Ukraine media rebel

Ukraine media rebel against official line
By Steven Lee Myers
KIEV, Ukraine — The most striking, and potentially significant,
public rebellion against President Leonid D. Kuchma and his chosen
successor in Nov. 21’s contested election began silently.
On the morning of Nov. 25, Natalia Dimitruk, an interpreter for the
deaf on Ukraine’s official state UT-1 television, disregarded the
anchor’s report on Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych’s victory and,
in her small inset on the screen, began to sign something else
altogether.


“The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are
rigged,” she said in the sign language used in the former Soviet
states. “Do not believe them.”
She went on to declare that Viktor A. Yushchenko, the opposition
leader, was the country’s new president. “I am very disappointed by
the fact that I had to interpret lies,” she went on. “I will not do
it any more. I do not know if you will see me again.”
Dimitruk’s act of defiance — which she described in an interview
Sunday as an agonized one — became part of a growing revolt by a
source of Kuchma’s political power as important as any other: state
television.
In Ukraine, as in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union,
state ownership or control over the media, especially television,
exerts immense control over political debate, shoring up public
attitudes not only about the state — but also about the opposition.
State manipulation of coverage was among the reasons observers from
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the
Nov. 21 vote fundamentally unfair.
But in the tumultuous week since the runoff between Yanukovych and
Yushchenko ended in accusations of fraud, Kuchma’s control over
television has shown signs of cracking, raising questions about
whether his government can maintain public support behind
Yanukovych’s election.
More than 200 journalists at UT-1 went on strike Nov. 25 to demand
the right to present an objective account of the extraordinary events
that have unfolded since the vote, forcing the channel to broadcast a
feed from another network before capitulating. Dimitruk walked out of
the studio and joined them, protesting coverage that was skewed
almost entirely on behalf of Yanukovych’s campaign before and after
the runoff election.
Journalists at One Plus One — a private station, but one that hewed
closely to Kuchma’s point of view — also rebelled. After its news
editor resigned, the channel’s director, Oleksandr Rodnyansky,
appeared on the air and admitted the station had been biased on
Kuchma’s behalf.
“We understand our responsibility for the biased news that the
channel has so far been broadcasting under pressure and on orders
from various political forces,” he said, adding that the station
would from that point on guarantee full and impartial coverage of the
events roiling Ukraine.
Since then, the two channels have begun to show what until last week
seemed unthinkable: the enormous protests in Kiev that have paralyzed
the capital, as well as Yushchenko himself. More important, the
images reach across the country, including the east, where
Yanukovych’s support is strongest, in large part because his is the
only view given significant time on state-owned or controlled
networks. Channel 5, an independent channel that has become, in
effect, the opposition’s champion, does not broadcast in most of the
east.
Oleksandr M. Savenko, president of UT-1, denied in an interview that
the channel’s election coverage had been biased. He said journalists
had always been free to report on all aspects of Ukrainian politics,
though he suggested that if they favored one candidate over the
other, they should work elsewhere. He said Yanukovych’s overwhelming
presence on the channel reflected the fact he was prime minister.
He disputed that the station’s agreement to the journalists’ demands
after their strike amounted to a change in news policy.
“There is no such thing as honest news.”
The New York Times
November 30, 2004
~ DeafVermont listserv

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