21 March 2003, Volume
IMPUNITY AND INTERNET CENSORSHIP HIGHLIGHTED.
The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WPC) has issued a statement saying the threat to freedom of expression in many countries is as strong today as it was when the UN Commission on Human Rights began tracking violations 21 years ago, IFEX reported on 18 March. In the past 10 years, more than 300 writers, journalists, and media-sector workers have been killed, the committee said. The vast majority of killings go unpunished due to weak governments and judicial systems, WPC noted. WPC said such impunity is most prevalent in Latin America, where many journalists and writers have been killed in the past decade. Russia and Ukraine follow a similar pattern. WPC also said it has observed an escalation in attacks against those who use the Internet to disseminate their opinions. Although very few of these so-called cyber-dissidents are charged with threatening national security, prison sentences levied against them are often severe. For a copy of the WPC statement, contact Sara Whyatt at: firstname.lastname@example.org. CCNORWEGIAN PEN URGES PROTECTION FOR TRANSLATORS, JOURNALISTS.
Norwegian PEN has joined 14 other Norwegian nongovernmental organizations in submitting a statement to the Norwegian government in anticipation of the upcoming session of the UN Commission on Human Rights that deplores attacks against journalists and writers worldwide, IFEX reported on 18 March. The groups particularly noted that translators and interpreters working for international organizations in conflict zones are also exposed to great risks. They called on the Norwegian government to recommend guidelines for the protection of such translators and interpreters, and they urged Norway to present a motion to the commission proposing the establishment of a special UN fund for financial assistance to persecuted journalists and publishers. Read their statement at: http://www.nhc.no/ngo-forum/dok/geneve03.PDF. CCHUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ON BRINK OF DISASTER.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that the UN Commission on Human Rights could become irrelevant unless the United States and the European Union participate actively in its work this year, IFEX reported on 18 March. In recent years, many countries with poor records on freedom of expression have joined the commission and weakened the body's monitoring, HRW says. For more, see http://www.hrw.org/un/chreform.htm. CCCOMMUNITY MEDIA VITAL FOR INFORMATION SOCIETY.
The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) has called on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to recognize the role of community media in bridging the "digital divide" in global information access, IFEX reported on 18 March. In a declaration issued at its recent congress, AMARC said community media, particularly community radio, have provided many communities the opportunity for cultural expression, news and information, and local dialogue. "Radio is the most widespread electronic communications device in the world and a unique means of reaching the world's poorest communities," AMARC said. Therefore, the WSIS process should support community media's role, argues AMARC. AMARC advocates the inclusion of a set of recommendations for media diversity and freedom of expression in the WSIS declaration, currently being drafted. For AMARC's full statement, see http://kathmandu.amarc.org/article/articlereview/73/1/9/. CCNEW PAY TV CHANNEL LAUNCHED.
A new premium television channel called TV1000 has been launched in Russia, the Baltic states, Moldova, Belarus, and Georgia by the Modern Times Group, advanced-television.com reported on 10 March. The 24-hour channel will offer international entertainment programming on local and national cable networks. It will also show popular local programming such as "The House of Fools," a film that features a mental asylum against the background of the conflict between Russian and Chechen troops. For more, see http://www.europemedia.net/shownews.asp?ArticleID=15308. CC
RFE/RL REPORTER ASSAULTED IN HERAT.
Ahmad Behzad, a reporter working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, was assaulted and detained by security personnel in Herat Province on 19 March, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Behzad said the incident occurred when he was interviewing Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, who was in Herat for the inauguration of the local office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (see "RFE/RLNewsline,"19 March 2003). Behzad said that when he asked Jalali about reported human rights violations -- especially violations of the rights of women -- in Heart Province, he was stopped by Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and ordered to leave the room. When Behzad did so, Herat security chief Nasir Ahmad Alawi began beating him and took him into custody. Behzad said he was released six hours later and suffered only superficial wounds. More than 50 people witnessed the incident, Behzad added. Behzad also said that in his view Herat Province officials expect international journalists to act in the same manner that journalists from Afghan state media do. International human rights groups have criticized Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan for his policy of segregating the sexes, as well as for the poor treatment of prisoners and lack of respect for press freedom in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002 and 13 and 16 January 2003). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March)
OPPOSITION DENOUNCES ARREST OF FORMER PREMIER'S BROTHER...
