Sign of the times for Ukrainian TV

Media unrest continues to grow post-election

MOSCOW — If a TV symbol was needed for the current unrest in Ukraine that followed the disputed presidential elections, it came Nov. 25 in the form of a sign-language interpreter on pubcaster UT-1.

Sporting an orange ribbon, the color of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, Natalya Dmytruk signed: “Don’t believe what they’re saying to you. Yushchenko is our president.”

She concluded the news broadcast with doubts that she would appear onscreen again.

However, Dmytruk’s action was the catalyst that forced the web’s management, which had not aired footage of the protests in the capital of Kiev, to cave in and report the elections in a balanced manner.

And Dmytruk did not lose her job.

Tensions continue to be high in Kiev after the last round of presidential elections Nov. 21, which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s supporters claim he won despite charges of fraud from opponents.

Staffers at pro-Yushchenko net Channel 5, the only station to report regularly on the opposition leader’s election campaign, went on hunger strike during the first election rounds a month ago to demand fair and balanced coverage.

Since the second round of voting, the channel has been taken off air in Russian-speaking regions of the East, where support for Yanukovych dominates.

Media unrest had been growing since Oct. 28, when journalists at government-dominated (and Russian-aligned) station Inter, as well as commercial stations ICTV, Novy Kanal, NTN and Tonis issued a statement asking to cover the presidential elections freely and honestly.

More significantly, senior journalists at leading commercial channel 1+1, which is affiliated with U.S.-backed Central European Media Enterprises, went on strike in protest at the pro-Yanukovych coverage. On Nov. 25, 1+1 management sidelined editor Vyacheslav Pikhovshek (said by many to be the station’s enforcer of state-sent instructions on how news should be reported) and promised fair coverage of both candidates.

Meanwhile, Russian TV channels have taken different approaches to coverage of events in the Ukrainian capital.

While commercial broadcaster NTV and some smaller nets have aired the more dramatic street protests, pubcasters Rossia and Channel One have downplayed the events in favor of the official line.

Latest tension came Dec. 1 when Channel One broadcast footage that suggested its Kiev reporters were under surveillance from Ukraine’s opposition and claimed that its transmission signals had been partially blocked.

By late last week, opposition demonstrations continued on Kiev’s main street, outside 1+1’s office, while the electoral impasse was ongoing.

But at least viewers across the Ukraine could now see TV coverage of the events.

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