Ukraine's muzzled media promise to be unbiased _ but some observers suspect opportunism
Friday, November 26th 2004, 6:52 pm
News On 6
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ As Ukraine's political crisis intensifies, pro-government TV channels have promised to change and report without bias _ a pledge some observers hail and others view with suspicion.
Perhaps the journalists saw the throngs rising up to protest alleged fraud in Sunday's presidential election as a goad to their consciences. Perhaps they were sensing a change in the wind and wanted to shelter themselves.
``Should we kiss them or should we ask why they have lied so long?'' asked Volodymyr Kulik, political scientist at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies.
Ukraine's state-run and pro-government broadcasters came in for some of international elections observers' sharpest criticism.
They complained that coverage was heavily biased in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whom the elections commission says won the vote over Viktor Yushchenko, who claims he was robbed by vote fraud and other undemocratic practices.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have jammed central Kiev since then and as the protests grew, some TV journalists began promising to be unbiased in the future.
On Thursday, the private One Plus One TV channel went on-air for the first time since Tuesday, with a new mission statement.
``We acknowledge our responsibility for biased information that the channel spread under pressure and according to directions from various political forces,'' the channel's journalists said.
Journalists of the state-run First TV channel echoed they ``are not lying anymore.''
Another strongly pro-government channel, Inter, on Friday promised an end to bias in its reporting.
International media watchdogs praised the move.
``We back those journalists who are fighting the systematic censorship they have been subjected to,'' the Reporters Without Borders group said Friday.
International and local media watchdogs and many Western governments have repeatedly warned Ukrainian authorities to end pressure on independent and opposition media. The issue drew international attention four years ago after the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, an Internet journalist who investigated high-level corruption; incumbent President Leonid Kuchma was widely alleged to be behind the killing.
It is unclear whether the TV journalists' promise of objectivity will be fulfilled or if they're just switching sides. Many of them have appeared on-air in recent days wearing orange ties, jackets and ribbons _ the color emblematic of Yushchenko's campaign.