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Media crackdown under way?

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April 23, 2010, 12:37 a.m. | Politics — by Peter Byrne

Journalists from Lviv’s Expres daily protested alleged pressure from the tax police on April 13 by blocking the Kyiv-Chop highway, one of the country’s main roads. Protesters continuously crossed the road at a designated crossing point.
© (PHL)

President Viktor Yanukovych defends press, but some ignore message. President Viktor Yanukovych is saying all the right things about protecting media freedoms, which are essential to any democratic society. But somehow the message is not getting through down the line.

“I will always defend media freedom, the journalists and do everything possible to ensure transparency of power and the openness of its actions to the press and society,” Yanukovych said in a statement posted April 20 on the presidential website.

About a decade has passed since the still-unsolved murders of investigative journalists Georgiy Gongadze, who was beheaded near Kyiv on Sept. 16, 2000, and Ihor Alexandrov, who was clubbed to death in Donetsk on July 7, 2001. It has also been more than five years since the democratic Orange Revolution ushered in a new, and supposedly irreversible, era of free speech.



Guards push journalist Serhiy Kutrakov out of Ukraine House in the center of Kyiv, where he was covering an exhibition opening on April 8 for the Novy Kanal TV station. (UNIAN)


But still, two months into the Yanukovych administration, the harsh reality is that journalists are all too often treated as servants or enemies in Ukraine – simply for doing their jobs.

Just ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, many – from Yanukovych to human rights activists – are talking about the health of Ukraine’s “Fourth Estate,” the moniker given to the news media for their vital role in society – akin to the three formal branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

Some attacks on media have even disturbed Yanukovych, who talked to journalists in Kyiv about press freedoms on April 22.

“I am extremely concerned about those signals I get about particular incidents in Kyiv and Lviv, where local officials treated journalists who performed their professional tasks improperly and sometimes irresponsibly,” Yanukovych said on the presidential website.

Yanukovych did not mention free speech violations during his meeting with regional journalists in Kyiv on April 22.

The best known recent case involves the Lviv-based Expres publishing group, which last week said it was being persecuted by the State Tax Administration after tax police dragged the newspaper’s general director from his apartment for interrogation downtown.

Ihor Pochinok, a journalist and Expres publishing group director, said the tax agents showed up on 35-year-old Andriy Vey’s doorstep shortly after 8 a.m. on April 12, when he was at home with his two kids, an infant and a 6-year-old. Asked why Vey left his children, Pochinok said: “He didn’t have a choice. They took him by force.”

Vey’s colleagues, including Pochinok, rushed to round up a babysitter and took a camera with them to Lviv’s State Tax Administration. Video footage of the ensuing altercation posted on YouTube () became an instant hit.

More than two hundred supporters employed by the publishing group blocked traffic on the Kyiv-Chop highway the next day to draw attention to the incident. The protest ended only after Lviv Oblast’s police chief, Mykhailo Tsymbaliuk, promised to investigate.

Hanna Herman, deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of free speech and human rights, said Yanukovych would meet with Expres journalists during his trip to Lviv, which has been resceduled to May.

In Kyiv, two journalists -- Ihor Myroshnychenko of the Poverkhnost satellite TV provider and Andriy Mokhnyk of the right-wing radical newspaper Svoboda -- were arrested on April 9 while covering an exhibition, opening in Ukraine House about the massacres of Poles and Jews during World War II by nationalist organizations in the Volyn region.

Myroshnychenko said he was escorted from the room immediately after asking a question, and was forced into a car by men with shaved heads and held until late in the evening. He and Mokhnyk denied allegations that they had gone to the conference to create a disturbance, and were acquitted when taken before a magistrate.

According to the global media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Ukraine has seen an “alarming” deterioration in press freedom in the last three months. The Paris-based group on April 15 voiced support for an open letter, which 17 journalists working for the privately-owned television station TVi sent to Yanukovych on April 8, urging him to put a stop to alleged interference in the media by the State Security Service of Ukraine, known by the Ukrainian SBU acronym.

