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Press Freedom At Risk In Russia, Post-Soviet States

(Washington, DC--March 20, 2001) Media freedom, one of the most cherished goals of those who fought to overthrow communism, is now at risk in the Russian Federation and in many other post-Soviet states.

That was the message delivered to an RFE/RL briefing this week by Alexander Lupis, the coordinator of the Europe and Central Asian Program at the Committee to Project Journalists.

Lupis appeared in connection with the release of CPJ's annual report, "Attacks on the Press in 2000." Citing that report, Lupis noted that in Russia, "the ascendancy of President Vladimir Putin sparked an alarming assault on press freedom," including the imposition of censorship in Chechnya and attacks on journalists and media outlets "in the name of strengthening the state".

Elsewhere in the post-Soviet region, Lupis said, the CPJ had found that conditions for journalists and hence for their audiences have deteriorated as well. In Ukraine, the problems are symbolized by the government's apparent involvement in the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze. In Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan conditions are also worse now than they were a year ago, he said.

Lupis noted in response to questions that media defense organizations like CPJ have an especially difficult time in tracking moves by governments which are concerned about their public image even though they seek to restrict the media. In countries like China which are less concerned with international reaction, the governments impose their controls in a direct and obvious way.

But in countries like Russia and some of the post-Soviet states, the regimes use economic pressure and other restrictions which are less obvious but nonetheless equally effective in muzzling the media. As a result, Lupis concluded, those concerned about media freedom in these societies must work harder than ever before to track these new threats to a free media and hence to a free society.