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Media Matters: August 22, 2003

22 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 32
RADIO STATION BEGINS BROADCASTING IN KABUL. A 24-hour FM station called Radio Kelid began broadcasting in Kabul on 18 August, Afghanistan Television reported. The radio station has a coverage area of about 30 kilometers and will air news, educational, cultural, and sports programs.

IFJ CONDEMNS BROADCASTING BAN. In deciding to block the broadcasting of one of the largest networks in the country, the parliament is trying to "stifle free expression" before the national elections, the International Federation of Journalists said in a statement released to the press on 13 August. Earlier this month, the parliament extended a ban on the ALSAT network broadcasting. The decision came despite pleas from ALSAT to rescind what it deemed a politically motivated motion based on alleged "licensing problems." ALSAT TV, a satellite news channel, began terrestrial broadcasting in Albania in June. Journalists at the channel believe the move stems from their airing of opposition material before September elections. CAF

COUNCIL ON ELECTRONIC MEDIA ISSUES RECOMMENDATION FOR ELECTION COVERAGE. The Council on Electronic Media, which regulates the activities of radio and television stations, has issued recommendations for the media coverage of the upcoming local elections slated for late October, reported on 13 August. The recommendations call for editorial independence, political pluralism, clear identification of campaign broadcasts, and would guarantee candidates the right to respond to their opponents' campaign broadcasts. In addition, state and municipal authorities would not be given any preferences during the election campaign, and exit-poll results would not be published on election day. Central Election Commission member Georgi Lozanov said, "I believe that although the law does not [regulate media] behavior in the pre-election period, the media themselves will take self-regulating measures and will look after their implementation." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003)

NEWSPAPER CHIEF SUMMONED TO COURT. Gholi Sheikhi, managing director of "Toseh" daily newspaper, is to appear in court on 19 August for the fourth time in the past 1 1/2 months, IRNA reported. The daily's editor in chief, Seyyed Hussein Sajjadi, said the summons related to the prosecutor-general's complaint that the daily distorted public opinion. Among the plaintiffs are the Islamic Azad University, the Security Department of the state police, the Basij Resistance Force, and the ultraconservative "Ya al-Tharat" daily. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003)

JOURNALIST'S DEATH SPURS INQUIRY DEMANDS. The death of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, who was fatally shot by U.S. troops on 17 August while covering a mortar attack on the Abu Gharib prison, has prompted calls for an investigation, international media reported on 18 August. "I am personally calling upon the highest levels of the U.S. government for a full and comprehensive investigation into this tragedy," Reuters chief executive Tom Glocer said in a statement on 18 August. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have joined calls for an inquiry. The U.S. military has said the shooting is being investigated. Eyewitnesses have given conflicting accounts of the death of the 43-year-old Palestinian. Some have said soldiers should have known Dana was a journalist, while others have speculated that his camera might have been mistaken for a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, "The New York Times" reported on 18 August. Dana's colleague, Nael Shyoukhi, told "The Washington Post" on 18 August that he and Dana obtained permission from U.S. forces to work in the area.

MEDIA LAW AMENDMENTS DROPPED. After numerous attempts to push through a draft amendment to the radio and television law, now before a special investigative commission of the Sejm, the government has decided to go back to square one, reported on 21 August. In late July, Prime Minister Leszek Miller asked Sejm speaker Marek Borowski to withdraw the bill and the Council of Ministers began working on a new one. Miller said that the amendment was dropped because of the need to bring Polish law into line with European Union standards by 1 May 2004 when the country enters the EU. The commission was established to investigate the "Rywin scandal," which involved alleged efforts by film director Lew Rywin to bribe Adam Michnik, the editor of Poland's most popular newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza," in exchange for amendments to the media bill to prevent newspapers from owning television stations. In July, the commission asked the prosecutor to investigate an alleged forgery of the draft document after it had been adopted by the government. Commenting on the clash between private and public media interests, Jerzy Wenderlich, chairman of the Sejm Cultural Committee, explained that "neglecting private broadcasters was the bill's original sin" and that Miller was correct in scrapping the legislation, reported. Meanwhile, Robert Kwiatkowski, president of the public television broadcaster TVP, characterized the withdrawal as "the result of pressure from the private media and the opposition," quoted him as saying. CAF