The journalists complained of harassment by the SBU and accused it of defending the personal and business interests of the State Security Service’s director, Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy, who co-owns Inter TV – the nation’s most powerful channel with national reach. Koroshkovskiy denies the charges.

In a paid advertisement in the Washington Post, timed for Yanukovych’s first trip to America as president from April 11-14, the journalists wrote: “We have grave and deep concerns that the Security Service of Ukraine has been hijacked by the private interests of the agency’s chief, Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy, and members of his family."

The journalists said they had learned of the existence of documents revealing that top SBU officers demanded documents on the competitors for television broadcasting licenses.

Natalia Ligacheva, the editor of Telekritika, an Internet site devoted to media issues, said it is common for Ukrainian media, especially broadcast media, to feel pressure as supporters and opponents of a new president take stock of their media holdings and plan their political futures.

“The nation’s most watched national television channels and largest regional television networks are today all owned and controlled by pro-presidential oligarchs,” Ligacheva said.

Moreover, Ligacheva noted, legal authority for resolving conflicts arising between market players rests with the eight members of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting. They are appointed by the president and parliament, controlled by Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.

As for Inter TV, the station managed by Khoroshkovskiy's wife, Olena, Ligacheva pointed out that there still is a big difference between formal ownership of television stations and operational control.

Ligacheva said companies are often listed as stakeholders to disguise the true identity of owners. This means that the discussion of who actually owns individual media outlets often has to be a matter of educated speculation. “A key indicator here is who pays the salaries at the channel,” she said. “Another is how journalists cover political events.”

Khorshkovskiy’s spokewoman denied reports that he controls Inter TV. “Khoroshkovskiy turned over the legal rights to manage Inter TV to third parties in December 2006 and has nothing to with the day-to-day management of the channel since,” SBU spokeswoman Marina Ostapenko said on April 21.

Kyiv’s International Media Institute in March documented 17 cases of officials interfering with the work of journalists. The list chronicles alleged beatings of local newspaper editors, the detainment of photographers, the illegal search and seizure of journalists’ property by law-enforcement officials, slander charges and alleged tax violations.

Such spats are common, according to media expert Otar Dovzhenko, who on April 20 published an article on Telekritika, titled “Smack the flak,” in which he called on journalists and officials to distinguish clearly between legal disputes between media owners and state agencies, such as the State Tax Administration, on the one hand, and premeditated intimidation of journalists, on the other.

“There is a paradoxical situation in Ukraine presently because the unimpeded work of the media is constantly doing damage, misinforming society and manipulating public opinion in the interests of someone’s political or commercial interests,” said Dovzhenko, adding that public indifference to the abuse of free speech remains.

“The process of self-discreditation by the media, evidenced by the servile attitude of some leading journalists to the authorities, ignoring professional standards, and the decreasing quality of news reporting has led society to reject mass media en masse as something harmful and alien. The fact that not all journalists, but only the most popular ones, are responsible for y edia is a very important detail, but one that doesn’t change anything,” Dovzhenko said.

In a recent example, major TV news stations did not report ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s call on April 21 for Yanukovych to be impeached for securing a deal that gives Ukraine a 30 percent price discount on imported Russian gas in exchange for a 25-year extension – to 2042 – on the agreement keeping the Russian Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Valeriy Ivanov, who has monitored political bias in Ukrainian news coverage for more than a decade, said it is too early to tell how independent media will develop under the new presidential administration. “The latest shenanigans are nothing out of the ordinary,” Ivanov said. “But what’s important is whether journalists, their owners and the new authorities can find a way to settle their differences amicably. If that happens, then we’re making progress.”


Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at byrne@kyivpost.com



A rundown of recent allegations of intimidation of journalists or attempts to impede their work:


Borys Brahinskiy
, a journalist who works for Channel 9 TV Dnipropetrovsk, was accosted by an unidentified youth near the TV station’s building on April 12. Brahinskiy was hit in the face, thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly. He sustained multiple bruises.

