Poland to finance independent satellite TV news beamed into Belarus

Minsk (dpa) - Poland's government will finance a satellite television project aimed at beaming independent news into the authoritarian former Soviet republic Belarus, diplomats in Minsk said on Wednesday.

The satellite television channel "TV Belarus", a newly-created company subordinate to the Polish national television company and Foreign Affairs Ministry, is scheduled to begin transmissions in October.

The channel will operate fifteen hours a day, offering viewers breaking news and weekly news analysis programmes. Its transmissions will be available free to any Belarusian satellite television user.

The reports will be in the Belarusian and Russian languages. Most Belarusian television viewers at present prefer programmes produced in Russia - whose state-run media rarely reports on Belarus.

Access to independent media in Belarus is traditionally tightly controlled, but in recent years modern technology has made inroads into the state's ability to control information.

According to media analysts, seven percent of Belarusians have access to satellite television, with user numbers growing quickly.

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko on Tuesday declared in a parliament speech he would "not interfere with opposition media."

Lukashenko's government almost totally controls electronic media. State tactics against media which criticise the president have included editor and reporter arrests, punitive tax audits, confiscation of production equipment, and refusal by state-owned publishing houses to print newspapers which irritate authorities.