JOURNALIST/PARTY OFFICIAL SENT TO PRISON FOR LIBEL CONVICTION... German Galkin, deputy editor in chief of "Vechernii Chelyabinsk" and publisher of "Rabochaya gazeta," was sentenced to one year of corrective labor on 15 August after being convicted of criminal libel against a representative of the oblast administration, "Gazeta" reported on 18 August. Galkin is also the local leader of the Liberal Russia party. According to "The Moscow Times" on 19 August, media-rights advocates believe the sentence is unprecedented and "may open the way for a barrage of cases against independent journalists." Galkin was tried in connection with a series of articles that accused oblast officials of misspending budgetary funds and that suggested that Deputy Governor Konstantin Bochkarev has pedophiliac inclinations. The articles, which appeared in "Rabochaya gazeta" in the spring of 2002, did not have bylines, and Galkin denies writing them. Oblast police confiscated the newspaper before it was distributed Galkin was also attacked and severely beaten just before the criminal case against him was launched, according to "Gazeta." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003)

...AS JUSTICE MINISTRY ANNOUNCES FORMATION OF NEW GUILD FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika told reporters on 19 August that a Guild of Investigative Journalists has been created in Moscow, reported. According to Chaika, this is "the first time in the history of Russia that a structure that will facilitate dialogue between journalists and the authorities has appeared." Union of Journalists Chairman Vsevolod Bogdanov said the new guild will become a genuine meeting place for professionals in the area of journalistic investigations, "allowing them to exchange experience and conduct master classes for 'beginning detectives.'" Investigative journalist Aleksandr Khinstein, who is known for his close ties with law enforcement officials, was elected to head the new guild, and Chaika was named co-chairman of the guild's oversight board, reported on 19 August. Meanwhile, no new developments in the investigation of the death of investigative journalist and State Duma Deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko) have been reported. Shchekochikhin died of a suspicious acute allergic reaction on the night of 2-3 July, and a Yabloko spokesperson announced on 4 July that the results of an autopsy would be made public in 10-30 days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003).

PURGE CONTINUES AT PETERBURG TELEVISION. More than 20 journalists at Peterburg television in St. Petersburg have been dismissed, REN-TV reported on 19 August. The dismissed journalists charge that the orders to fire them originated in the office of the presidential envoy to Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, who is a candidate in the city's 21 September gubernatorial election. According to the host of a political program, Daniil Kostyubinskii, "a number of pieces of indirect evidence make this quite clear." The municipally controlled channel was considered close to former St. Petersburg Governor and now Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev. The dismissed journalists have formed a new public organization called St. Petersburg's Line that will "fight against those who want to force their decisions upon voters with the help of the press" and will bring any violations of freedom of speech to light immediately. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003)

UNFAVORABLE RESULTS CAUSED POLLSTER TAKEOVER, ANALYSTS SAY. Russian media continued to probe the real reasons behind recent announcements that the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) is being reorganized by a new Kremlin-controlled board, dislodging well-respected director Yurii Levada in the process. Analysts Aleksandr Golov of VTsIOM and Orkhan Jemal, writing in "Novaya Gazeta" on 14 August, say the 100 percent state-owned polling agency did not burden the Labor Ministry, as officials claimed, but was self-sufficient. Instead, they cite pollsters' pre-election findings as the motive for the takeover. According to one recent survey, only 5 percent of respondents believe the Unified Russia party represents all social groups and 37 percent say the Communist Party better expresses public interests. Forty-one percent of the wealthiest social groups favor Unified Russia, but only 22 percent intend to vote for it. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) scored "unexpectedly high" in the poll -- third after the Communist Party and Unified Russia. VTsIOM's latest survey on the Chechen war may have also irked leaders --the survey revealed that support for the war among the Russian public fell to 28 percent, with 57 percent polled favoring a negotiated settlement with separatists (See "Leading Polling Agency Fears Government Takeover,", 15 August 2003). "The research done by VTsIOM smashes the picture which the regime is trying to impose on the public," say the analysts. CAF

POPULAR WEEKLY ACCUSED OF INFLAMING INTERETHNIC TENSIONS. Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, and Ashot Airapetyan, director of the Center for Cooperation Among Nationalities, are preparing a lawsuit against "Argumenty i fakty" for an article titled "Why We Do Not Love People Of Caucasian Nationality" by Yekaterina Bychkova that appeared in issue No. 31, Regnum reported on 13 August. According to Brod and Airapetyan, the article contains false assertions about Caucasians' attitudes. "I feel that all calls for tolerance are senseless and stupid," Bychkova wrote. "[Caucasians] conduct themselves as if they were masters of the [universe]. The Caucasus -- this is a swear word. According to unofficial statistics, often five to seven Caucasian families will move into one apartment building, and then the Muscovites will then try to find other housing." Airapetyan noted that the North Caucasus is a part of Russia and inciting the hatred of one group of citizens against another violates the constitution. Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, is ready to appear as an expert witness in court against Bychkova, Regnum reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003)

COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF BEREZOVKSII-FINANCED PUBLICATION IN BATTLE AGAINST DERIPASKA. A Moscow arbitration court on 14 August rejected a lawsuit filed by Oleg Deripaska's holding company Base Element against the weekly "Novaya gazeta" and journalist Nadezhda Sukhoparovaya, RBK reported. In an article published in the weekly's 4 February 2002 issue, Sukhoparovaya wrote about the "forced takeover of Bratskkomplekskholding." Base Element, which claims it holds a controlling stake in the company, argued that this characterization did not correspond to the facts and sought damages for defamation. The suit was first filed in 2002, and Base Element at first won but then lost on appeal, and the suit was sent back to the court of first instance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003)

BUSINESSPEOPLE CONSIDER BEREZOVSKII-CONTROLLED NEWSPAPER THEIR FAVORITE. The national newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" and the weekly magazine "Ekspert" received the top ratings in a member survey, conducted by the Association of Russian Managers at the end of July, which asked respondents to assess the quality of print media, VolgaInform reported on 9 August. Other highly rated publications were "Izvestiya," "Finansovaya gazeta," "Profil," and "Ekonomika i zhizn." Among regional newspapers, "Zolotoi rog" (Vladivostok), "Sovetskaya Chuvashiya," "Mariinskaya pravda," "Penzenskie vesti," "Saratovskie vesti," "Simbirskii kurer" (Ulyanovsk), "Volzhskaya kommuna" (Samara), and "Vremya i dengi" (Kazan) were high scorers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003)

BANK TO PURCHASE LEFT-ORIENTED DAILY. Promsvyazbank will purchase the daily newspaper "Trud" for an undisclosed sum, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 August. The deal will be finalized in the next few days. "Trud," which in the Soviet era was the official organ of the country's trade unions, is currently officially a noncommercial structure, but it has been controlled by Gazprom-Media since at least 1998, the daily reported. According to "Izvestiya," Gazprom has spent about $30 million on the paper over the years. Promsvyazbank purchased a controlling share of the popular weekly "Argumenty i fakty" in February 2002, "Izvestiya" reported. The paper speculated that the traditional leftist, even pro-communist, orientation of "Trud" will be changed following the purchase and the paper will likely be oriented more toward Gennadii Raikov's People's Party or the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Promzvyazbank reportedly has links to Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, "Izvestiya" wrote. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003)

MORE THAN TWO-THIRDS OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE COMPUTERS. According to a recent survey conducted by the embattled VTsIOM, some 63 percent of respondents said they do not know how to use a computer or access the Internet, reported on 20 August. However, the firm projected that by 2005 the percentage of the population that uses the Internet will rise from the current level of 5 percent-6 percent to around 15 percent. According to the website, the survey is the first in a series on the theme of "the Russian population and the federal program Electronic Russia." Among the goals of that multiyear federal program is to promote the use of Internet technology throughout the government and the school system. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003)

PRIVATE TELEVISION STATION ANNOUNCES EXPANSION PLANS. Slovak TV Joj Director Milan Knazko told CTK on 14 August that the station will receive some 129 million crowns ($3.5 million) this year from its owners in an effort to increase its broadcast penetration. He added that the station -- whose management and owners have close ties to embattled TV Nova in the Czech Republic -- hopes to unseat TV Markiza as Slovakia's most-watched channel within three years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003)

INDEPENDENT MEDIA GROUP ASKS FOR GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR LOCAL MEDIA. The National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (Nansmit) has sent a letter to Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov and to the chairman of the lower house of parliament, Sadullo Khairulloev, asking for tax exemptions for the media for a 10-year period and for revisions of the tax and customs laws to encourage the development of the Tajik media, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 August. The journalists' letter noted that the heads of 29 newspapers and journalists' groups sent the same appeal to President Imomali Rakhmonov in April, but there has been no response. The journalists pointed out that Tajikistan's poor economic situation, undeveloped advertising sector, and the lack of quality printing facilities are causing severe financial problems for the domestic media, and these are compounded by current tax and customs laws. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003)

