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Radio Liberty Condemns Ending of Ukranian Re-Transmission - 2004-02-13

Radio Liberty, a U.S.-funded broadcasting service to eastern and southeastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union, has condemned the decision by a broadcaster in Ukraine to stop transmitting its Ukrainian service.

A radio station called Dovira announced that it will halt Radio Liberty broadcasting as of February 17. Dovira Radio announced the change, saying it is a commercial decision made because of a drop in audience and revenues.

But in Washington, the president of Radio Liberty and its sister station Radio Free Europe, Thomas Dine, called the move "a political act," made under pressure from the government of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

In a statement, Mr. Dine said the decision was "against free speech and press, and shows once again that Ukraine's political leadership is unable to live in an open society."

Dovira Radio has broadcast Radio Liberty programming since 1998, and officials say a close working relationship has developed between the two.

A new director of Dovira Radio is also known to have pro-government views, according to independent Ukrainian media analyst Ivan Lozavy.

"We're already seeing the front end of a very concerted effort to close down any independent voices in Ukraine in the media," he said. "These include the Selksi Visti newspaper, and certainly Radio Liberty."

Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service will continue its short-wave broadcasts.

But its Kiev bureau chief Hanna Herman says few Ukrainians listen on shortwave, and so she is seeking other local outlets that would continue to carry the service. She says other stations are also feeling pressure from the authorities not to work with the U.S. government-funded station.

Ukraine has come under criticism in recent months from Western countries, as political tension increases in the run-up to a presidential election in October.

Last December, allies of President Kuchma in parliament tried to change the law to have the president elected by the legislature, and also to allow Mr. Kuchma to be elected to another term. Both those efforts failed, and Mr. Kuchma is supposed to step down after the election.