and make greater demands on its media.
Kuzmov of Internews, meanwhile, says a lot of talented young people are working in the Ukrainian media but says the level of professionalism is still low. He predicts that in time, there will be so many young journalists that they will be able to change the whole system.
The author is a Kyiv-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
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