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Media Matters: March 8, 2005


8 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 6
AZERBAIJAN
NEW MEDIA OUTLETS DEBUT IN RUN-UP TO AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
By Liz Fuller

Among the obligations that Azerbaijan assumed on acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe in early 2001 was the creation by December 2003 of an independent public broadcaster, an undertaking that has been repeatedly delayed by disputes first over the necessary legislation and then over the fate of the two existing state television channels (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," Vol. 4, No. 18, 30 September 2004). With parliamentary elections due in November 2005, a group of Azerbaijani journalists have recently announced their plans to create an independent television channel intended to complement the two state-run channels and the privately owned channels, almost all of which are owned and controlled by persons loyal to the country's leadership. One of those journalists is also the editor of a new independent newspaper, Azerbaijan's first in tabloid format, which began publication last month.

In late September 2004, the Azerbaijani parliament finally adopted the long-awaited Law on Public Television and Radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004), but that legislation failed to clarify several key points, and some of its provisions appear to contradict assurances given in early September to Council of Europe experts. According to the text of the law as published in early November, the new broadcaster is to be founded on the basis of the second channel of Azerbaijan state television, which shares both its premises and equipment with the first state television channel. It will be funded from the state budget until 2010, after which it will be financed by license fees. Arif Aliev, head of the independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil, pointed out that Baku pledged to the Council of Europe in mid-September that the new public broadcaster would replace the first channel of state television and inherit its premises and equipment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004). But within days of the law's belated publication, President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree stipulating that the new broadcaster would be formed on the basis of both existing state-run channels, Turan reported on 9 November 2004. The Council of Europe issued a statement welcoming the passage and publication of the law, but drawing attention to, and expressing concern about, that discrepancy, Turan reported on 11 November.

Publication of the law paved the way for the nomination of candidates for election to the new broadcaster's nine-member board, which is to include one representative each from the trade unions, the Academy of Sciences, the Press Council, the Businessmen's Council, youth organizations, women's organizations, sports clubs, religious communities, and organizations representing the creative intelligentsia. The parliament was scheduled to approve the composition of that body in late December, according to Turan on 24 December 2004, but according to the online daily zerkalo.az on 20 January it has not yet done so.

It is, moreover, not entirely clear how the new public broadcaster is to be funded. In November 2004, Press Council member Zeynal Mamedli, who helped draft the law on public television, noted that the draft 2005 budget allocates 71 billion manats ($14.5 million) for the first channel of state television but only 5 billion manats for the new broadcaster. On 28 December 2004, Turan quoted Nushiravan Magerramli, head of the National Board for Television and Radio, as saying that it is "unreasonable" to create the new public broadcaster on the basis of the second channel of state television and for the two entities to share the same premises. Magerramli said that public television should receive at least 50 percent as much funding as the first channel of state television. Minister of Communications Ali Abbasov similarly argued that the funds allocated for the creation of the public broadcaster are not adequate to ensure that it can broadcast to the entire territory of Azerbaijan, according to the independent daily "Azadlyg" on 20 January as cited by Turan.

On 20 January, the online daily zerkalo.az reported without disclosing its sources that public television will receive 25 percent of the property of the existing two state channels, and that additional equipment has already been purchased for it. The paper further claimed that an unspecified number of journalists from the two state-run channels will move to the new broadcaster.

Magerramli announced in early January that the new public television channel would begin broadcasting in May, according to "525-gazeti" on 11 January. And one month later, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov said that the remaining "technical problems," including the approval by parliament of the broadcasting council and the allocation of resources, will be solved within one month. Hasanov said the new broadcaster will be on the air in the run-up to the November parliamentary elections, and prospective parliamentary candidates can avail themselves that resource during the election campaign.

Some of Azerbaijan's most respected journalists and political figures, however, intend to launch a rival independent broadcasting channel, named Yeni TV and Radio, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 15 January. They include former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov; Arif Aliyev, head of the independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil and one of the founders two years ago of the Press Council (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003); Turan's director Mehman Aliyev; Media Rights Institute Director Rashid Hadjily; Elchin Shikhly, editor in chief of "Ayna/Zerkalo;" and Irada Bagirova of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences' Institute of History. The new channel is to be modeled on a public broadcaster and funded by donations and grants until such time as it becomes self-financing. It has not yet obtained a broadcasting license.