OPEN SEASON ON JOURNALISTS? The assaults of three reporters in Donetsk last week are causing media to wonder if they are under concerted attack, Hromadske Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003). Eduard Malynovskyy, a correspondent for the online edition of "Ostrov," was severely beaten and hospitalized on 15 August by five unidentified persons as he left a cafe after a soccer broadcast, reported on 16 August. As with other incidents, police attribute the attack to "hooliganism." The assailants did not take Malynovskyy's cash or ID. The Ukrainian Mass Information Institute, which is affiliated with the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said the attack could be related to Malynovskyy's critical coverage of oligarch Rinat Ahmetov. Within a day, Serhiy Kuzin, a freelance correspondent for the Kyiv online edition of the regional newspaper "Aktsent," who had followed up on the story of the attack at the cafe, was himself beaten near a soccer club and suffered cracked bones in both legs and his right arm. The assailants seized his mobile phone and briefcase. Vasilii Vasyutin, deputy editor in chief of the magazine "Zolotoi Skif," was beaten with a rubber club and his phone was taken. Police have said that they believe the attacks are the work of common criminals and are not related, but journalists fear they are being targeted for their critical coverage. CAF

ASSOCIATION OF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS REGISTERED. An independent journalists' group called the Association of Foreign Correspondents was registered by the Uzbek Justice Ministry on 14 August, Deutsche Welle reported on 15 August. The group includes both foreigners and Uzbek citizens accredited in Uzbekistan as correspondents of foreign-media outlets. The founders of the group were quoted as saying that it has taken three years to register the association with the authorities. They attributed their success to a letter they handed directly to President Islam Karimov at a press conference in 2002. ITAR-TASS correspondent Vilor Nigmatov was elected chairman of the association, while Deutsche Welle correspondent Yurii Chernogaev became its executive secretary. Nigmatov was quoted as saying that the objective of the association is to ensure that journalists support one another in coping with human rights violations or trouble with the authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003)

SLOW PACE OF COMPUTERIZATION CRITICIZED IN UZBEKISTAN. Criticism of the slow pace of computerization and Internet use in Uzbek government agencies was heard at a session of the Uzbek government's Coordination Council on Computerization and Information-Communication Technologies, reported on 11 August, quoting UzA. The date of the council session was not given. According to the report, government agencies were scolded for not developing their own websites and for not making their websites attractive or interesting or informing website visitors what services the agency provides. In addition, the level of computer literacy was described as unsatisfactory in some agencies. UzA noted that as of 1 August, the estimated number of Internet users in Uzbekistan had risen to 353,100, up from 275,000 at the beginning of 2003 and 137,000 in 2001. There are reported to be 186 Internet providers in Uzbekistan, up from 130 at the beginning of the year, but most are located in Tashkent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003)

POLISH-LANGUAGE RADIO TO START BROADCASTING IN UKRAINE. Polish-Ukrainian Radio MAN is to launch broadcasting in Lviv in western Ukraine in the fall, PAP reported on 8 August. The program, prepared by Polish and Ukrainian journalists, will be broadcast half in Polish and half in Ukrainian. Radio MAN plans to broadcast music, political journalism, and news. The station's format includes programs on culture, history, problems faced by the Polish minority in Ukraine and the Ukrainian minority in Poland, but it will earn revenues from advertising. State radio's Polish Radio Katowice, which is currently training 10 journalists for MAN, has for years backed an initiative on launching the station. The broadcasts will initially cover a radius of 50 kilometers, but its founders are reportedly thinking of expanding its range. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003).

WORLD SUMMIT ON THE INFORMATION SOCIETY. The December World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to be hosted by the UN in Geneva, provides a forum for those involved in the development of Internet communication technologies to debate policy issues. Governments are expected to draft a declaration of principles of their vision for "the information society," most likely tracking the agendas of other world conferences preoccupied with eliminating poverty and inequality. As always, when governments gather to attempt to assign social missions to the media, issues of freedom of expression, censorship, privacy, intellectual property, and access to the Internet by the disadvantaged are expected to generate controversies. The Association for Progressive Communications has published a guide for groups promoting national discussions around the summit that contains many useful Internet links to official UN sites, government delegations to the summit, and strategies for lobbying national governments. (See CAF


By Charles Recknagel

The international media has received so many audio- and videotapes purporting to be from armed militant groups battling the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere that observers have long ago ceased counting.

The latest videotape, received by the Qatar-based Arabic satellite-television station Al-Jazeera, is a perfect example. Broadcast over the weekend, it presented a statement by five hooded men in battle dress and holding assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

The men, identifying themselves as part of the hitherto unknown Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement, pledged to escalate their efforts to evict U.S. forces from Iraq. "The Iraqi resistance, as is well-known, has started to make substantial progress on the domestic front, putting the enemy on the defensive rather than offensive, and its varied and frequent attacks have prevented the occupiers from planting themselves on Iraqi soil, thank God," they said.

