Today sees the beginning of the World Newspaper Congress, being held in Kyiv for the first time, and which was opened by a keynote speech from President Yanukovych.

Ukrainian journalists were at first prevented by the President's security guards from entering the session, but were eventually allowed in, though surrounded by guards. Several held up placards protesting about press censorship during the President's speech, and scuffles broke out when security guards tried to rip the placards from their hands.

In his speech, Yanukovych vowed to uphold democratic principles and media freedoms. "The main task of the government in the media sphere, as I have set it, is to create conditions when free press can develop freely and be independent of any kind of control," he said. However, later in his speech Yanukovych called on journalists to maintain "bias," when he apparently meant "unbias" - a slip of the tongue that critics said demonstrated his stated commitment to freedom and democracy is merely lip service. "I call on journalists to maintain a high level of ethical standards and uphold the principles of being objective and politically biased," Yanukovych said.

Mustafa Nayem, a top investigative reporter who took part in the protest, called Yanukovych's words on media freedom cynical lies.
"When the president says everything is good in Ukraine, he is lying ... to put it mildly," Nayem told The Associated Press. "It is not a secret to anyone that the (media) atmosphere under President Yanukovych has worsened drastically."

Reports from independent organisations have previously highlighted Ukraine's worsening record on press freedom. Freedom House ranked Ukraine 130th in the world out of just over 190 countries, equal with Sudan. Reporters without Borders have written to the President several times voicing their concerns about harassment and attacks on journalists. With 8 out the 9 main TV channels controlled by the government, the Party of the Regions calling for the criminalisation of libel and continued harassment of independent channels such as TV1, the President will have to do more than give speeches to convince the world that all is well on the independent and free media front. There are particular concerns that, in the run-up to the October parliamentary elections, the government will redouble its efforts to insulate voters from press criticism of the government.

To read more in English, click here and in Ukrainian, click here.

Ukrayinska Dumka


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