Arif Aliyev has simultaneously founded a new print publication, the tabloid newspaper "Gun Ashkham," the first issue of which was published on 19 February. The paper will appear five times weekly in a print run of 5,000. By comparison, as of late 2004 the independent daily "Azadlyg" had a print run of 3,700, down from 6,000 one year earlier; "Baki habar" had a print run of 6,500, "Ekho" 6,000, "Zerkalo" 5,000, its Azerbaijani-language counterpart "Ayna" 3,000, "525-gazeti" 2,400, and "Sharg" 2,400. Of the government-funded press, "Azerbaycan" has a print run of 6,450, "Halg" 5,600, and "Republika" 8,200 copies, while "Yeni Azerbaycan," the organ of the eponymous ruling party which boasts a membership of 400,000, has a print run of only 3,500.

What obstacles those two new private ventures will encounter, and whether the planned Yeni TV will be on the air by late summer to provide objective coverage of the November elections, remains to be seen. At least the media scene in Azerbaijan is likely to be subjected to more intensive scrutiny in the wake of the 2 March murder of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," which could serve to expedite the issuing of a license for Yeni TV and lessen the likelihood that its journalists will be subjected to harassment and violence.

EDITOR'S KILLING SPARKS ACCUSATIONS OF POLITICAL MOTIVES
By Valentinas Mite

The editor in chief of an Azerbaijani opposition magazine, "Monitor," Elmar Huseinov, was gunned down by an unknown assailant in cold blood in front of his home in Baku on 2 March.

His magazine has been sharply critical of Azerbaijani authorities, particularly President Ilham Aliyev. The magazine has on several occasions been closed or fined by the courts.

Huseinov spoke in December about the lawsuits targeting "Monitor," accusing the authorities of harassing the publication for political purposes. "I seriously protested, because this is illegal," he said. "This is unambiguously a political order, because two days prior [to that], parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov in a speech asked the government to express its relation to 'Monitor' magazine and to take serious measures against it. Two days later, court bailiffs are seeking to deny us any profits. And this is simply a political action. What they want is to bankrupt 'Monitor.'"

Huseinov's slaying comes amid a broad government crackdown on the media and opposition activists that has followed flawed presidential elections held in October 2003, when Aliyev succeeded his father.

Rauf Arifoglu, deputy chairman of the Musavat opposition party and editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," was arrested after the election. In October 2004, Arifoglu was sentenced to five years in prison after a conviction for organizing antigovernment protests.

Alex Lupis, program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told RFE/RL that he believes the killing was part of a campaign against Azerbaijan's independent media. "Unfortunately we have also seen a number of incidents over the past years that continue to indicate that the government is cracking down on independent and opposition journalists that criticize the government," Lupis said. Analysts say "Monitor" has long angered Azerbaijan's ruling elite.

Lupis added that the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on Western governments to take a stronger stand against such persecution.

Diana Orlova is the European coordinator at the International Press Institute in Vienna. She said the West's unwillingness to pressure Azerbaijan's political leaders is allowing them to continue applying pressure on the independent media. She said infringements on media freedom get much less attention in the West than in nearby Ukraine or Belarus, for instance.

"Definitely [there has been less attention devoted to this] than, for example [instances in] Ukraine or Belarus, where elections have recently taken place and a lot of pressure was put on the authorities about press freedom," Orlova said.

Orlova said that "Monitor" has long angered Azerbaijan's ruling elite. In February, military forces detained one of the magazine's journalists, Akrep Hasanov, and held him for five hours after he had exposed abuses and mismanagement in an Azerbaijani military unit.

The leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimli, told RFE/RL yesterday in Baku that Azerbaijan's authorities should either find the killers or resign.

"Elmar [Huseinov] has been a victim of a state terror. Everyone should know that and should not be afraid to say that. We will either force them [the authorities] to bring the perpetrators to justice, or we will force them [the authorities] to resign," Kerimli said, and urged Azerbaijan's political parties and rights groups to turn Huseinov's funeral into a massive protest.

Meanwhile, senior officials appear eager to convince the public that they will do all they can to find and prosecute Huseinov's killer or killers.

Azerbaijani deputy prosecutor Remiz Rizaev told Reuters yesterday that he views the crime as a provocation against the state. "This is a horrible crime plotted against the state; it's provocation," he said. "We now have a special investigating team from the police, national security, and the prosecutor's office. This could have been a contract killing, and we will try to investigate this as quickly as possible and solve this crime."

In a joint statement issued today, Azerbaijan's Security and Interior ministries and Prosecutor-General's Office warned the opposition against using Huseinov's killing "to exacerbate the political situation and spread confrontation" and pledged to quickly solve the crime.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this story.)