Opposition parties that aligned late last week in the Artarutiun (Justice) bloc to contend the 25 May parliamentary elections issued a statement in Yerevan on 17 March condemning as politically motivated the 15 March arrest of businessman Armen Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian is the younger brother of former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who heads the opposition Hanrapetutiun party. He is suspected of involvement in the 28 December killing of National Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian. Armen Sargsian's mother, Greta Sargsian, likewise said on 17 March that she believes his arrest is part of an attempt by the Armenian leadership to silence the opposition, especially Aram Sargsian. But Armenian National Television reported on 17 March that another suspect testified that Armen Sargsian gave him $50,000 to plan and carry out Naghdalian's killing, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)...AS PRESIDENT JUSTIFIES THE MOVE.
President Robert Kocharian said on 19 March that in view of the "compelling evidence," the authorities were justified in arresting businessman Armen Sargsian on charges of ordering the 28 December killing of Armenian Public Television and Radio head Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that law enforcement agencies informed him two weeks ago of the evidence incriminating Sargsian and said that he requested that Sargsian's arrest be delayed in order to avoid fuelling tensions on the eve of the 5 March presidential runoff vote. Senior Prosecutor Hector Sardarian similarly told RFE/RL on 19 March that "we had more than adequate grounds" to arrest Sargsian, but declined to disclose any details of the evidence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003).'DOUBLE STANDARD' NOTED IN INVESTIGATIONS OF ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 17 March accused the Armenian authorities of a "double standard" in making arrests in connection with the killing of pro-Armenian National Television and Radio head Naghdalian, while at the same time suspending an inquiry into a bomb attack on independent reporter Mark Grigorian. Naghdalian, 36, who also presented a political commentary program called "Orakarg," was shot dead by an unknown gunman in Yerevan on 28 December. On the same day, President Kocharian called an emergency meeting with top security officials to investigate the killing. Grigorian, who is the Armenian correspondent for RSF and deputy head of the Caucasus Media Institute, received a 24 February letter from the Prosecutor-General's Office notifying him that the inquiry into a 22 October grenade attack against him has been suspended because no suspects have been found. Grigorian believes he was attacked by individuals opposed to his investigation of the October 1999 attack on the parliament, in which eight top officials were killed. CC
JOURNALISTS PLAN INDEPENDENT PRESS COUNCIL...
On 15 March, Azerbaijani journalists held a congress to establish a press council that will draft a code of professional ethics and generally function as a self-regulatory body for the print media. More than 100 journalists' organizations and print-media outlets expressed an interest in attending the congress, but some prominent newspapers did not do so. According to the daily "Hurriyet" on 12 March, "Hurriyet," "Uch nogte," "Politika," and "Novoe vremya" doubt that such a press council could function independently and effectively under present conditions. Arif Aliev, head of the independent journalists' union Yeni Nasil and an initiator of the proposed council, thinks such doubts are wrong. In an interview with Turan on 21 February, Aliyev said he does not believe state-controlled print publications will constitute a majority of the council's members and that even if they do, the council will have no power either to shut down media outlets or to dictate to journalists what they should or should not write. He also argued that it is not in the interests of "a smart government" to seek to dominate the council, because in that case, independent media outlets would simply terminate their membership in it. "Mass media can be owned by the authorities, but they cannot own the voices and souls of journalists," Aliyev reasoned. ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March)...DEFINE ITS FUNCTIONS...
Arif Aliyev explained that the press council will not undertake to defend the rights of journalists subjected to pressure from the authorities nor will it duplicate the work of other independent organizations such as the Editors' Union or the Baku Press Club. Its primary focus will be to raise professional standards and to ensure that journalists are not co-opted to defend "dangerous" trends such as blackmail and racketeering. It will also try to resolve disputes that might arise between media outlets and the authorities. ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March)...AND HOLD INITIAL CONGRESS.
Some 400 delegates from more than 170 newspapers and journalists' organizations attended the first Congress of Azerbaijani Journalists in Baku on 15 March, Turan reported the same day. Delegates elected a 15-member Press Council that will seek to resolve disputes involving the press in an attempt to put an end to frequent libel suits against opposition newspapers. It will also draft and adopt a professional code of ethics. Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov on 17 March hailed the creation of the council, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)
CONTROVERSIAL NEWS AGENCY DIRECTOR ORDERS LOCKOUT...
