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Friday, 21 October 2011

Ukrainian Reporter Shot in Head

IPI Calls on Authorities to Bring Assailant to Justice 

By: Steven M. Ellis, Press Freedom Adviser

Police look on as students protest during a meeting of European and ex-Soviet education ministers in Kiev on 22 September 2011. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

VIENNA, 21 Oct. 2011 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today urged Ukrainian authorities to determine who shot a local reporter in the head this week, leaving him in critical condition, and to bring the assailant to justice.

The website novosti-N.mk.ua reported that the journalist, Oleksandr Vlaschenko, who also reports for the Nash Gorod Nikolaev newspaper, was attacked Sunday night in a bus terminal in the city of Mykolayiv, approximately 130 kilometres northeast of Odessa.

Local media said the assailant took Vlaschenko’s bag, which contained a Nikon camera and two mobile phones, but not the approximately 30 euros in local currency the journalist was carrying.

Vlaschenko was taken to a hospital where doctors opted not to remove the bullet from his brain for fear of causing further damage. Novosti-N.mk.ua said that Vlaschenko was unable to recall details about the attack. However, the website reported that doctors said the journalist’s condition had improved since his admission to the hospital.

The website also said the case had been turned over to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which has initiated an investigation.

The attack could not immediately be connected to Vlaschenko’s work. However Nash Gorod Nikolaev editor-in-chief Anatolii Onofriychuk told the Institute for Media Information (IMI) in Kiev: “Recently Vlashenko has been writing articles about corruption involving local authorities, so it is probably connected to his journalistic activities.”

IPI Press Freedom & Communications Manager Anthony Mills said: “We are happy that Mr. Vlaschenko survived this brutal attack and our thoughts are with him as he strives to recover. However, this incident serves to highlight the continuing danger that journalists in Ukraine face. We call on the Interior Ministry to conduct a swift, thorough and transparent investigation into this crime and to bring those responsible to justice.”

Vlaschenko’s shooting is the latest in a series of negative developments impacting media freedom in the former Soviet-bloc nation this week.

IMI reported that Parliament on Monday approved a draft law amending the existing law on the “protection of public morals" that would restrict broadcast of television and radio programs containing "elements of violence or cruelty, depictions of dead bodies, badly injured people, scenes including blood which may cause fear or terror, encourage mutilation, suicide, or acts of vandalism, or any positive representation of violence.” The organisation said that a violation could lead to the cancellation of a broadcaster’s license and it voiced concerns that vagueness in the bill’s wording could lead to increased pressure on independent media.

It said the bill names the National Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morals as the body responsible for enforcing state policy on public morality and that the bill would require Internet providers to take immediate measures to restrict access to electronic information the commission defines as “erotic”. IMI said Ukrainian authorities have not publicly reacted to calls for President Viktor Yanukovych to veto the bill.

IMI also reported that Parliament refused to amend a law on court fees adopted last July that would reduce fees for compensation of moral damage claims, opening the door for millions of dollars in potential claims against the media. Also this week, Human Rights Watch called on Parliament to reject a bill that would prohibit providing information about homosexuality to anyone living in Ukraine.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, supports this statement.