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Europe

Ukraine's Media Toils to Become 4th Estate

Though improved, more progress is needed in Ukraine before the media can be considered truly free and fair.

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All sides of a story are beginning to make it into the Ukrainian press

Ukraine's media is still in the process of transformation nearly a year after the "Orange Revolution" put an end to former President Leonid Kuchma's tenure. But political change has had an immense impact on Ukraine's journalists, according to the head of the non-governmental Ukrainian Press Academy, Valeriy Ivanov.

"Only after the peaceful revolution did Ukrainian journalists begin to apply the universally recognized fundamentals of democratic mass media," Ivanov said. "During the terms of our ex-presidents Kuchma and Kravchuk, Ukrainian journalists only put forward one point of view. And they never named their sources because these sources were usually so-called temniki -- secret orders from the presidential administration."

The era of temniki has indeed come to an end. Today Ukrainian journalists work more independently and strive towards a balanced coverage of events. The change was exemplified by the media's reaction to the recent resignation of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's government. National broadcasters presented the views of Tymoshenko's supporters along with those of her opponents, Ivanov said.

Ukraine Julia Timoschenko sieht Viktor Juschtschenko im Fernsehen

Yushchenko fired his government, dismissing Tymoshenko, the heroine of the Orange Revolution

"Back in the days of President Leonid Kuchma you could not even imagine that a disgraced politician would be given time to present his views on one of the most popular stations. But this was the case when Yulia Tymoshenko resigned. Even her political opponents' stations tried to cover the events in a balanced way."

Politicians ignore media

Despite these clear signs of progress problems remain. Experts say, for example, that the government still does not deal with the media appropriately.

"The press can write absolutely anything they want, while the government attempts to ignore obvious facts," criticized Serhyi Taran, director of the Institute of Mass Information. "The politicians don't respond to criticism from the media. That's why we cannot yet claim that the media really represents a fourth estate in Ukraine."

Another problem is that a powerful few have been trying to divide the media market among themselves. Two families that formerly supported the Kuchma regime own most of the country's big private media organizations. At the same time, redistribution of the television market is a very delicate issue.

Ukraine Demonstration vor dem Parlament in Kiew

Yushchenko came to power in the Orange Revolution earlier this year

"President Yushchenko recently met with influential international media mogul Rupert Murdoch to discuss acquiring a Ukrainian broadcaster, apparently a private one," Taran said. "Media experts were all astonished that the president involves himself in the potential takeover of a private broadcaster."

According to many experts, transforming Channel 1, the most important state-controlled broadcaster, into a public TV station would be the right step towards a more balanced media. But Yushchenko claims that it's still too early to do so. Critics believe he's afraid of forfeiting influence on the channel, which is received by 98 percent of the country, before the next presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place next year.

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