Following Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) Director Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev's dismissal of 16 colleagues, BTA journalists on 14 March staged a strike, mediapool.bg reported the same day. Agency employees demanded Cheshmedzhiev's resignation. In reaction to the strike, Cheshmedzhiev on 16 March ordered police and private security guards to lock the journalists out. He said the strike was orchestrated by some "outside political force," adding that about 30-40 journalists organized the strike. Leading lawmakers of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) announced on 16 March that a special meeting of the NDSV parliamentary group; its junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS); and the Media Commission will be held on 17 March to discuss Cheshmedzhiev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March)...AND THEN RESIGNS.
BTA head Cheshmedzhiev resigned on 18 March, mediapool.bg reported. His decision came after agency journalists went on strike to demand that the government dismiss Cheshmedzhiev. The governing parties NDSV and DPS had reportedly voted in favor of his dismissal when Cheshmedzhiev announced his resignation. In his letter, he accused the previous Union of Democratic Forces (SDS)-led government of being responsible for the situation at BTA and for the strikes. Parliament on 4 October elected Cheshmedzhiev to head BTA with votes from the NDSV, the DPS, and the opposition Socialists (BSP). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT'S INFORMATION POLICY.
Conservative opposition SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova on 18 March criticized the government's failure to inform the public about its stand on Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The party's National Council adopted a declaration in support of the government's position on Iraq, saying, "At the moment, Bulgaria needs unity, clear signals, responsible statesmen, and a perspective for [its] free and democratic future." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
FORMER FOREIGN MINISTRY AIDE'S TRIAL BEGINS...
At the beginning of his trial on 17 March in Ceske Budejovice, Former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba denied any connection with a failed attempt in 2002 to assassinate journalist Sabina Slonkova, CTK reported. Srba said he has been the target of media attacks alleging that he masterminded the planned killing, in connection with which three other people are charged together with Srba. Srba also said the large sums of money that were found in his apartment and in the trunk of his car came from his father, who Srba said left the family $1 million hidden in a wardrobe. Srba added that he also earned several million crowns from his business activities. Srba's lawyer, Miroslav Krizenecky, said Srba's friend, Eva Tomsovicova, was apparently behind preparations for the journalist's murder. Krizenecky said Srba was framed and the trial serves the interests of unspecified intelligence services. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)...AS CO-DEFENDANT ADMITS PLANNING MURDER OF JOURNALIST.
One of the co-defendants in the trial of former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Srba testified in court on 18 March that he was involved in arranging the contract for the planned murder of journalist Slonkova, CTK reported. Michal Novotny said he received a 50,000-crown ($1,685) advance from Srba's acquaintance, Eva Tomsovicova, to contact Karel Rziepel, who was to carry out the murder. Rziepel reported the plot to police. Tomsovicova also testified on 18 March, but denied any involvement in the attempted murder. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)GOVERNMENT ORDERED TO COMPENSATE U.S. MEDIA COMPANY.
A Stockholm-based arbitration panel on 15 March ruled that the Czech government must pay multimillionaire Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises (CME) $353 million in compensation for failing to protect CME's business activities in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Lauder filed a complaint in August 1999 alleging the Czech government breached an investment-protection treaty signed with the United States in 1991 by failing adequately to protect his investment in TV Nova, according to AP, which he established together with Vladimir Zelezny in 1994. Zelezny threw the investors out of the venture in 1999, despite CME's appeals to the Czech Radio and Television Broadcast Council. Zelezny subsequently lost arbitration proceedings to CME for breaching his employment contract, and charges of fraud, harming a creditor, and tax evasion are pending against him. Zelezny was elected to the Senate in 2002 but was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in January to allow investigators to proceed with his prosecution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March)
BUDAPEST COURT ORDERS JOURNALIST TO APOLOGIZE TO FIDESZ DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.
The Buda Central District Court on 18 March admonished journalist Laszlo Juszt for defamation of character in a lawsuit brought by FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover over a newspaper article published by the "Nepszava" daily. Juszt wrote in the 28 October article that Kover used pejorative terms against Jews at a formal event. The court ordered Juszt to publish in the same daily an apology and formal statement in which he admits that he damaged Kover's reputation, integrity, and personal dignity, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
U.S. ASKED TO FOSTER MEDIA FREEDOM AND SAFETY...
