Accessibility links

Media Matters: January 4, 2002


4 January 2002, Volume 2, Number 1
AZERBAIJAN
JOURNALISTS STAGE NEW DEMONSTRATION. Some 2,000 people rallied in Baku on 20 December to demand a halt to official harassment of journalists and independent media, Turan reported. Meanwhile, the editors of the newspapers "Bakinskii bulvard" and "Milletin sesi," which were closed as a result of court verdicts in 2001, said that although participants at the 18 December meeting between editors and President Heidar Aliyev raised the question of annulling those court rulings and allowing the papers to resume publication, no formal decision was reached on beginning that process. Also on 20 December, Turan reported that President Aliev's brother Djalal has brought a libel suit against the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" for allegedly insulting his honor and dignity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

BOSNIA
NEW SURVEY RELEASED. Internews and the University of Sarajevo announced the release of a survey conducted in October of 222 radio and TV stations. The just-released survey studied pressures on Bosnia's electronic media during the first six months of 2001. Copies of the survey in Bosnian and English are available upon request. Contact Amir Ibrovic at amir@internews.org.

HUNGARY
SCREENING OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA ENDED. A panel of judges has completed its investigation of members of the electronic media and found that 44 of 430 radio and television executives and 1,400 staff members had connections to the communist-era internal secret service, panel Chairman Frigyes Bruendl told "Nepszabadsag" on 26 December. Bruendl said the panel will now begin screening some 2,800-3,000 members of the print media who are believed to have the ability to influence political public life. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December)

KYRGYZSTAN
NEW PARLIAMENTARY PERIODICAL NEXT YEAR? According to the parliamentary press service, on 26 December the lower chamber of parliament earmarked 2.1 million soms (about $44,000) to publish a new periodical called "Parliamentary Records." The previous newspaper of the Kyrgyz parliament, "Erkin Too," was published in Kyrgyz and Russian until 1995, when it was closed down by court order. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz News, 26 December)

MOLDOVA
INFORMATION AND SECURITY SERVICE DIRECTOR SACKED. The Moldovan parliament unanimously sacked Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) Director Valeriu Pasat on 21 December, Flux reported. President Vladimir Voronin proposed the dismissal of Pasat "without naming the reasons" for his action. Parliament subsequently named former Deputy Director Ion Rusu to head the SIS. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said his party did not take part in the session that decided on Pasat's dismissal and Rusu's appointment, as the SIS is "controlled by Moscow." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December)

MONTENEGRO
CODE OF ETHICS FOR JOURNALISTS. After a 17 December meeting with journalists, the Montenegrin Media Institute announced that it plans to draft and adopt a code of journalistic ethics due to the need to develop "self-regulation within the profession." ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 December)

RUSSIA
CPJ 'OUTRAGED' BY FOUR-YEAR PASKO SENTENCE... The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed "outrage" over the prison sentence handed down on 25 December to environmental journalist Grigorii Pasko by a Pacific Fleet military court in Vladivostok. The court found Pasko guilty of high treason and sentenced him to four years in prison, according to local news reports. Russian prosecutors had demanded a nine-year sentence in a trial which began on 11 July and was postponed three times. The court ruling also stripped Pasko of his military rank and state decorations, the Russian news agency Interfax reported. (Committee to Protect Journalists Press Release, 25 December)

...TREASON: PASKO'S ALLEGED INTENDED ACTION?... The original verdict against Pasko included 10 items of allegedly classified information, reports the Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona Foundation. Of these 10 points, five were dismissed by the prosecutor and another four were ruled out by the presiding judge. The single remaining document -- which serves as the basis for Pasko's treason conviction -- is handwritten notes which Pasko made at a meeting of the Pacific Fleet Military Council. Pasko, a reporter for the Pacific Fleet paper "Battle Watch," covered the meeting and intended to write an article about it. The prosecution maintained during the trial that Pasko intended to pass these notes on to Japanese media outlets. Almost all the prosecution's evidence against the journalist is based on a secret military decree -- setting forth the criteria for state secrets -- was ruled illegal by the Russian Supreme Court on 6 November. (www.bellona.no, 25 December)