Vyacheslav Radchenko, editor of the Kyiv daily newspaper Ekonomicheskie Izvestiya was last seen on 10:30 on March 31 when he left for work. Journalists at the newspaper say police investigators have interviewed staff about the disappearance, but said there has been no headway in the probe. Relatives have filed a missing report claim with Kyiv’s Svyatoshenskiy district police. Radchenko’s co-workers at the newspaper asked anyone with information about their colleague to call (067)5099123 or email: m.kuhar@eizvestia.com.

Vasyl Demyaniv, the editor of the local weekly Kolomyiski Visnyk, was assaulted as he returned home on March 23 in the western city of Kolomyia. Demyaniv was hospitalized with severe head injuries and a broken leg following the attack, in which unidentified assailants repeatedly kicked him and beat him. Doctors described his condition as serious.

When reporter Serhiy Andrushko of television station STB tried to pose a question to Volodymyr Storozhenko, the head of the city of Kyiv’s main housing department on April 8, Storozhenko grabbed his microphone and threw it in a garbage can.
The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
Anonymous April 23, 2010, 2:51 a.m.    

Did anyone honestly expect anything different from Yanuconvict? He's a minor capo in the kremlin mafiocracy.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 4:59 a.m.    

The convicted criminal president could not be expected to do anything but try to be a dictator.

Dictator, thief, fraudster, rapist, murderer.

The new credentials required by a Ukrainian president

You have scored 5 out of 5 yanyk

Shame on the voters!

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 6:50 a.m.    

Mr. Byrne!

Thank you for a good article! Nice job!

This bunch of criminals who came to power by fraud needs to be exposed. Yanukovych is not a President of Ukraine, and the fact that he filled every post in country with Donetsk criminals, their body-guards, their drivers and rats didn't make him one. He stole elections and now is pimping out Ukraine like there is no tomorrow. Hopelly these days Ukrainians quickly figure out that it's a shame to be such gullable submissive fools to let them steal their Motherland from under their lazy noses!

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 9:10 p.m.    

My question is: How many of them hold russian passports?

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 7:47 a.m.    

The people of Ukraine voted to give up their freedoms and independence.

This is the beginning of the end of democracy in Ukraine. As people disappear people will wonder what happened? What is going on? For us westerners looking in,and western Ukrainians, this is no surprise.

Very sad. We can only hope that the Ukraine people have the spine to stand up for their rights, and not be intimidated by the ex convict president or his midget controllers in Moscow.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 11:30 a.m.    

You Robert understand little to nothing about people of Ukraine. Unfortunately a lot of Yanukovytch electorate voted not against freedom, but against the instability and the empty rhetoric of Yushchenko era. They are disappointed, understandably, I would say. Many of them did not see through what kind of stability they are going to get and what would be the price of it. Think of Yushchenko -who thought that he would be so politically impotent? I personally thought that a lot of Americans are insane voting for Bush for two consecutive terms. Perhaps they voted for &quot;security&quot;, and god knows where is the end of the fight for it in Iraq - a totally pointless waste of lives and political credibility of the US. So,let's just say that electorate is irrational in the ways they perceive the best ways to satisfy their needs. Fortunately for the US, their democratic institutions are much older and stronger, so Bush managed to do not as much damage as Yanukovytch will in the next 4 years.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 5:38 p.m.    

It would be fair to say that if you were here during the elections every single political candidate stated Ukraine needed a &quot;firm hand&quot; or a &quot;strong leader&quot;.

All of them said the same. Not one said anything different.

What makes anyone think the change of name at the top would have manifest itself any other way under a different name or party?

With Yushenko out of the way, Tymoshenko with noone to argue against may have turned out no different than what we have now relating to this article and many others to be fair.

We won't know because she didn't win and neither does it look as though her personal political fortunes will allow it to happen in the future either.

Is it better to have an administration in place which has the ability to get decisions through or would it have been better to stick with the Yush/Tymo partnership which got nothing achieved because of infighting. They were both equally to blame after all.

What is done is done. Now instead of complaining about nothing happening at least there are now decisions to complain about.

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 7:09 p.m.    

You are right. What is done is done. Now it is time to take to the streets and exercise freedom of speech, assembly and press.