IRAQ
TARGETING OF JOURNALISTS CONTINUES IN IRAQ
By Kathleen Ridolfo

The targeting of journalists in Iraq has taken a dramatic turn in recent weeks with the release of videotaped messages by kidnapped Italian and French journalists, the withdrawal of the Italian press corps from Iraq, the subsequent dramatic release of the Italian journalist, and the targeting of Iraqis working for U.S.-funded broadcasters. The trend is worrying because it illuminates the effort by insurgents to control the media through intimidation.

In the kidnapping of foreign journalists, the hostage-takers' demands tend to lie in the insistence that troops from the hostage's country be withdrawn. But that is not always the case. For example, the 5 January kidnapping of French national Florence Aubenas, a veteran journalist with the daily "Liberation." Aubenas appeared on a videotaped message this week describing her poor state of physical and psychological health, and pleading with French parliamentarian Didier Julia to help her.

Julia was involved in an unauthorized attempt in September to free two French journalists held captive in Iraq, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. French authorities accused him at the time of interfering in the government's attempts to free the two men, an attempt that failed and arguably delayed the liberation of the two journalists. Julia has said that he would not take steps to intervene in Aubenas' case, unless formally asked to do so by the French authorities. On 2 March, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin made an unforeseen intervention at the French Assembly and officially requested Julia's help. However, on 3 March Raffarin said he would not support any initiative launched parallel to the French government's attempts to free the hostages, news agencies reported. No demands have been issued for Aubenas' release, and the secretary-general of the French advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org), Robert Menard, said he believed the hostage-takers put Aubenas up to appealing to Julia, AP reported on 1 March.

Meanwhile, French intelligence experts are reportedly studying the video for clues in the kidnapping, along with a second, unreleased video, received last week. AFP reported on 2 March that the reference to Julia in one of the videotapes has raised speculation that Syria may be linked to the kidnappers. Julia reportedly has longstanding ties to Syria. Julia told French TF1 TV channel on 1 March of the kidnappers: "These are people who know me, and probably people I know."

At least two groups have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena -- who was released on 5 March in Baghdad after being held for a month -- the last being an unknown group identifying itself as Mujahedin Without Borders. The group's banner was seen behind Sgrena in a videotaped message sent to AP Television News on 16 February. In the tape, Sgrena pleads for Italian troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, and asks her partner Pierre Scolari to help free her. "Nobody should come to Iraq. Please help me. Get the government to withdraw its troops. My life depends on it," she said.

The Italian government refused to yield to the kidnappers' demands for a withdrawal, and it is not yet known under what conditions she was released. Italian Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno said it "was very probable" that a ransom was paid. The Italian government did issue a stern warning to journalists in Iraq, prompting all remaining Italian journalists to leave the country on 22 February. One day before that, an Italian embassy official said that fresh threats had been made against four journalists, Reuters reported on 23 February. Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was kidnapped and killed by his captors in August.

Two Indonesian journalists kidnapped in mid-February were released after about a week in captivity. Their captors said in a videotaped message that the journalists were freed after showing their "goodwill" and because of religious ties -- the hostages were Muslim.

Iraqi journalists and their families are perhaps the most vulnerable targets. Al-Iraqiya television presenter Ra'idah al-Wazzan was found dead in Mosul on 26 February, six days after her abduction. Her 10-year-old son, abducted with her, was released after three days in captivity, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org) said in a 26 February statement. Al-Wazzan's husband said that his wife had received several death threats before the abduction, with insurgents demanding she quit her job with the U.S.-funded television station. Al-Iraqiya came under mortar attack on 16 February and three technicians were injured, cpj.org reported on 28 February. Al-Iraqiya producer Jamal Badrani was also targeted in a kidnapping attempt on 14 February, the International Federation of Journalists (http://www.ifj.org) reported on 1 March.

U.S.-funded Alhurra television employee Muhammad Sharif Ali sustained serious injuries after militants attacked his car in Al-Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, on 25 February. The attack came just weeks after the 9 February assassination of Alhurra correspondent Abd al-Husayn al-Basri outside his home in Al-Basrah. His infant son was also killed in the attack.

