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East: IPI Says Press Increasingly Threatened

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Vienna-based International Press Institute, or IPI, says that governments around the world employed increasingly subtle means in the year 2000 to suppress independent news reporting.

The IPI says today in its World Press Freedom Review 2000 that European governments use laws in both subtle and in blatant ways to impede journalists. The review says this is especially so in Central and Eastern Europe.

The IPI's analyst for Central and Eastern Europe is Umer Oguz. Our correspondent interviewed him by telephone.

"There are many other ways that the authorities can employ to muscle the press, so to say. Tax raids, for instance, on critical newspapers, arbitrary arrests of reporters, access being denied, threats, telephone calls in the middle of the night and so on. When taken together, these kind of methods really do exert pressure on the independent media and, unfortunately, it has been very effective in limiting reporting."

The IPI review says that 56 journalists and other news workers died in pursuit of news in 2000. It says that Russia, with six such deaths, has become the most hazardous European country for journalists and the second most dangerous in the world. The first, it says, is Columbia.

The report finds mixed positive and negative news in Yugoslavia. It says that the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic as president in October caused fundamental, but so far unwritten, changes in the atmosphere for news reporting. It says that state-run and state-connected media which were once the main propaganda tools for the Milosevic regime suddenly opened their programming. Opposition leaders and NGO activists began appearing in news reports.

The IPI says, though, that formal changes in Yugoslav and Serbian laws suppressing press and broadcast freedom have yet to be addressed.

The World Press Freedom Report section on Russia reviews the cases, still pending, of Media-MOST founder Vladimir Gusinksy and former Kremlin insider and media executive Boris Berezovsky.

It focuses also on Russian government control on reports of the sinking in August of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine with the loss of its crew.

The IPI says that suppression of facts, dissemination of false reports, and persecution of independent editors was extensive.

The report notes that, a month after the "Kursk" tragedy, the Russian government published a document titled "Doctrine of the Information Security of the Russian Federation."

Here's IPI analyst Oguz's comment on that:

"Other incidents (in Russia) are the introduction, for instance, of the Information Security Doctrine, which, I think, sort of constitutes a step back toward Soviet times in the sense that the document stresses the need to conceal information as opposed to letting it be free-flowing."

The report says this of the Russia doctrine: "[It] is written in opaque and ill-defined phrases reminiscent of Cold War terminology with references to other countries' supposed desire to 'infringe on Russia's sovereignty.' It contains recommendations for extending government control over unspecified information and, under special circumstances, provides for restrictions being placed on the free flow of information."

The report cites restrictions by Russia on coverage of the Chechen war and refers, among other cases, to that of Radio Liberty's Chechnya correspondent Andrei Babitsky, his detention, later release, and trial. Babitsky has since left Russia and now works for RFE/RL out of Prague.

The IPI report singles out Ukraine and Belarus as especially problematic states. It says Ukrainian journalists who criticize the power structure can expect to meet violence and legal retaliation in response. As a result, it says, self-censorship is widespread in Ukraine.

The report also describes last September's disappearance of Heorhiy Gongadze, editor of the critical Internet newsletter "Pravda Ukrayiny." A decapitated body thought to be Gongadze was found several weeks later. An opposition politician then published tape recordings that he said implicated Kuchma in Gongadze's disappearance. There has been growing unrest in Ukraine since.

IPI analyst Oguz speaks about Belarus:

"In Belarus, we had a very serious problem this year with pressure on the printing house, Magic, which prints the majority of the independent newspapers. And there were court orders and equipment was impounded by the authorities -- more specifically the printing presses, of course making it very hard for the newspapers to be printed."

Of Central Asia's largest nation, Kazakhstan, the IPI report says this: "President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was re-elected in January 1999, continues to apply immense pressure on the media and many independent publications have been subjected to overt official harassment. In particular, this year has seen a number of newspapers and broadcasters silenced by the government for reporting on corruption scandals, an incident where a journalist lost her job due to government intervention and one physical attack on a journalist."

The report says that these incidents, taken together, paint a dark picture of repression and government intimidation in Kazakhstan.

(RFE/RL's Bruce Jacobs contributed to this report.)