I hope all Ukarine people see what is going on, march in Kyiv, and stop the ex con and his thugs. Well, it looks like it is already happening.

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Anonymous April 25, 2010, 4:10 a.m.    

It is happenng!

All the orange agents, foreign or local are protesting, as they are let go, no longer needed, many will get a job back home as manager at MC Donalds, the Ukrainians will get visas to Canada, where they will be hgh ranking professors in a shappow university (like the toronto )or work for cash and collect wellfare with a jewish lawer,,

USA is being kicked out of Ukraine, let's face it,

Americans and Canadians are right, thre must be protests, but in their own countries, as they are deteriorating faster than Ukraine...

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 9:13 p.m.    

Get a grip Robert. Your solution is to protest the rest of your life? What did Ukraine accomplished when it did have the people you wanted in office? Absolutely nothing. This vote is like any vote in a country where people are upset with the incumbents. They got voted out. Now at least give this guy a chance. The deal ref. Sevestapol is a great deal. Now you'll have heat every winter. I was in Ukraine too and remember having to take a sponge bath in cold water because there was no heated water.

Take a lesson from other countries where the U.S. has military bases. It's an economic boom for the locals. Germany reaped the biggest rewards because we had so many based there. We were paying for every tree damaged. WE built the German economy. If I was Ukraine, I'd make sure you got your money's worth from that base. It seems like you did and STILL you belly ache? Oh, we lost our freedom. Get a grip.

As long as there is animosity between you and people you don't agree with, you will never get anything accomplished. We in the U.S. certainly can feel it.

And don't think the Orange Revolution was about Ukraine Freedom. It was funded with taxpayer money from the U.S. You want to know more little dirty tricks US foreign policy has performed? There are so many it would make your head spin. Remember, it's never about freedom and democracy, it's about Oil, Gas, Money.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010, 4:58 a.m.    

Robert here. Oh I have a firm grip. I do believe that Glitchko's new political party, Yulia, Yuschenko and others will draw the attention that is needed to reign in the ex con thug and his lttle control men in Moscow...no it is happening...watch this week and you will get a grip.

Of course oil, gas and money have a lot to do with it. But if Ukraine stays on its course, it will be controlled by Putin. Study history.

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 10:54 a.m.    

Well dear guest.This is Robert. Let me say this. I have been going to Ukraine for 11 years. I lived there and wrote about the 03/04 elections and interviewed a number of politicians from both sides along with regular people.I have probably been to more Ukraine cities than you have. My articles were published in various media.I have more friends and acquaintances in Ukraine than in America or Europe. I owned and operated a business in Ukraine for three years. And yourself? Please do not compare apples and oranges with George Bush and Ukraine candidates. Of course you think Americans are uninformed and insane for voting for George Bush twice. A president who experienced the worst attack (September 11) and worst natural disaster (Katrina) in the history of America. People in the US saw through the BS of his opponent John Kerry. Simple as that, and now they have a president with very low and sliding ratings that may be defeated in 3 years. A president who campaigned to quickly end the wars and close Gitmo among other things. Your lack of knowledge of the facts speaks for itself. You appear to be of the typical Eastern Ukraine mindset that freedom should be regulated (how does one regulate freedom?), that Ukraine people cannot speak for themselves. Ukraine's young democracy had a glimmer of a chance these past four years..How can a president who was poisoned nearly to death possibly have the strength to govern? If you could tell and prove to me who poisoned Yuschenko I will personally reward you with...well, more money than you will ever need. What a country. With people like you, I would expect Nashi to start a branch in Kiev soon with you the leader, and the little men in Moscow controlling the ex con, well, what can I say?. America holds basic freedoms to their hearts,that being free press, free speech, the right to assemble, the right to keep arms. If there was a free press during the Chernobyl disaster, as you interpret a free press, people would have heard about the disaster when it happened, not three weeks later under world pressure. This is your &quot;free press' soon to be pervasive in Ukraine. Good luck.

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Anonymous April 25, 2010, 4:02 a.m.    