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 19 March warned U.S. authorities not to obstruct the media in its reporting of the military operation in Iraq. The organization expressed concern that the U.S. military might censor journalists officially accredited to work among coalition forces and that those who opt to work independently will not be protected. RSF also called upon U.S. forces not to target Iraqi media facilities, since they are civilian property and are protected under international humanitarian law. RSF welcomed the U.S. invitation to more than 600 journalists from many countries to report from inside the military operation, but it expressed concern that the required written pledge to obey a strict 50-point "ground-rules agreement" does not provide journalists enough freedom in their reporting. Under Rule 6, for example, unit commanders are permitted to "embargo" news that might harm "operational security," a concept which itself is poorly defined. Rules 40, 41, and 43, which ban photographs of the faces of prisoners of war and dead soldiers, undermine the journalist's right to determine what the public has the right to know. RSF also expressed concern about the working conditions of journalists who are not officially accredited with the U.S.-led military operation. CC...AS PENTAGON ACCUSED OF PREPARING TO TARGET JOURNALISTS.
The Pentagon has threatened to fire upon the satellite-uplink positions of independent reporters working in Iraq, veteran BBC war correspondent Katie Adie reported on 10 March. In an interview with the Irish radio RTE1 "Sunday Show," Adie claimed in response to a question about the consequences of these potentially fatal actions, a senior Pentagon officer said: "Who cares? They've been warned." According to the award-winning journalist -- who covered the 1991 Gulf War -- the Pentagon's attitude is "entirely hostile to the free spread of information." Adie made these comments during a discussion of media freedom during a military operation in Iraq. She also warned that the Pentagon is vetting journalists according to their views on the war and is planning to take control of U.S. journalists' satellite equipment in order to control access to the airwaves. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/correspondents/newsid_2625000/2625875.stm. CCIRAQ EXPELS FOREIGN JOURNALISTS.
Foreign journalists cannot freely work or move around in Iraq, RSF has reported. In recent weeks, the Iraqi government has ordered several foreign journalists to leave the country. Scott Taylor, correspondent for Canada's Sun newspaper group and editor of the military magazine "Esprit de Corps," was expelled on 9 March after being accused of spying for Israel. Teresa Bo of the Spanish daily "La Razon" was deported on 12 March for allegedly using "inappropriate" words to describe the Iraqi government. The next day, David Filipov of "The Boston Globe" was deported to Jordan because he used a satellite telephone from his hotel room in violation of Iraqi government restrictions. CCCOALITION LEAFLET CAMPAIGN CONTINUES FULL FORCE.
U.S.-led coalition aircraft were continuing to drop leaflets on Iraq instructing Iraqi forces and civilians on a variety of topics, according to press releases published on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil/). CENTCOM announced in a 10 March statement that coalition aircraft had dropped approximately 900,000 "informational" leaflets over southern Iraq near the city of Basra that day, stating, "The drops were part of an ongoing effort to protect Iraqi lives and deter Iraqi aggression by providing relevant, factual information to both Iraqi civilians and military troops." Eight different leaflets were dropped with messages including information on coalition radio broadcasts and warnings to troops against using weapons of mass destruction against U.S.-led forces. CENTCOM announced on 12 March that another 120,000 leaflets were dropped in roughly the same area. Coalition forces have dropped millions of leaflets over several areas in southern Iraq since the current leaflet campaign began in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)
IMPRISONED JOURNALIST'S DAUGHTER GRANTED POLITICAL ASYLUM IN U.S....
Dinisa Duvanova, daughter of imprisoned independent journalist Sergei Duvanov, has been granted political asylum in the United States, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 March. Duvanov's 3 1/2-year prison sentence stemming from a rape conviction that his supporters say was politically motivated was confirmed by an appeals court the same day. Duvanova is currently studying in the United States. She said in a letter quoted by Interfax that she does not intend to request permanent-resident status. She said she applied for asylum when the political nature of her father's arrest became evident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)...AS PROSECUTOR SAYS DUVANOV CASE NOT POLITICALLY MOTIVATED.
