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AMBASSADOR SAYS 'CONTINUITY' TO CHARACTERIZE U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow gave a press conference on 5 November in the wake of the reelection of U.S. President George W. Bush, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 6 November. Vershbow said that he believes Bush and President Putin will hold a private meeting later this month at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization summit in Chile at which they will discuss terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, and bilateral issues. Vershbow said that bilateral relations will be characterized by "continuity" in Bush's second term. "The United States and the Russian Federation have great potential that has not been utilized yet," Vershbow said. He added, however, that there are some areas of potential conflict, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Central Asia. "We will manage to avoid major confrontation," Vershbow said, citing the example of differences over policies in Iraq. RC
END NOTE: WILL UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS STOP BEING SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
GERMANY WANTS BELARUS TO EXPLAIN ENTRY BAN ON NGO OFFICIAL. German Ambassador to Belarus Martin Hecker has requested that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry explain the decision to prevent the head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's regional office for Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova from entering Belarus, Belapan reported on 8 November. Helmut Kurth was turned away by Belarusian authorities upon arriving at a Minsk airport on 5 November. Hecker was reportedly told by a high-ranking Belarusian border official that Kurth is on a Belarusian blacklist. Meanwhile, Kurth has appealed to the Belarusian public in an open letter saying he has sought during the past three years to "contribute to the continuation of Belarus's dialogue with other European countries by arranging conferences, workshops, research, and information trips to Germany." Kurth expressed the hope that Belarusian authorities might lift their ban, thus "discontinuing the process of self-isolation of the country." JM
COURT NULLIFIES UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTING IN TWO CONSTITUENCIES. An appellate court in Cherkasy Oblast on 8 November annulled the official protocols of the 31 October presidential ballot in electoral districts Nos. 200 and 203, thus invalidating the vote in those constituencies, Interfax reported. The verdict followed complaints filed by two minor presidential candidates, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy (constituency No. 200) and Oleksandr Bazylyuk (constituency No. 203). Preliminary figures suggest that opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko defeated Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in those constituencies by large margins. Yushchenko's staff has announced that it will challenge the oblast court's verdict before the Supreme Court, a step that must take place within the two days of the annulment of the election results. Meanwhile, Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov told journalists on 8 November that the commission received some 100 complaints regarding violations of the election law during the presidential election. Kivalov pledged that the commission will announce official results of the 31 October vote prior to the deadline imposed by the election law -- that is, no later than 10 November. JM
ANOTHER RIVAL BACKS OPPOSITIONIST YUSHCHENKO IN UKRAINIAN RUNOFF. Anatoliy Kinakh, leader of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, signed an accord on 8 November throwing his support behind Yushchenko in the 21 November presidential runoff and urging transparent and democratic voting on that day, Interfax reported. According to preliminary election results published by the Central Election Commission on 2 November, Kinakh placed fifth among presidential candidates on 31 October with 0.94 percent of the vote. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz declared his support for Yushchenko on 6 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). JM
PRO-MOSCOW UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL OF 'DIRTY POLITICAL TACTIC.' Presidential candidate Yushchenko and his campaign manager Oleksandr Zinchenko met with Metropolitan Volodymyr, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), in Kyiv on 8 November, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko's press service reported the same day that Yushchenko and Metropolitan Volodymyr expressed concern about the tense situation in the country ahead of the 21 November presidential runoff and about an "artificial split of Ukraine 'into East and West for denominational and religious reasons.'" Yushchenko's press service added that the metropolitan blessed Yushchenko at the end of their meeting. On 9 November, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's (Moscow Patriarchate) press service issued a statement saying that the report by Yushchenko's press service on the meeting was a "dirty political tactic" intended to draw the church into a political confrontation. "No joint appeals or assessments or statements were made or could be made [during the meeting]," Metropolitan Volodymyr's press service said. "At the end of the meeting, the metropolitan blessed the visitors." JM
UKRAINIAN POLLSTER PREDICTS YUSHCHENKO WILL BEAT YANUKOVYCH IN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF. A poll conducted by the Razumkov Center from 3-7 November among 2,027 adult Ukrainians suggested that 44 percent of respondents will vote for opposition candidate Yushchenko in the 21 November presidential runoff, while 37 percent declared their support for Prime Minister Yanukovych, Interfax reported on 9 November. The poll also indicated that 5 percent of respondents will vote against both candidates, 2 percent will not vote, and 12 percent have not made up their mind about the runoff. The poll's margin of error was roughly 2 percent. JM
WILL UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS STOP BEING SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE?
Something quite unexpected happened on 28 October in Ukraine, three days before the crucial presidential ballot. On that day, a group of some 40 television journalists from four private-owned channels signed a statement protesting the pressure exerted on them during the election campaign and expressing their concern about a "threat of distorted coverage of the decisive period of the elections." The signatories simultaneously undertook to cover the election campaign honestly and called on their colleagues to do the same.
