Ukrainian journalists protest Soviet-era censorship

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Ukraine has one of the feistiest, most pluralistic media anywhere in the former Soviet Union. It's been an enduring achievement of the 2004 Orange Revolution. But journalists there have begun protesting what they say is censorship and political pressure from the country's new, pro-Russian government. Brigid McCarthy reports from Kiev.

DAVID BARON: Ukraine has some of the feistiest independent news outlets in the former Soviet Union. It's one of the legacies of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution. But Ukrainian journalist are now complaining about censorship under the country's new pro-Russian government. Brigid McCarthy reports from Kiev.

BRIGID MCCARTHY: Ukrainska Pravda is Ukraine's leading independent online newspaper. It chronicles the crime and misdemeanors of Ukraine's political class. It's also financially stable with some 200,000 daily readers and a steady stream of advertisers. A framed photograph of the website's boyishly handsome founder, Georgiy Gongadze, sits in the offices front hallway. Ten years ago Gongadze was kidnapped on his way home from work and murdered. His picture serves as a reminder of the bad old days, when investigative reporting could get you killed here.

SERGIY LESHCHENKA: I came in Ukrainska Pravda two weeks before Gongadze's disappeared.

MCCARTHY: That's Sergiy Leshchenka, Ukrainska Pravda's political reporter.

LESHCHENKA: Before the recent time I probably would have said that no that could never happen again, but now I don't know what to say.

MCCARTHY: Because Ukraine is changing says, Leshchenka faster than anyone anticipated. During his first 100 days in office, President Victor Yanukovich and his ruling party have marginalized the opposition, clamped down on civil protests and tamed the media. TV news on most channels has been reformatted. Reporters have stopped providing explanations or analysis of government policies or opposing points of view.

MCCARTHY: Savik Shuster is the Larry King of Ukraine. For the past five years he's hosted the live four hour TV talk-fest on Friday nights with politicians from opposing parties.

SAVIK SHUSTER: In our talk show still we do have a possibility to have both sides and actually try to discuss the main issues, but I'm not that certain that we are going to survive for very long. I have fears and I have doubts.

MCCARTHY: Savik Shuster used to be one of Russia's biggest TV stars until Vladimir Putin took control of the air waves and stamped out independent broadcast media. Shuster says President Yanukovich is trying to do the same thing here. But Ukraine is not Russia and Victor Yanukovich is no Vladimir Putin. Yanukovich got stuck in a doorway at his inauguration. He frequently mangles words and then there was the unfortunate incident with the wreath. During a solemn ceremony with Russian President Demetri Medvedev of last month a gust of wind toppled a giant wreath onto the President Yanukovich's bowed head. Ukrainian authorities ordered TV stations not to broadcast the footage, most complied, but Ukrainska Pravda posted it on its website and nearly two million people watched it on YouTube. The government's attempts to suppress the video also embolden journalist to start speaking out about other examples of censorship. They started to organize.

SHUSTER: Knowing the potential of those who are in power I think that we are very far from the real onslaught yet.

MCCARTHY: Andriy Kulykov hosts a weekly TV talk show. He and several dozen other journalists have been holding weekly strategy sessions in an effort to stay one step ahead of the authorities. His group showed up at a recent press conference with the President wearing identical ?Stop Censorship? T-shirts. They even gave one to Yanukovich. One of the smaller independent TV stations has put up billboards around Kiev with a noose around a microphone, TV journalist, Andriy Kulykov.

ANDRIY KULYKOV: I think that what most of the people who support the stop censorship moment are worried about is the Russian model.

MCCARTHY: Where journalist who exposed government corruption or human rights abuses have been murdered. Savik Shuster says the fact that Ukrainian journalist are speaking out and banding together is an important difference between the two countries.

SHUSTER: Because in Russia they didn't have journalist who immediately mobilized into a movement against censorship.

MCCARTHY: One of the main problems in Russia he says is there was no solidarity among journalist.

SHUSTER: Everyone was fighting for himself and they were only were saving themselves.

MCCARTHY: Shuster says the campaign against censorship is really about protecting Ukraine's fledging democracy because with no effective political opposition journalist have become the opposition.

SHUSTER: It's very important because Ukraine is geographical bridge between Europe and Russia and we have an authoritarian in Russia already, which is not about to democratize and we don't know what is happening there and that's very dangerous. Everything is secret.

MCCARTHY: That's not the case in Ukraine, yet. For the World, I'm Brigid McCarthy in Kiev.