Almaty Oblast Prosecutor Dzhaksylyk Baytukbaev told a news conference in Almaty on 12 March that there were no political motives behind the rape conviction that led to journalist Duvanov being sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Supporters of the journalist, who insists he is innocent, assert that he was charged as part of an effort to silence the independent media in Kazakhstan. Baytukbaev claimed that expert examinations carried out by the court confirmed Duvanov's guilt, but defense lawyers have sought to discredit the findings. A higher court bolstered the charge against Duvanov from simple rape to knowingly raping a minor, but left the sentence unchanged. According to Baytukbaev, this was a humane act. The mother of the alleged victim and her lawyers complained at the news conference that Duvanov's sentence had not been increased and said they are considering filing a civil suit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March)
SECURITY SERVICES INTERROGATE RADIO LISTENERS.
The Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) is interrogating people who listened to and participated in the "Hyde Park" talk show broadcast by Chisinau's Antena C radio station, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Last week, two participants told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service that they were summoned by the SIS and questioned about their participation in the show. One of them said he was threatened and told to stop criticizing the authorities. According to RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau, the SIS continued to question listeners on 17 March. The civic organization Lawyers for Human Rights said the interrogations are illegal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)
PROPOSED MEDIA LEGISLATION ATTRACTS CRITICISM.
Speaking to a conference entitled "Media on the Eve of Elections" in Moscow on 17 March, Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov explained the proposed presidential package of amendments to laws regulating media behavior during elections, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 March. However, Veshnyakov largely failed to win new support for the legislation, and, according to the daily, the proposals attracted negative comments from Duma deputies. "Everything should be done to prevent the passage of these amendments," said Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko). "Otherwise, the media -- particularly any newspapers and television channels that do not act in accordance with the plans of the authorities -- will not stand a chance." Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (People's Deputy) commented, "We might put the media in a position where they will be unable to offer objective commentary, because this might be viewed as covert campaigning." According to "Vremya-MN," TsIK member Sergei Bolshakov, who also spoke at the conference, argued that the new legislation is designed to combat "black public relations" and not to hamper the press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)MORE INTRIGUES IN RUSSIAN TELEVISION.
TVS Information Broadcasting Service Director Grigorii Krichevskii will tender his resignation, lenta.ru reported on 17 March, citing TVS Press Secretary Tatyana Blinova. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 March, Krichevskii has been accused by his fellow journalists of being in constant contact with "shareholders and [presidential administration head Aleksandr] Voloshin." Seven journalists, including "Kukly" creator Viktor Shenderovich, signed a letter to TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev declaring that they could no longer work with someone of Krichevskii's "professional and personal qualities." The daily reported that the letter was given to Kiselev three weeks ago, but Kiselev "for unclear reasons" denied that it existed. Russian media also reported on 17 March that the station's financial situation is not promising, and its creditors could decide to declare the project unsuccessful and close it down. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)REN-TV TO PASS INTO PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA HOLDING?
In the "near future," President Vladimir Putin will obtain a majority stake in REN-TV, which is currently dominated by the state electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES), according to the 11-17 March edition of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations' "Russian Authorities v. the Media," which cited an APN report. REN-TV is set to become a "key component" of a reported presidential media-holding company, which will be in place by the December parliamentary elections, the report alleged. According to APN, either NTV or TNT might also become part of the presidential media-holding company. Aleksandr Bespalov, a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the newly appointed director of Gazprom's Information-Policy Department, is reported to be managing this alleged media project. CCSARATOV JOURNALIST SCHOOLED IN HARD KNOCKS.
