World Bulletin/News Desk
Journalists at one of Ukraine's few independent TV stations rallied on Saturday, alleging that President Viktor Yanukovich's leadership was trying stealthily to silence independent media ahead of an October parliamentary election.
TVi station, which is known for investigative journalism and which is often critical of the Yanukovich leadership and leading lights around him, was the subject of a raid by tax police last July.
A tax evasion case against TVi's chief executive has since been dropped. But the station says local cable companies have come under pressure to either give it up or move it to more expensive packages, significantly cutting its viewer base.
Critics of the Yanukovich leadership see the moves against TVi as aimed at stifling potentially damaging reporting by the independent media before the Oct. 28 parliamentary election when his Party of the Regions will have to battle to keep its majority.
The government is unpopular because of tax and pension reform which has pushed back the retiring age and Yanukovich's party now faces a united opposition of several parties brought together by the prosecution and jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
These critics say harassment of the independent media is part of a trend towards increased authoritarianism in the country since Yanukovich came to power in Feb. 2010.
"There are only a few TV stations left like TVi which has dared to provide balanced coverage of the situation in Ukraine," Yury Lukanov, head of the independent journalists' union, told Reuters on the fringe of a rally which drew about 1,500 people.
"The authorities don't like this. They prefer simple propaganda channels. That's why they are doing all they can to shut down this channel," he said.
Yanukovich last Monday told a World Newspaper Congress meeting in Kiev the alleged lack of media freedom in his country was due to ignorance and the lack of objective information about the real state of affairs in Ukraine.
His speech to the congress was interrupted by a dozen Ukrainian journalists who stood and held up anti-censorship banners. Security guards tore the banners out of protesters' hands.
"The goal of all honest journalists is to criticise the authorities. Only a journalist who tells you about the authorities' mistakes, their crimes, their wrong-doings - only this person can call himself an honest journalist," TVi editor-in-chief Vitaly Portnikov told the rally.
"When you destroy independent media you are punishing not just the opposition but civil society," he said.