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31 Oct, 2008 20:28

Ukraine takes Russian channels off air

Three Russian TV channels have been banned from broadcasting in Ukraine. The country's authorities ordered local cable operators to take them off air. More than half of Ukraine's population speaks Russian regularly and one third say it's their native tong

At midnight on November 1, three Russian TV channels were removed from cable networks in Ukraine, including an RTR-Planet station (RTR-Planet is the overseas wing of Russian state broadcaster RTR).

Operators said the ban came into effect after the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting warned that all foreign channels must be adapted to comply with Ukrainian law or face being taken off air.

However, it seems that both the management of the Russian channels and Ukrainian cable companies don’t understand what this adaptation is all about. Without giving detailed explanations, the council said that the named broadcasters had violated several laws regarding advertising, copyright and ethical norms.

Satellite company Torsat is responsible for distributing Russian TV channels in Ukraine. The company can't understand why the restrictions apply to Russian stations which have international versions and are broadcast on the same terms as many other worldwide channels.

“These stations are broadcast in Europe and all over the planet and there have been no problems in any country. These are channels specifically Russian-speaking viewers. At the same time, I can say that broadcast of the Euronews channel in Ukraine has stayed the same, the Eurosport channel hasn’t changed, but both made it into the list of allowed stations,” said Torsat CEO Anatoly Salnik.

Legal or political?
Given the recent strain in relations between Moscow and Kiev, some see a political motive behind the move. The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted with frustration.

“It’s a matter of serious concern for us. Ukraine is a multinational state and those Russian-speaking citizens have the right to use their language and to watch Russian TV channels,” said Grigory Karasin, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister.

Kiev’s political elite have so far failed to comment.

Cable operators in Ukraine are still counting the cost of the ban. But they say insist that regardless of their financial losses, it’s the country’s Russian speakers who will suffer. The number of potential viewers of these stations in Ukraine is around 15 million.

The National Broadcasting Council has been urging cable operators to drop Russian stations from their broadcast schedules for some time. But many have defied the call, saying they’ll continue distributing them until it's properly explained why they shouldn't.

In the meantime, operators believe that the switch-off could be a temporary one, as the National Broadcasting Council is due to meet on November 5 to review the matter.