The statement asserts that to ensure unbiased coverage, Ukrainian news programs need to report on "all socially important events," present "all important point of views on reported events," and check "all broadcasted information" as well as attribute it to specific sources. Within the next week, the statement was signed by nearly 300 other Ukrainian television reporters from more than two dozens channels, including the most influential, state-owned UT-1 (see http://www.telekritika.kiev.ua).
This statement alone gives a fairly good insight into the problems encountered by Ukrainian reporters working for state-owned or private television channels. Most international and domestic studies and surveys of Ukrainian television broadcasting concur that Ukraine's airwaves are dominated by the government's point of view and that television coverage is ridiculously homogenous.
Such a situation is being maintained primarily by temnyky (in Ukrainian journalistic lingo: themes of the week) -- unsigned instructions sent by the presidential administration on a daily basis to major television channels to tell journalists what "socially important events" to cover and what "points of view on reported events" to publicize. Given that all Ukrainian broadcasters must have their licenses renewed every five years, Ukrainian news editors generally follow the prescriptions contained in temnyky.
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua), a fiercely antigovernment online newspaper, reported on 3 November that there has been a noticeable change in coverage by major Ukrainian pro-government channels, including the state-controlled UT-1 as well as the private-owned ICTV, New Channel, and Inter since the 28 October journalistic protest. "The television broadcasting has changed," "Ukrayinska pravda" wrote. "This has been noted by both insiders and ordinary viewers who, since this past Thursday [28 October], have received much fewer overtly dirty interpretations of events and heard again the voices of those whom they were previously advised to ignore."
According to "Ukrayinska pravda," the presidential administration considered two possible reactions to this journalistic "rebellion" -- either discipline the disobedient journalists with cautionary sackings or allow them to "let off steam" for the time being and tighten the screws at some later date. Since no conspicuous dismissals have taken place, "Ukrayinska pravda" concluded that the latter option has prevailed for now.
It remains to be seen whether the current journalistic defiance will continue beyond the three weeks separating the 31 October presidential ballot from the runoff on 21 November. A similar outburst of journalistic disobedience came in late 2002, when the Verkhovna Rada organized a debate on the situation in the Ukrainian media and the word "temnyky" became a phrase of the day in Ukraine. "Television news coverage in Ukraine is made by remote control," journalist Andriy Shevchenko told the Verkhovna Rada in December 2002. "Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels. Let us admit honestly: instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies."
Shevchenko subsequently became involved in setting up an independent trade union of journalists, but that initiative has withered without achieving any tangible results. At that time, his colleagues apparently preferred relatively well-paid jobs and "remote control" in the state-owned and oligarchic media to the fight for freedom of expression in a trade union with uncertain prospects of success. There are reasons to believe that if Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych wins the presidential race, this new journalistic protest will be nipped in the bud as well.
Television in Ukraine, as perhaps in a majority of countries around the world, is among the most efficient tools of political propaganda and control. All but one of Ukraine's television channels are controlled and/or heavily influenced by either the government or oligarchs supporting the government's policies. It is thus little wonder that Ukrainian television channels have appeared to lend massive support to Viktor Yanukovych's presidential bid and to work in concert against opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
The OSCE Election Monitoring Mission for the 31 October presidential ballot, apart from observing the voting itself, organized a monitoring of the behavior of major Ukrainian media outlets in the presidential campaign from 3-24 September. The mission selected six national television channels, two regional television stations, and nine daily newspapers for its qualitative and quantitative study of election coverage in prime time news (see http://www.osce.org). The findings of the media monitoring were alarmingly homogeneous. On the government channel (UT-1) and pro-Kuchma oligarchic channels -- Inter, 1+1, ICTV, STB, New Channel, TRC Ukraine -- the coverage of Yanukovych was rated essentially as either positive or neutral, while that of Yushchenko was either negative or neutral. In addition, Yanukovych got three to four times more airtime than Yushchenko.
This reporting pattern was visibly reversed on the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5, which devoted approximately the same amount of airtime to Yanukovych and Yushchenko during the monitored period. The coverage of Channel 5 was also deemed more balanced -- the amount of negative material about Yanukovych exceeded the positive by 50 percent. Curiously enough, Channel 5 also provided negative coverage of Yushchenko, which constituted nearly 20 percent of all the airtime devoted to him. This, however, did not prevent Channel 5 from getting into trouble during the election campaign. Its bank accounts were frozen by a court, and the channel faced a threat of closure by the authorities.
"We are not soldiers, as our managers wanted us for a long time to be," "Ukrayinska pravda" wrote on 3 November, expressing sympathy with and encouragement for the current journalist remonstration against the pressure and "remote control" in information policy. "We are professionals who have the irrefutable right and duty to determine what should be broadcast to people. We are journalists, not they."
"They" seem to be on the defensive at the moment in Ukraine. Will "they" counterattack?