Your comments of deliberate lies and deceptions begs some response..

1. Bush Jr, Got elected twice, each time with fraud. The guy was scared gutless to join vietnam, and wanted to be known as America's Hiter, who killed the most innocent, more than his father also a mass murderer.

2. Both natural/man made disasters were self inflicted by Bush Jr to create diversions and chaos, a false sense of sympaty to cover evil motives and acts.

3. Ukraine's &quot;young democracy&quot; as you call it had no glimmer of chance to do any good. It was an coup, code named orange by the cia, and it was aimed to form a base from which russia could be directly attacked. USA had attacked Russia from Ukraine via Georgia.. Seems the &quot;young democracy&quot; had an agenda, similar to what murderous BUsh jr had in Iraq,,, to kill the innocents, to steal resourcies, and to produce wars and disasters and cover and diversion to achieve its evil objectives,,,,

Young democracy,,,, what drugs are you on???????

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Anonymous April 26, 2010, 6:06 a.m.    

Robert here again: Hey guest...I forgot to ask your humble view. Do you think the thousands of people protesting in Kyiv now and next week is a coup attempt backed by the CIA?

Wow...if this is true you may be on to something. For sure it is not educated and informed Ukrainians acting on their own. Would you say?

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 10:14 a.m.    

God help the honest journalists of Ukraine. Our thoughts are with you. Once yanuConvict starts killing them one by one only the totally committed will be there to expose the truth.

Our anti-diaspora writer will then have his dreams fulfilled - a police state run by muscovite thugs

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 10:24 a.m.    

&quot;Such spats are common, according to media expert Otar Dovzhenko, who on April 20 published an article on Telekritika, titled “Smack the flak,” in which he called on journalists and officials to distinguish clearly between legal disputes between media owners and state agencies, such as the State Tax Administration, on the one hand, and premeditated intimidation of journalists, on the other.

“There is a paradoxical situation in Ukraine presently because the unimpeded work of the media is constantly doing damage, misinforming society and manipulating public opinion in the interests of someone’s political or commercial interests,” said Dovzhenko, adding that public indifference to the abuse of free speech remains.

“The process of self-discreditation by the media, evidenced by the servile attitude of some leading journalists to the authorities, ignoring professional standards, and the decreasing quality of news reporting has led society to reject mass media en masse as something harmful and alien. The fact that not all journalists, but only the most popular ones, are responsible for y edia is a very important detail, but one that doesn’t change anything,” Dovzhenko said.&quot;

He is right on the money. Journalistic standards in Ukraine are very poor. Unbiased media is non-existant and there is no seperation between genuine disputes between State and media and the preconceieved political stunts between State and media.

The problem with continual unbiased reporting is everyone knows it is biased so when something wrong does genuinely happen nobody knows if it is another stunt or not.

The press should have no more freedoms than any other Ukrainian citizen for that is all they are. The State should have no more power over the press than it does over any other citizen.

Sadly the press think they are &quot;special&quot; and the State think they should pay them extra &quot;attention&quot;.

Both are not without blame in this.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 5 p.m.    

Nice article but you simply have failed to mention a simple fact. The majority of the media in Ukraine is aligned with yanyk. There is now a concerted effort to scare of the independents or simply take them over. You cannot in any honest way say that the press in Ukraine is a free press.

I have family in both parts of Ukraine and at times I feel that the relatives in the East have been fed so much muscovite garbage that it makes me feel ill. But they are family and we trry to respect one another.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 5:30 p.m.    

Tymosh did very well when in power then as Yanuk was getting hardly any coverage when in opposition for the past few years.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 1:52 p.m.    

I read no article on KP about the regular beatings of ATV journalists during the Orange period. I don't understand how this is possible. They must have simply forgotten.

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 12:49 a.m.    

Not really since the &quot;truth&quot; to the Kyiv Pest is malleable as well as inconvenient, even to the point of non-existence.

Unless it fits their particular political POV, then real &quot;Truth&quot; has no place in anything they publish.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 7:27 p.m.    