Journalist Aleksandr Krutov of the Saratov-based newspaper "Bogatei" was attacked in front of his home on 13 March, VolgaInform reported on 14 March. According to the agency, the newspaper's editorial staff has no doubt the attack was connected with Krutov's professional activities. Krutov told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 17 March that he is also convinced the attack is connected to his work. At the time of the attack, Krutov was working on a story questioning the validity of the regional prosecutor's case against Sergei Shuvalov, the chairman of the Saratov Oblast Duma, who allegedly caused a public disturbance on a flight from Beijing to Moscow. Krutov recently began receiving offers of money not to print the article, CPJ reported. At the time of the attack on Krutov, the article had not yet been published. A similar incident occurred in 1998, but a criminal investigation was never launched in that case. In 1996, Krutov was repeatedly hit over the head with a pipe in apparent response to an article entitled "The Chechen Syndrome in the Volga Region" that appeared in "Moskovskie novosti." CCTV REPORTER ATTACKED IN ROSTOV-NA-DONU.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned a violent 18 March attack on Olga Kobzeva, a journalist with the local branch of RTR in the southern Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu. According to Russian sources, an unknown assailant slashed the journalist's face with a broken bottle on 18 March. Nothing was taken from her, RIA-Novosti reported. Kobzeva underwent surgery in a local hospital where she remains in stable condition. The journalist's colleagues believe that Kobzeva, known for her local investigative reporting, was attacked in retaliation for her work. Station General Director Nikolai Chebotarev told CPJ that the attack might be connected to Kobzeva's most recent report about the allegedly illegal privatization of local buildings. After that report aired, anonymous individuals threatened Kobzeva and the station and urged them to air a retraction, Russian media reported. Police have launched an investigation into the assault. The Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow has instructed the regional prosecutor's office to conduct a thorough investigation of the attack and of the allegations in Kobzeva's report. CCNEW COORDINATING COUNCIL FOR INFORMATION POLICY CREATED IN CHECHNYA...
At the behest of Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev, a new Information Policy Coordinating Council has been established in Chechnya, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 March. The council is headed by deputy Chechen administration head Tauz Dzhabrailov and includes Chechen Deputy Prime Minister and Media Minister Beslan Gantemirov and Russian Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Kozlov. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the primary task of the new council is to generate more positive media coverage, both within Chechnya and in the national media, of developments in Chechnya -- first and foremost of the planned 23 March referendum on a new draft constitution. ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March)...BUT WHO IS ITS MASTER?
Maksim Fedorenko, who heads the directorate for information and analysis within Viktor Kazantsev's staff, told the council's first session on 12 March that the Chechen media are still being revived and that they sometimes "make mistakes." It is not clear whether this criticism was directed primarily at Chechen Media Minister Gantemirov, who over the past three years has on two occasions crossed swords with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. Kadyrov has made no secret of his aspiration to the Chechen presidency. But in an interview published last December in the weekly official Chechen newspaper "Vesti respubliki," Gantemirov affirmed that he and no one else will determine the outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections that will take place once the republic's new constitution has been adopted. The question thus arises: Is the coordinating council intended to ensure that Gantemirov does not manipulate the Chechen media to that end? ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March)FAIRY TALES FOR CHECHEN CHILDREN...
During an 18 March presentation at RFE/RL in Washington, D.C., Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov claimed that during a recent visit to Chechnya, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii brought along books of fairy tales, saying that they "bring goodness" to children. In Akhmadov's view, Yastrzhembskii is "a professional teller of fairy tales." CC...AND GRAFFITI FOR THE GROWN-UPS.
Chechen Foreign Minister Akhmadov, speaking at RFE/RL on 18 March, claimed that on his most recent visit to Grozny, Yastrzhembskii was "displeased" at the dearth of political slogans promoting the upcoming Chechen referendum. The Kremlin representative allegedly advocated that graffiti be written on ruined buildings to serve that purpose. CCFOREIGN JOURNALISTS BANNED FOR CHECHNYA STAND.
French writer Andre Glucksmann, speaking at RFE/RL on 18 March, confirmed that the Russian government has not allowed him to visit the country since 1999, although he said he does not "know the details" of why he has been blacklisted. Glucksmann is known for his confrontational stance on the Russian record in Chechnya, which he believes constitutes the "extermination of an entire people." In Glucksmann's view, European artists and writers see the Chechen tragedy -- and the Russian military's bombing of the Grozny market -- through the prism of the Nazi bombing of the Guernica marketplace during the Spanish Civil War. A reproduction of Pavel Picasso's "Guernica" painting in the UN lobby was recently covered by a curtain, allegedly at the request of the U.S. government, "The Winnipeg Sun" reported on 13 March. CC
PRESS, TV COME UNDER PRESSURE IN WAKE OF ASSASSINATION.