The masked men also took an unexpected slap at the media by accusing them of covering up the news of almost-daily guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in order to help U.S. President George W. Bush win re-election in November next year.

"The enemy is suffering so many casualties on a daily basis that this news is being severely blacked out by the media to protect Bush's chances in the forthcoming election and to protect the policies of the White House from the American public," they said.

The tape is the most recent of a string of videos recorded by unknown groups purporting to be leading the guerrilla campaign against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Earlier this month (9 August) another five masked men appeared on a tape identifying themselves as members of the White Flags, Muslim Youth, and Army of Muhammad organizations.

They said they wanted "to tell other organizations that guerrilla warfare is the only way to free the country," and they warned "the countries of the world, for the last time, not to send troops into Iraq."

At times, the videotapes emerging from Iraq are having to compete for press attention with recordings from better-established groups like Al-Qaeda. That was the case this weekend when, just as Al-Jazeera broadcast the message of the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement, another regional satellite TV, Abu Dhabi-based Al-Arabiyah, aired an audiotape by a man praising Osama bin Laden.

That tape, broadcast on 17 August, announced that bin Laden is alive and well -- as is Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban who once hosted Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The speaker then linked Al-Qaeda to Iraq by calling on all Muslims to join in evicting the U.S. from Baghdad.

The television station attributed the tape to Abd al-Rahman al-Najdi, an Al-Qaeda official believed to be still at large in Afghanistan. But it offered no proof of the source and international news agencies reporting the broadcast added their own caveat that -- as Reuters put it -- they "could not verify the authenticity of the tape or the identity of the speaker."

As the number of anonymous tapes threatening the U.S. in Iraq grows steadily, the fact that their origins are often uncertain is fueling a debate over whether the media should air such messages. Washington frequently says the tapes have no news value and are pure propaganda.

Analysts say the debate pits journalists' desire to present all perspectives in their coverage of the war on terror against Washington's concern that propaganda might serve as a recruiting tool for militant groups.

Jonathan Stevenson, a counterterrorism expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told RFE/RL the armed groups hope to use the media to create an image of a growing struggle on the verge of victory. They hope that will persuade more people to join their movements. "A lot of these groups probably do exist and are sympathetic with Al-Qaeda," he said. "On the other hand, some are probably just hoaxes and people playing games. [But] the more people see others getting involved and casting their lot decisively with a terrorist group, the more inclined those onlookers will be to jump over the fence."

But Stevenson said the recruitment value of the messages themselves depends entirely upon the success the groups actually have in carrying out anti-U.S. strikes. He says Al-Qaeda's ability to draw new members comes from its stunning destruction of New York's World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001, and only marginally from messages purportedly recorded by its leaders. He said this means that if Western governments really want to cut off terrorist recruitment they would probably have to ban the media from reporting terrorist attacks altogether.

So far, most news organizations have put their interest in covering all aspects of the war on terror ahead of fears that they are allowing their resources to be used by terrorist groups. The media relies upon an image of fair and balanced coverage to draw audiences from many backgrounds and across the political spectrum.

Stevenson said the Western media have at times banned terrorists from the airwaves at a government's request, but that the results have been counterproductive. He cited efforts by Margaret Thatcher's former administration in Great Britain to ban representatives of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from British media.

He said Thatcher's broadcast ban on the IRA, its representatives, or Sinn Fein "actually empowered the group -- by drawing attention to the broadcast ban itself and, by extension, to the group. [It] actually made a government that was attempting to project itself as a democratic bastion of liberal principles [appear] suppressive."

Amid the latest flurry of messages from little-known militant Iraqi groups and purportedly from Al-Qaeda, top U.S. officials are reserving their response until intelligence agencies can determine just where the tapes are coming from.

Speaking about the tape linking Al-Qaeda to Iraq, U.S. civil administrator for Iraq L. Paul Bremer told reporters yesterday, "I don't have any reaction to these tapes until I see a chance for our intelligence agencies to analyze the tapes and tell us what they make of their authenticity."

But he said he would not be surprised if Al-Qaeda made this type of tape to boost the morale of its members and to try to expand the scope of its influence to Iraq. Bremer told CNN that terrorists are indeed operating in Iraq and some are Al-Qaeda elements.