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Media Attacks More Subtle in 2002, CPJ Says

(Washington, DC--April 4, 2003) A leading authority on press freedom said that increased sensitivity to Western public opinion has led Russian and Central Asian governments to shift from "blatant attacks" on media to more "subtle and covert" tactics.

Alex Lupis, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalist, presented the organization's annual report, "Attacks on the Press in 2002" to a recent RFE/RL audience. According to Lupis, "2002 remains another dismal year for press coverage in the region." Governments are using new styles of "draconian measures" to squelch independent media voices.

Although targeted violence and killing of journalists continues, more "insidious" strategies are being employed. In Russia, Putin's goal of an "obedient and patriotic" press has enabled the Kremlin to target media outlets with politically motivated lawsuits and hostile business takeovers, said Lupis.

In an effort to appear more democratic, some Central Asian governments are paying "lip-service" to the West by relaxing overt press restrictions. Instead, they are resorting to "Soviet-style bullying" to encourage self- censorship by editors and reporters, or the "law of the telephone," which involves government officials calling editors to suppress stories.

"The liberalism of the 90's in former Soviet areas is receding significantly," said Lupis. By contrast, Lupis noted, the Baltic States have "done well... there is an innate desire to integrate with the West in [those] areas... there is the political will."

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