KIEV, Ukraine -- Management and journalists from channels 5 and TVi pledged to appeal against the controversial ruling and hope to remain on the air in the near term
But during a press conference held after Tuesday’s regional administrative court ruling, they openly expressed fears that media freedoms and democratic gains made by Ukraine since 2004 could be at risk under Mr Yanukovich. He is accused by oppositionists of setting up an authoritarian regime.
“We lived through 2004,” said Channel 5 director Ivan Adamchuk, recalling attempts by authorities to muzzle the channel ahead of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution, which overturned a fraud-marred presidential vote for Mr Yanukovich. “We could not imagine that those times would return, but they have,” he added.
Oleh Rybachuk, a former presidential administration chief turned civic activist, said “censorship is re-emerging, and the opposition is not getting so much coverage. There are similarities to what [Vladimir] Putin did when he came to power. We are seeing Putin-style attempts to monopolise power.”
With Mr Yanukovich’s coalition having swiftly consolidated control over the nation’s legislative, executive and judicial branches of power, the channels could face an uphill battle if he opposes their survival.
Mr Yanukovich’s administration on Tuesday repeated denials of cracking down on free press. But media watchdogs warned that if stripped of the frequencies, the two channels – seen by media watchdogs as rare sources of reports critical of Mr Yanukovich’s coalition – would be blacked out from much of the country.
Such a scenario would preserve the strong grip over Ukraine’s television airwaves held by Mr Yanukovich’s billionaire business backers.
One of them is Valery Khoroshkovsky, currently head of Kyiv’s SBU spy agency and owner of UA Inter Media Group, the nation’s largest television holding. The latter filed the court appeal asking for the frequencies to be pulled on grounds that they were wrongfully issued in January.
Both 5 and TVi have repeatedly accused Mr Khoroshkovsky of abusing his power and influence to preserve his monopoly control over Ukraine’s media airwaves and limit objective news reporting.
Mr Khoroshkovsky denies wrongdoing and insists his wife manages his media empire as he dedicates his time to public service.
But on Tuesday, Mykola Knyazytsky, director of TVi, which was set up by exiled Russian businessmen, blamed Mr Khoroshkovsky for the crack down on the two channels and described his simultaneous role as a presidential backer, intelligence chief and media mogul as a “huge and blatant conflict of interest”.