Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tough times ahead for Ukraine's journalists?

The popular 'Shuster Live' TV program, produced by the Savik Shuster Studio company, is broadcast on the the TRK Ukraina channel, which is wholly owned by Rinat Akhmetov's SCM financial-industrial group.

Akhmetov, Ukraine's wealthiest businessman, is a major sponsor of Party of Regions as well being one of this party's parliamentary deputies.

Last January, Akhmetov won an undefended judgment in a London court against the Ukrainian internet news site 'Obozrevatel', and some of its staff for allegedly libellous articles written by journalist Tatyana Chornovil. Chornovil continues exposing the shady manner in which Ukraine's richest oligarchs, including Akhmetov, acquired their huge assets, to this day.

And yet Chornovil, and other leading Ukrainian investigative journalists appear regularly on Shuster's chaotic and unstructured show, hotly debating current political issues with deputies and representatives from all political parties, including those from PoR.

Does this indicate that Akhmetov and his party consider that these journalist cannot damage them politically? Or are they sufficiently confident to 'take their best shots', and 'ride out' any blows landed by them?

During last week's Savik Shuster's show, Viktor Yanukovych was vigorously questioned by Shuster's deputy, Mustafa Nayem, about the highly dubious and irregular manner in which the PoR leader had acquired a huge former state-owned dacha, 'Mezhyhirya'. Yanukovych's replies were brusque, arrogant and rude. In no way did he answer the questions posed. Sadly, the reaction of the audience to this matter, and probably that of large numbers of the electorate, was that of indifference. Perhaps too many are still resigned to the opinion that in Ukraine the 'nachal'stvo', whatever their hue, always steal, that normal rules on accumulation of wealth and property do not apply to them.

Yanukovych's responses on how he would tackle the ever-increasing endemic problem of corruption sounded as convincing as a five year-old's fibs.

It must be dispiriting for journalists to know how little impact is made by their revelations of Ukraine's leaders' systematic abuse of power, and a worry to think of any possible 'pay-back' in the weeks after next month's presidential election ends. Could we be watching their last hurrah?

p.s. A reminder from the past: it's not that many years ago since Ukrainian investigative journalists came to sticky ends. I have blogged on these matters before.

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