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Escalating censorship cause for concern, say 23 IFEX members

A drastic decline in the state of freedom of expression has taken place in Ukraine since President Victor Yanukovych came to power in February 2010, says Kyiv-based the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), and it's raising alarm bells around the globe. In a joint letter led by IMI on 12 May, 23 IFEX members called on government authorities and media management to restore confidence in the country's free press.

The joint letter outlines how journalists have been organising against the pressure exerted on them not to cover certain topics. In a 7 May open letter, journalists from national TV channel STB denounced systemic censorship by top management, stating that since the presidential election, "the focus has shifted from critical independent coverage of government activities to stories covering the official activities of the Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and the official interpretation of Holodomor - the mass starvation of Ukrainians in 1932-1933."

Independent television channels are also suffering various form of harassment. Channel TVi has been fighting to hold on to its frequencies after Inter, a rival channel owned by the wife of the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, claimed it was granted TVi's frequencies. Inter has appealed to the National Broadcasting Council to obtain them.

The independent media has also been barred from covering matters of public interest. In April, authorities attempted to restrict media access to a press conference held by Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart in Kharkov. The authorities barred prominent journalist Mustafa Nayem of the independent online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda from attending the press conference. During the press conference, historical sovereignty agreements were announced outlining arrangements to share in the country's oil and gas sector and to extend the presence of a Russian military base in Ukraine. Journalists were prevented from asking critical questions.

In a separate statement, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalist (IFJ), expressed its concerns about the trend toward censorship. "We are concerned by these developments which threaten to reverse major steps we saw in past years towards democracy, partly thanks to press freedom, whereas this recent trend constitutes a backlash for journalists' rights and for human rights in general," said EFJ.

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