The Ministry of Culture and Information on 18 March halted publication of the daily "Nacional" and issued a warning to the daily "Vecernje novosti," citing powers granted under the state of emergency declared immediately after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's assassination, Beta reported. The same day, the ministry prohibited distribution of the Montenegrin daily "Dan" in Serbia on similar grounds. The ministry on 17 March ordered the Valjevo-based television station Mars to stop broadcasting. Also on 17 March, the ministry halted publication of the weekly "Identitet," which published an article about the planned assassination of Djindjic on 11 March, one day before it occurred, according to Deutsche Welle's "Monitor." The ministry said the publications were shut down due to the presentation of unspecified facts and information regarding the ongoing investigation into the assassination, in addition to the publication of articles critical of the state of emergency. Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic defended the move, saying he thought the government has sufficiently explained what a state of emergency means for work in the media, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
OSCE HOLDS ROUNDTABLE ON YOUTH ACCESS TO INFORMATION.
Problems of young people relating to access to information and the media were the main theme of a 12-13 March Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) roundtable in the Rasht Valley in eastern Tajikistan, the OSCE reported. Education Department officials from Tajikabad, Nurobod (formerly, Darband), Djirgital, and Garm districts; youth organization representatives; and Rasht Valley school administrators and pupils met in the local OSCE office. There was discussion of a Norwegian government-funded OSCE project to distribute the newspaper "Gulchin" to 324 schools in the Rasht Valley. It was noted that young people comprise 70 percent of the Rasht Valley population and that the national media do not take into account the interests of the rural population. CC
GLOBAL WATCHDOG CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO HALT CENSORSHIP.
Human Rights Watch on 17 March urged President Leonid Kuchma's administration to stop its informal censorship of televised news reports, AP reported. In a report released the same day, the group said media outlets that criticize government officials have faced "arbitrary tax inspections, denial and revocation of licenses on technicalities, and crippling libel suits." Journalists and opposition lawmakers have accused Kuchma's administration of sending weekly memos to senior news editors over the past several months telling them what events to report and how. The chief of the presidential administration's information-policy department, Serhiy Vasilyev, denied the accusations. The office distributes only press releases intended to advise journalists about events in which government officials will participate, Vasilyev said. Human Rights Watch called on the Ukrainian government to invite a UN commission to look into the protection of media freedoms. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March)KYIV TO GET NEW 'VOICE.'
The launch of a new radio station called Kyiv Voice was announced at a 14 March press conference hosted by the Kyiv mayor's office, the 11-17 March Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations' "CIS Authorities v. the Press" reported. Oleksandr Krivosheenko, the former head of the informational-analytical section of the Kyiv city main directorate for media relations, will head up the new station. CCLUHANSK JOURNALISTS VISIT U.S....
A group of eight journalists discussed the challenges of working as reporters in the eastern province of Luhansk at an RFE/RL briefing in Washington, D.C., on 12 March. The delegation included Serhiy Davydov, editor in chief of the business newspaper "Hryvnia-Plus"; Olga Drygoda, editor in chief of the health publication "Bud' Zdorov, Luchanchyn"; Nina Gasanova, general director of "Antatsytovskyy News"; Vyacheslav Husakov, a correspondent for the newspaper "Ekspress-Klub"; Oleksandr Grechanyk, a radio commentator for the Luhansk Oblast State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company; and Lidiya Prokhvatilova, editor in chief of the newspaper "Kreminshchyna." CC...COMPLAIN ABOUT BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT...
Oleksandr Pankov, editor in chief of the newspaper "Nasha Hazeta" and head of the regional branch of Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, noted that newspapers in Ukraine obtain only 20 percent of their income from advertisements, unlike their U.S. counterparts, who depend on advertising to pay the bills. Because of Ukraine's weak economy, however, newspapers cannot raise newsstand prices whenever costs -- such as the price of imported newsprint -- go up. The subscriber base for newspapers has also been eroded as a result of Ukraine's economic decline, Pankov said. Business-newspaper editor Davydov noted that the Ukrainian media face "arbitrary" bureaucrats and a 40 percent tax hike. "Kievskie vedomosti" Luhansk correspondent Natalia Kononova observed that it might be useful for five or six local papers to organize cooperative ventures to share in ad revenue. CC...AND POLITICAL PRESSURE.