Iraqi journalists are taking action to address the unique problems that confront them. Following four days of meetings at the International Federation of Journalists headquarters in Brussels, a group of Iraqi journalists established the Iraqi National Journalists Advisory Panel. The panel brings together more progressive members of an older journalists' syndicate together with leaders of a newer union, and Kurdish journalists, the IFJ announced in a statement posted to its website. "Besides trying to end attacks against journalists, the panel intends to help foster ethical, independent journalism, opposing the political manipulation still endemic to the Iraqi media," the statement added. The federation contends that more than 70 media workers, half of whom were Iraqi, have been killed in Iraq over the past two years.

MOLDOVA/RUSSIA
IS RUSSIAN MEDIA HOPING FOR REVOLUTION IN MOLDOVA?
By Julie A. Corwin

In the run-up to Moldova's 6 March parliamentary elections, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili both met with Moldovan President and Party of Moldovan Communists Chairman Vladimir Voronin. On the face of it, the three leaders would not appear to have much in common. Voronin is a communist and an incumbent, while Saakashvili and Yushchenko were elected by opposition movements following a wave of street protests. But pressure from Moscow has created an alliance of sorts among the three: While visiting Chisinau on 2 March, Saakashvili expressed his concern about the interference of unspecified Russian forces in the Moldovan election campaign.

Even before Saakashvili's visit, analysts concluded that Russian-Moldovan relations had hit a new low during the lead-up to Moldova's elections. President Voronin complained of Russia's alleged interference in the election process in the deployment of Russian campaign consultants to help the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). At a press conference on 23 February, Voronin called a recent declaration by Russia's State Duma calling for economic sanctions against Moldova an attempt to influence Moldova's elections and interfere in the country's domestic affairs. And according to Vasilii Botnar of RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 2 March, Voronin launched a counterattack on Russia's ORT state television for its negative coverage of his policy toward the separatist Transdniester region and allegations of corruption.

In a story broadcast on ORT on 27 March, "Vremya" charged that Voronin's family, specifically his son Oleg, who heads Fincombank, controls most businesses in Moldova. The report also quoted analyst Sergei Markov, who predicted that Voronin will "gag the opposition media" and use state prosecutors against his political opponents. Other stories produced by ORT didn't attack Voronin directly, but instead highlighted Voronin's anti-Russia policy, a policy that the reports implied will have negative economic consequences for Moldova. For example, a report on 2 March discussed the implication of revoking the visa-free travel arrangement between Moldova and Russia.

In a commentary for ORT on 2 March, "Odnako" program host Mikhail Leontev, who is considered close to the Kremlin, explained Moscow's policy quite simply. Leontev said that "in general, Russia does not have its 'own' candidate in Moldova." At the same time, according to Leontev, Russia "is not totally indifferent to how the situation in [Transdniester] develops. [Russia] doesn't need any pro-Moscow candidate to win in proud, independent Moldova, even though half its population works in Russia and the country only exists because of Russia. But we also don't need the orange Communist and falsifier [President Vladimir] Voronin.... That is our only interest." Leontev summed up the Kremlin's position nicely -- anyone but Voronin.

ORT's coverage did not go unnoticed by Moldovan officialdom. Moldova's Television and Radio Coordination Council warned Moldova's First Channel to stop broadcasting campaign "agitation" or it would be prohibited from rebroadcasting "Vremya." The council specifically complained about a 19 February "Vremya" segment on the congress of Moldovan citizens working abroad. The report included negative reporting about the Moldovan government and included direct speech from BMD leader Serafim Urechean, in violation of Moldovan electoral law.

But observers found not only ORT's coverage faulty. International and domestic observers also faulted domestic media outlets. For example, media experts from Coalition 2005 -- an association of 152 nongovernmental Moldovan organizations set up in May 2004 to ensure free, fair, transparent, and democratic elections -- said on 7 February in a preliminary report that electronic media in Moldova were heavily biased in favor of the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005). Moreover, Moldova's Television and Radio Coordination Council concluded on 18 February that not one of Moldova's television or radio companies was in full compliance with election norms. And the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded in an interim report for 13-22 February that many of Moldova's private television stations simply opted out of covering the elections at all because of ambiguously worded election law.

Of course, such findings are not unusual in post-Soviet space -- newly independent media rarely provide either equal access to all political parties or balanced coverage, particularly during an election when the stakes are high. In a roundtable broadcast by RFE/RL's Russian Service on 2 March, commentator Vitalii Portnikov suggested that the real puzzle of the Moldovan election coverage was why the Russian media continued to emphasize the possibility of some kind of revolution occurring in that country when the polls showed that was unlikely. A majority of opinion polls showed the only question was whether the Party of Moldovan Communists would win an absolute or only a constitutional majority in the parliament. Portnikov also asked why no one in the Russian media was asking the Russian authorities to explain their support for the opposition, when past stated policy has always been to support the powers-that-be.

