Ukrainian president rejects criticism over censorship

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich defended himself against accusations of declining media freedom by journalists and watchdogs in an interview published on Saturday.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Berlin starting on Monday, Yanukovich told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung there would be no government interference in the case of a missing journalist and a dispute between public and private TV stations.

"All the disputes must be decided by the courts. I cannot imagine that pressure would be exerted on the courts," Yanukovich said.

Private channels TVi and Channel 5 are at loggerheads over broadcast frequencies with one of the main national networks, Inter TV Channel.

Inter TV's owner, Valery Khoroshkovsky, is one of the country's richest businessmen and also head of the SBU, Ukraine's main government security agency.

The newspaper reported that the head of TVi had been spied on by intelligence services, which the pro-Moscow Yanukovich denied.

"I can't imagine that. In any case, I have not been informed of such an activity," he said.

The newspaper told Yanukovich that its staff in Ukraine had been the subject of attempted intimidation by intelligence services, with Yanukovich saying he was unaware of it.

On Friday, media watchdog Reporters without Borders sent a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking her to discuss "growing obstacles to freedom of the press" in Ukraine during her meeting with Yanukovich.

The group also called on Merkel to press for a more thorough investigation into the disappearance of journalist Vasyl Klymentyev on August 11.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Anatoly Mogilev said on Thursday that it was likely that Klymentyev, the editor of a small weekly in Ukraine's northern city of Kharkiv specialising in sensational corruption exposes, had been murdered.

Mogilev also suggested that law enforcement forces were involved.

More than 100 Ukrainian journalists and artists took to the streets of Kiev on Thursday in a protest against censorship.

© 2010 AFP

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