Independent broadcasters harassed, taken off air in Ukraine

New York, November 20, 2009—Authorities in Odessa, Ukraine, should immediately cease harassment of independent and pro-opposition broadcasters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Officials from the Odessa Public Utility Service and mayor’s office have been physically obstructing the work of several local television and radio stations on the grounds of alleged building renovation, according to local news reports. 

On Monday, city officials first barred reporters from entering their offices in the Odessa Television and Radio Center and then cut the power supply to their newsrooms and transmitter, silencing 12 independent broadcasters, Natalya Perevalova, chief editor of the Odessa-based independent television channel ATV, told CPJ. ATV is located in another building but uses the center’s transmitter. It has restored its broadcasting via a separate transmitter since then. Only the broadcasters’ office in the municipal building had their power supply cut, Perevalova said; the building’s other tenant, the Odessa Public Utility Service, which leases two top floors to the broadcasters, has continued to work undisturbed.

Perevalova said critical reporting on corruption in the city administration and its poor financial policies have prompted official retaliation ahead of the 2010 mayoral and presidential elections. 

According to Perevalova, independent radio stations Moyo Radio, Novaya Volna, and Pervoe Radio FM-1 are still off air, while television channels Grad, Art, and Art-24 broadcast from a single newsroom powered by a generator. On Thursday, city officials ordered workers to erect a fence around the building, started repairing its roof, and barred Perevalova from visiting her colleagues, she said.

“The Odessa administration must immediately cease harassing independent broadcasters, restore their power supply, and allow them to continue their work,” said Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “These broadcasters must be able to cover the elections as they see fit.”

Anatoly Balinov, the executive director of Grad TV, told CPJ that city officials have been unsuccessfully trying to evict the broadcasters from the building since last summer. The city’s lease to the broadcasters is up in 2021. In late October, the Odessa Public Utility Service ordered them to leave its premises by November 15 for an unspecified period, saying there would be renovation of the building’s roof, Balinov said. Balinov and his colleagues contested the eviction order in the Odessa City Administrative Court, which said November 3 officials should not obstruct the broadcasters’ work.

“The only reason for the eviction of six broadcasters is their independence from the city mayor and their critique of his policies ahead of the 2010 elections,” Balinov told CPJ. The building and its roof were in a good condition, and the last time construction workers fixed the roof in 2008 nobody had to leave the building, Balinov said.