"Novoe vremya" Deputy Editor in Chief Vadim Dubnov suggested that the answer lies not in any kind of articulated policy shift but in "very human" pique. The Russian press and political elite are still angry at Voronin for failing to sign the Kozak memorandum in November 2003, which proposed a solution to the Transdniester conflict. Plus, after Ukraine, according to Dubnov, Moscow understands that the same old approaches will no longer pass muster.

KYRGYZSTAN
MEDIA CRACKDOWN APPEARS TO BE CONTINUING
By Gulnoza Saidazimova

The Kyrgyz government is continuing to impede the flow of information from independent media outlets, despite the victory of many pro-presidential candidates in the first-round parliamentary elections held on 27 February.

The crackdown came three day ahead of the ballot. On 24 February, Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz-language broadcaster, was blocked from transmitting on medium wave, but remained on the air on FM in three cities, including Bishkek and Osh.

In January, the independent newspaper "Jany ordo" lost a court case and had to pay a fine of around $700. Another paper -- "Moya stolitsa-novosti" (MSN) -- is facing a potentially larger fine if President Askar Akaev follows through on his threat to file a lawsuit." Our president couldn't stand [the paper] and so he filed a lawsuit [against 'MSN']. It is not because the problems of the country are being solved, but because his family was a subject of the [criticism]. This is the country we live in."

Roza Otunbaeva, a co-leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, spoke to RFE/RL after a rally on 28 February in Bishkek held in defense of free media. "Here in Bishkek, Azattyk is still heard, but 'Moya stolitsa' and [another paper], 'Res Publica,' face enormous pressures," Otunbaeva said. "Our president couldn't stand [the paper] and so he filed a lawsuit [against 'MSN']. It is not because the problems of the country are being solved, but because his family was a subject of the [criticism]. This is the country we live in."

"Res Publica" is still publishing, but its Editor in Chief Zamira Sydykova has been threatened by a criminal inquiry by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev. Tanaev is pursuing the paper for publishing information about him allegedly organizing a secret meeting on how to eradicate the opposition.

On 22 February, two independent websites, gazeta.kg and kyrgyz.us, announced they were the target of an apparent campaign to embarrass and discredit them.

A number of Internet users outside of the country say they received spam e-mail messages allegedly sent by gazeta.kg and kyrgyz.us. The first message contained an appeal to register on the website kyrgyz.us with a promise to obtain child pornography. The second e-mail message, allegedly sent by gazeta.kg, contained a message about erotic DVDs.

It's not clear who might be trying to embarrass the websites. Both sites have denied they are the sources of the e-mail messages.

The Kyrgyz media have traditionally been regarded as the freest in Central Asia and there still are media outlets that give out alternative information.

"Res Publica," for example, includes on the top of its front page the number of how many days Askar Akayev has left in power. "Res Publica" presumes he will step down when his term ends on 30 October.

Ernis Mamyrkanov, the director of the Osh-based organization the Osh Media Resource Center, told RFE/RL that in the early days of independence, Kyrgyz media enjoyed more freedom than media in neighboring countries. However, he said lately there has been an attempt to silence the press because it is critical of the government.

"All [the latest incidents with independent media outlets] show that authorities are trying to limit freedom of speech," Mamyrkanov said. "But if in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, the media were put within certain limits and couldn't report anything outside those limits, in Kyrgyzstan, the authorities are trying to create new limits."

An independent political analyst from Osh, Ganijon Kholmatov, told RFE/RL that economic conditions and pressure from political groups make it difficult for the media to operate independently. "Can journalists stand in between two sides [the government and opposition] and survive?" Kholmatov asked. "They haven't found an economic ground for that. Economic factors make them choose one of two sides of the barricade. If they would try and stand on the barricade, they can be shot by both sides."

Ernis Mamyrkanov agrees. He said the government has many ways to control the media. However, he says, the people have already tasted freedom and will not want to go back. "But I think, it wouldn't work because both journalists and the people, having already had a sense of freedom, would not put up with what the authorities are doing right now," Mamyrkanov said. "You can't put the genie back into the bottle. Today's pickets, demonstrations and protest meetings prove that the people know the price of freedom of speech."

Sydykova and Mamyrkanov say the opposition will continue their protests against the harassment of the media despite the difficulty to distribute independent information throughout the country.

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