Freedom of the Press 2004

Media in Ukraine suffered at the hands of the administration of President Leonid Kuchma. Despite constitutional guarantees and the passage of new, nominally less restrictive media legislation, press freedom is significantly limited by libel lawsuits, license revocations, financial pressure, increased government control of the broadcast sector, and the physical harassment of journalists. As a result, many journalists practice self-censorship. In April, Kuchma signed a law clearly defining and prohibiting censorship, limiting financial rewards granted in defamation cases, and banning state and local governments from filing defamation lawsuits. However, these reforms are projected to have little effect on the practice of issuing regular instructions (temniks) to mass media outlets directing the nature, theme, and substance of news reporting. Many news outlets were reportedly subject to outright political control by the presidential administration. Libel ceased to be a criminal offense in 2001; instead, 46 civil libel suits were brought against journalists and media outlets in 2003. Criticisms of the government are most likely to be found in the print media, where high-circulation independent newspapers exist at the national and local levels. However, most major newspapers, financed by oligarchs pursuing their own political and economic interests, generally provide pro-government coverage. Government influence in the broadcast sector is almost absolute, as the state or pro-Kuchma interests control all six of the national television stations. The growing popularity of the Internet in Ukraine has led to a greater government effort to monitor web-based publications. In July, the government successfully filed suit to take control of the "ua" domain from a private firm and placed it under the auspices of the Security Service of Ukraine. Journalists are subject to physical assaults, death threats, and sometimes murder as a consequence of their work. According to the Institute of Mass Information, there were 42 assaults and threats against journalists in 2003. The case surrounding the 2000 murder of Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze continued to stir controversy, and in October authorities arrested former police officer Oleksander Pukach following allegations made by another suspect, Igor Goncharov, who died in police custody in August. Goncharov's allegations also implicated high government officials, including Kuchma, in Gongadze's murder. However, in December the Supreme Court granted Kuchma immunity from crimes committed while in office.

2004 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score

(0 = best, 100 = worst)
(0 = best, 40 = worst)
(0 = best, 30 = worst)