This is curious how my posts alone with couple of other people's as to Russian fleet deal being damaging to national interests and security of Ukraine simply dissapeared! Way to go, Kyiv Post - now we are talking &quot;freedom of speach being preserved by new president&quot;!!!

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 9:43 p.m.    

Indeed, The Kyiv Post does itself no favors with the arbitrary deletion of readers comments.

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Anonymous May 2, 2010, 7:47 p.m.    

I am shocked to discover that while KP condemns muzzling of the media, many of my posts have simply disappeared. This, while others filled with foolish obscenities remain. This is not freedom of the press. Shame on you.

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Anonymous April 23, 2010, 9:50 p.m.    

Peter Byrne unforunately is playing to the dumb-witted diaspora, getting them worked up about something that is overly exagerated. Some Kiev journalists actually act like papparazzi...and the Ukrainian diaspora from Lviv is more than willing to go along with the idea that media freedoms are getting trampled. No different than the diaspora seeing a Russian in every closet, even though they fled to America and Canada already.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010, 7:30 a.m.    

Russian government loves muzzling the press. Continue the traditional ways!

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 5:25 p.m.    

This is nothing to new, it happens in Russia all the time. And, hey! we're going to be a little Russia soon and we must follow Kremlin rules! Isn't that right?

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 8:59 p.m.    

We have the SAME issues in the USA about the 'oligarchs' controlling the news media.

Unfortunately, freedom of the press in the USA is more biased than ever. The result has been a polar division in our country, similar to the Ukraine.

Even worse is the LACK of media on certain horrid aspects of the medical industry. Example, the terrorism of our Food and Drug Administration which continues to destroy lives by approving procedures and drugs for the benefit of 'pharmaceutical' oligarchs. Autism is one example, the banning of Vitamin B-17, a proven cancer prevention and cancer killing food, and harrassment of Natural Health store owners, mostly who are elderly.

We understand the problem but don't think it is only in your country. It is in EVERY country.

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Anonymous April 24, 2010, 10:12 p.m.    

Why don't you read some history. America has always been divided. Have you ever heard of the American Civil War? That was in the 1860's. Remember The election Dewey vs. Truman, which was so close that some newspapers declared Dewey the winner? How about the recent election between Bush2 and Gore, which was decided by the Supreme Court? This division has very little to do with &quot;media oligarchs&quot;.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010, 4:35 a.m.    

Guest: Camparing US journalisn and Ukraine journalism is way off base. How many journalists have been killed in Russia? Google it. How many have been killed in Ukraine? Or arrested in Ukraine on trumped up charges? Your critiques are correct...we are and will always be a nation of divided due to our free press, thank God. This is healthy. This is part of democracy. I have not seen anyone from Fox News threatened or arrested. Rush Limbaugh stil has his head.

No, no...please don't even compare this. I recently was speaking to a friend in Kharkov who thinks Putin is the greatest. I said &quot;Oh really? I don't thonk you don't understand free speech or press. If I was to go to Red Square with a poster saying Putin is a SOB..well, I just may disappear.&quot; Her answer? &quot;Well, I am sure the same would happen if you criticized Obama.&quot; I sent her some YouTube videos of recent Tea Party rallies and told her this is a growing movement, cartoons appear everyday in papers making fun of Obama. She could not believe it. Well, if you tell a people they have free press than they have nothing to compare it to unless someone educates them. Keep up the good work KP.

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Anonymous May 11, 2010, 9:54 p.m.    

The Putin Murders

http://larussophobe.wordpress.com/putinmurders/

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Gene Nelson April 25, 2010, 7:51 p.m.    

There is no democracy without freedom of the press. For anyone to attempt to minimize these concerns is wrong...or it shows their lack of interest in a free press...or of democracy.

My hats off to you KP for a number of articles you have written lately, especially this one. Hopefully, you and your staff will remain safe, as I'm doubting it is going to be healthy to be a member of the press today in Ukraine, unless you're willing to give this govt your full support.

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Anonymous May 11, 2010, 10:04 p.m.    

Back to the USSR? The government is commanding the media what to televise?

http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/65918/

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