Advertising revenue increases only around the time of national elections, according to "Kievskie vedomosti" Luhansk correspondent Kononova. Kononova, who began working for the national newspaper in 1997 after her predecessor perished in still-unexplained circumstances related to his journalistic work, said that regional newspapers tend to be more dependent on the local authorities that either own or heavily subsidize many media outlets. She said the "merger between government and private property" is most evident there. Radio reporter Grechanyk observed that state-funded media outlets basically work for one political party. As several journalists noted in response to questions about journalistic independence, if you work for a government-financed media outlet, "there are certain obligations, [and] you are not going to criticize your owner." Put another way, "every journalist has as much freedom as he or she can bear." "Kreminshchyna" Editor in Chief Prokhvatilova believes that small papers are "closest to their readers," since rural residents can simply approach a reporter and say, "You did not write the truth." CC
VOICE OF RUSSIA BEAMED ACROSS UKRAINE.
Moscow-based state broadcaster Voice of Russia on 14 March launched programming on Ukraine's domestic radio channels, the company's director told ITAR-TASS the same day. The "Welcome Ukraine" program will be broadcast in Russian during prime afternoon hours every Saturday on Ukrainian state radio's Channel 3, the news agency reported. Programming will highlight historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, as well as include reports on culture, science, and the economies in the two countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March)
RESEARCH GRANTS COMPETITION ANNOUNCED.
IREX has created the Starr Collaborative Research Grants Program to highlight contemporary issues facing Eurasia, the Near East, and Asia. This year, research grants of up to $20,000 will be awarded to cross-border projects focusing on media and the Internet. Eligible countries include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and the deadline is 1 May. See http://www.irex.org/programs/starr/. CCUNDP THEMATIC TRUST FUND.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Development Program describes United Nations Development Program (UNDP) programs. At the country level, the program supports development and implementation of national and regional ICT strategies, e-governance, a digital grants initiative, and awareness promotion. The program also supports global and regional services and activities. Contribution targets for 2001-03 totaled $30 million. For more, see http://www.undp.org/trustfunds/TTF-ICTe.PDF. CCJOURNALISM FELLOWSHIP.
The 12-month Reinhard Mohn Fellowship is awarded to individuals involved in innovative projects and leaders from all sectors of society to take part in selective training and projects in a variety of divisions and locations within Bertelsmann Media Group. Deadline is 1 May. For more, see http://www.reinhard-mohn-fellowship.com. CCSEEMO 2003 AWARD.
The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) on 19 March requested nominations for the Dr. Erhard Busek-SEEMO 2003 Award for Better Understanding in South East Europe. The 2,000-euro ($2,112) award will be given to a journalist, editor, media executive, or journalism educator in Southeastern Europe, who, through the media, has promoted a climate of better understanding among peoples in the region and worked toward alleviating minority problems, ethnic divisions, racism, and xenophobia. For more, contact email@example.com. CCNEW FREE-EXPRESSION CENTER SUPPORTS EXILED WRITERS.
The city of Stavanger, Norway, has opened a new center to support exiled writers and promote and monitor freedom of expression, Norwegian PEN announced, according to IFEX on 18 March. Currently, three writers from Iran, Chechnya, and Yemen are in Stavanger courtesy of the International Parliament of Writers' (IPW) Cities of Asylum program, an international network offering protection to persecuted writers. Norwegian PEN says the new center will monitor freedom of expression in cooperation with the Index on Censorship, Amnesty Norway, Worldview Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the IPW. For more, see http://www.norekpen.no. CC
ONLINE GUIDE TO INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT FUNDERS.
The Democracy Resource Center of the National Endowment for Democracy has published its "2002 Guide to Sources of Funding in International Democratic Development." Available at http://www.ned.org/research/funding.html, the guide offers links to more than 100 foundations and other funding organizations. CCIRAQ CRISIS INTERNET RESOURCE.
As part of its continuing coverage of the Persian Gulf crisis, RFE/RL has launched a new website titled "Crisis in Iraq." The resource includes breaking news and features, detailed information on UN inspections and extensive background information. Live Arabic broadcasts are available from Radio Free Iraq, while a review of the Arab press will appear daily. See http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis. CC
IPI PRESS FREEDOM REVIEW CONDEMNS RUSSIA, CENTRAL ASIA, AND U.S. INDIFFERENCE
By Don Hill
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).
Don Hill is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.