Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ukraine Media Targeted As Hackers Hit TV Channel

KIEV, Ukraine -- Computer hackers have attacked the website of Ukraine's top independent television channel, as pressure on independent media spiked in the former Soviet republic.
The hackers struck on Tuesday, knocking out the website operated by Channel 5 television, Ukraine's leading news channel and one of the former Soviet republic's few media offering unbiased information.

Channel 5 engineers working around the clock had restored service by early Thursday, said Viacheslav Cherkashyn, operator of the web server hosting the website www.5.ua.

The Internet assault came against the background of a conflict between Channel 5 and Ukraine's National Committee of Television and Radio (UNCTR), whose members are scheduled on August 26 to consider a reduction in television frequencies available to the channel.

The potential reduction, if substantial, could push Channel 5 off the air. The station routinely broadcasts reports, usually backed by strong evidence, critical of the government and senior officials.

A lawsuit filed by Ukraine's largest TV broadcaster, Inter television, is the grounds for the government review of frequency assignments to Channel 5.

Inter lawyers have argued the number of frequencies available to Channel 5, an Inter competitor, is almost double the bandwidth available to Inter, which attracts twice as many viewers as Channel 5.

Inter television news reports concentrate on day-to-day events, avoiding detailed coverage of national problems. The station's longer programmes have at times focused on the positive achievements of Ukrainian officials in office, particularly President Viktor Yanukovych.

Channel 5 spokesmen have accused Inter management of wanting to push Channel 5 off the air, and of exploiting links between Inter management and senior members of Ukraine's government to get the job done.

Ukrainian media magnate Valery Khoroshevsky holds a controlling stake in Inter. A close political ally of Yanukovych's, Khoroshevsky also heads Ukraine's national intelligence agency, the SBU.

Channel 5 executives have alleged Khoroshevsky used SBU intelligence-collection capacities to gather data for the suit filed against Channel 5 by Inter, and claimed Yanukovych officials had warned them to stop airing reports critical of Yanukovych, or risk losing their license.

Khoroshevsky has denied any conflict of interest, calling Channel 5 allegations SBU that agents assisted Inter lawyers "ridiculous."

Pressure on independent media is a recurring feature of Ukrainian politics. Vasyl Klymentyev, a newspaper editor in the east Ukrainian Kharkiv, was reported missing on August 11.

Klymentyev's magazine routinely criticizes local authorities. Police are investigating his possible murder, according to an Interfax news agency report.

Ukraine's biggest political scandal began in August 1999 with the kidnapping and murder of Georgy Gongadze, the editor of an independent news website. Tape recordings later surfaced seemingly implicating then-Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma in ordering a contract hit on Gongadze.

Kuchma's replacement, pro-Europe politician Viktor Yushchenko, was propelled into office in 2004 by mass demonstrations against vote- rigging in favour of Yushchenko's opponent. Channel 5 led reporting on the election fraud.

Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician, replaced Yuschenko in February. He and his staff have repeatedly asserted their administration, despite links to the Kuchma regime, support a free and open media.

Media watch groups have questioned Yanukovych's commitment. An August 10 letter to the Ukrainian government from the International Press Institute (IPI) said it was "alarmed at reports of an increase in the number of assaults against journalists and a failure to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice."