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Rights Group Finds Flaws in Ukraine's Election Campaign - 2004-08-05

A Vienna-based human rights group says media coverage of the October presidential elections in Ukraine is biased.

Vladimir Weissman has just returned from a visit to Ukraine for the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. He says the group found pre-election coverage in the state-run media is heavily biased in favor of the current prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate of choice of the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma.

"The fact that the media are state-owned, or influenced by the state, that means that the prime minister, who is apparently the candidate of the government, gets a lot more attention than the opposition candidates do and more access to the media," Mr. Weissman said.

Mr. Weissman says, during his visit to Ukraine, he received reports of authorities secretly filming students at opposition rallies. He says opposition candidates are complaining their phones are being wire-tapped or disabled by the government.

The Helsinki Federation is an international human rights organization advising the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE), the Council of Europe and other international institutions.

OSCE spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir says the organization shares some of the concerns of the Helsinki Federation.

"We had some problem with the recent election law, which basically bars all domestic observers from observing the election, something that we find very worrying," she said. "We'll be looking at the media, and we'll be looking at the campaign itself and other parts of legislation and the way that the elections are held on election day."

Ms. Gunnarsdottir says the OSCE recently monitored a by-election in the Ukraine and found that some ballot boxes were stolen, and there were violent incidents at some polling places.

The OSCE is sending about 600 international observers to Ukraine later this month to monitor the campaign. It has described as very worrying recent Ukrainian legislation banning domestic election observers.

A Ukrainian delegate to the OSCE, who did not want to be named, told VOA that the parliament is considering amending the election law to allow internal non-partisan observers to be present at polling stations.

As for the findings of media bias and intimidation of political opponents, the delegate said the Ukraine government was responding, as he put it, in a constructive way.