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Respected critical anchor of public affairs programme removed from post by Channel 5 television station

(IMI/IFEX) - Ehor Sobolev, a prominent journalist and anchorman of the news magazine programme "Chas" (Time) at Channel 5 television station, was suspended on 28 January 2008.

Sobolev was told about this decision by the Channel 5 chief editor, Oleksander Narodetskiy. The programme will resume on 11 February, but anchored by a new personality of the station, Lyudmila Hubina, and the journalist who previously co-anchored the programme with Sobolev, Svyatoslav Tseholko. It had been announced earlier than the programme would be cancelled altogether. Sobolev says his dismissal from the programme was an act of censorship by the station's owner, businessman and politician Petro Poroshenko.

IMI considers the Sobolev's suspension to be a case of censorship, because due to his record as a journalist and the programme's high ratings, it is clear that the suspension is an attempt to prevent news from being covered and to punish a respected journalist for doing his job. It should be noted that Sobolev is widely known as a person of principles and an honest journalist. He was leader of the journalistic revolution in 2004. He is also one of the leaders of the public initiative "We do not sell ourselves!" opposing the use of pre-paid materials on television, the so-called "jeans".

Sobolev has publicly commented on his disagreement with Poroshenko. Apparently the Channel 5 managers would have preferred that certain facts that would scandalise the public not be covered. The fact that Poroshenko pressures the station was not denied in the statement Channel 5 issued on the matter.

IMI is also concerned that the suspension of such a prominent journalist could have a chilling effect on other journalists who want to cover controversial news stories that displease those in power.

"Already in 2007 there were several discussions as to how events are covered on "Chas" programme," Sobolev told Telekrytyka, a web-based media outlet. "Several times they voiced some displeasure due to coverage of [. . .] the Pravytsya party within the Nasha Ukraine-People Self-defense movement, then some vigorous discussion occurred around the dismissal of the journalist Ihor Slisarenko.(. . . ) Afterwards, during the election campaign, Petro Poroshenko did not want us to broadcast observers' data on bribery given by the Lytvin bloc to some electors. (. . .) When speaking to Petro Poroshenko, we disagreed every time, and after another discussion he told me I should seek a new job. That's why, actually, for a long time I have been expecting they would fire me. (. . .)"

The news magazine programme is aired every evening; the most urgent social and political issues are debated there between experts and key public figures.

Poroshenko, owner and founder of Channel 5, is now head of the supervisory council of the National Bank of Ukraine. Previously he was head of the Council of National Security and Defense, and was a Member of Parliament for the Nasha Ukraine party. He is a close ally of President Yushchenko and a powerful businessman. In politics he has several interests of his own to be protected.

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