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World: Press-Freedom Review Cites Russia, Central Asia, And U.S. Indifference

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The International Press Institute (IPI) says the war on terrorism contributed to the suppression of the international news media in two ways last year: by providing excuses for silencing news outlets and by muting criticism of repressive regimes.

In its annual World Press Freedom Review, issued today, the Vienna-based IPI takes critical aim at Russia and four Central Asian republics. It also criticizes the United States for what it says was a pattern of benign neglect of antipress behavior -- behavior it says the United States used to denounce.

The IPI describes itself as "the global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists." David Dadge is editor of its World Press Freedom Review. He said the IPI believes Russia overreacted in the aftermath of last October's Moscow theater siege in which Chechen rebels held about 800 people hostage. More than 120 hostages, as well as all the hostage takers, subsequently died in a disastrous rescue operation. "The Moscow theater siege actually produced a reaction that in the opinion of the International Press Institute actually outweighed the situation. The attempted introduction of the terrorism law that would have regulated the media during such future crises, it seemed to me, although President [Vladimir] Putin refused to sign it and it's still under discussion, it still seems [to be] yet more legislation designed to try to suppress the media," Dadge said.

The World Press Freedom Review 2002 says that in Russia and in the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan the United States has abandoned its once-useful role as defender of democratic standards and critic of press controls. Dadge said the war on terrorism has stifled U.S. advocacy of press freedoms. "America moved a lot closer to Russia than it had [been] previously. In my opinion, Russia has not only tried to suggest that it is suffering from its own [comparable] terrorist problem in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, its [new] relationship with America has meant in many cases that America is not pushing for democratization, pushing for Russia to reach a settlement in the way that [the United States] had [been]," Dadge said.

The IPI's World Press Review 2002 carries the subtitle, "In the Name of Terror." It says that in the first full year after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, many countries passed laws regulating the free flow of information. It says that some of these security measures were legitimate. But it says many countries have adopted repressive legislation and regulations that outlaw appropriate press activity.

The review says that 2002 continued to be a sad period for violence against journalists, with 54 killed around the world. It says that once again, South America -- where 22 journalists were killed -- was the most dangerous region in the world in which to work as a journalist.

Dadge said he fears U.S. indifference to press freedoms in other countries will result is some countries assuming a license to behave in nondemocratic ways. He said the U.S. alliance against terrorism with the Central Asia republics has resulted in a new impunity for antidemocratic and anti-press-freedom behavior there. "And, however much the [U.S.] State Department is willing to criticize these countries in its annual human rights reports, it seems to me if it is not carrying out indeed what it is saying in words. It is not actually achieving anything in the region," Dadge said.

The World Press Freedom Review 2002 discusses press-freedom issues in detail, region by region and country by country (see http://www.freemedia.at).

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