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Authoritarians Assert Control Over Media in 2004, According to CPJ Report

(Washington, DC--March 15, 2005) Authoritarian rulers tightened their grip on the media in many former Soviet republics in 2004 said Alex Lupis, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reporting CPJ's most recent findings to a RFE/RL audience. In this region, he said, "young enthusiastic journalists continue to come into the field, but fewer media outlets exist to circulate their work."

Dictators in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been the worst abusers of press freedom in the former Soviet Union. In these nations, "local media essentially functions as a propaganda machine," said Lupis. Uzbekistan is the leading jailer of journalists, doling out a broad range of punishments to those who criticize government policies. Lupis expressed grave concern that "the government is rolling its sleeves up and using harsh cold tactics to prevent journalists from reporting independently."

In Russia, lawlessness is increasing, and journalists have experienced a "lurching back" of press freedoms, said Lupis. The Kremlin has become increasingly centralized and secretive; eliminating all truly independent sources of broadcast media. Since coming to power, Putin has tried to convey the image that he's reestablishing stability in Russia after the fall of communism, he said, while in reality Putin's government is more likely to aggressively enforce anti-press laws and has already taken a "multi-pronged approach toward reigning in the media." The high levels of harassment and use of scare tactics have led to "self-censorship," Lupis said, "a dangerous trend that creates the illusion of fake independence."

Lupis said that Putin and his administration have come to realize the power of radio and TV and have placed them under strict scrutiny. The Kremlin manipulated the media in Russia to ensure Putin a second term as President, and then purged the once independent Russian news station NTV of all remaining independent broadcasters. Furthermore, the Kremlin has used the war in Chechnya as a pretext to implement more centralized power under Putin, Lupis said.

"Most problematic" according to Lupis, is that a lack of accurate media coverage makes the governments and the peoples in these post-Soviet states "blind to the widespread problems that plague the countries," such as crime, AIDS, and ethnic conflict. The perpetuation of ignorance on such pertinent issues is likely to have regional effects.

The CPJ's "Attacks on the Press in 2004" overview of press freedom in Europe and Central Asia can be found on its website.