...PASKO IN PRISON, AWAITING APPEAL... The four-year sentence against Pasko was reduced by the 20 months he spent in pre-trial detention. The journalist was taken into custody in the courtroom and will remain in prison until his appeals are considered. Pasko's lawyers immediately appealed the 25 December court verdict to the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court. This appeals process may take up to one year, according to the Bellona Foundation. (www.bellona.no, 25 December)

...ADVISED TO SEEK PRESIDENTIAL PARDON. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 21 December, newly elected Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov expressed his support for former military journalist Grigorii Pasko. He said if Pasko were given any sentence that required a prison term, he would advise Pasko to seek a pardon from President Putin. Mironov added that he personally would support such a petition. In addition, in a television interview on 28 December, Mironov said he was willing to meet with human rights and environmental activists on the Pasko case. Mironov said that problems related to Russia's ecological security are very acute and should discussed "loudly and openly." He added that, in the context of ecological security, he is ready to discuss "concrete steps to help Pasko." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December and 4 January)

U.S., GERMANY PROTEST PASKO SENTENCE... U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told Ekho Moskvy radio on 27 December that Washington is "very attentive to the opinion of Russian human rights activists that [military journalist Grigorii] Pasko's case might be politically motivated and that accusations against him are unfair, because in reality Pasko wanted nothing more than to protect the environment." On 26 December, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told ORT that his country supports the European Union's call to review the decision. Fischer said Pasko's trial is evidence of the unfavorable situation regarding the mass media and human rights in Russia. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the prosecution in the trial told Interfax on 25 December that it considers the verdict "too soft," and will file an appeal to the Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)

...AS LOCAL ELITE GATHER IN VLADIVOSTOK TO SHOW SUPPORT. On 3 January, Sergei Ivashchenko, the head of the Vladivostok Committee for Grigorii Pasko's Defense, organized a meeting attended by representatives of public organizations, mass media groups, political parties and movements, as well as members of the State Duma and regional and municipal parliaments, Russian agencies reported the same day. The committee adopted an appeal to the Russian president, the prosecutor-general, the Supreme Court, Russian citizens, and political parties, in which it urged the president "to curb the special services that are mocking the law," and demanded that a verdict of not guilty be handed down to Pasko, as was earlier done in the case of naval officer and environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin. In addition, Ivashchenko announced that on 10 January the committee plans to picket the building of the Pacific Fleet security department, the Pacific Military Prosecutor's Office, and the Pacific Fleet court, regions.ru reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)

PASKO TRIAL: 'ILLUSION COLLAPSED.' Yelena Bonner, widow of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Nikitin, an environmentalist who was acquitted of treason for his exposure of hazardous nuclear-waste disposal, were among those who signed a Moscow Helsinki Group protest concerning the Pasko case. It said of the Pasko trial that, "Today an illusion collapsed, showing the true price of freedom in Russia." ("The Wall Street Journal Europe," 28 December)

DUMA PASSES BILL BANNING TERRORIST PROPAGANDA... Also on 20 December, deputies approved on first reading a bill amending Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media and the law for combating terrorism that will forbid the dissemination of propaganda for terrorism and extremism through the mass media. Although the bill was supported by a huge margin, with some 371 votes in favor and only four against, some legislators said the bill will require "serious work" before the second reading, according to polit.ru. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

...GIVES FOREIGN-OWNED TV COMPANIES A BREAK... Another bill amending the Law on Mass Media was also passed in its first, second, and third readings -- all on the same day. Under the bill, television companies that were registered prior to 4 August 2000 can have more than 50 percent foreign ownership, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 20 December, legislators approved the Administrative Code, which they had approved earlier but was rejected by President Putin, polit.ru reported. The new version takes into account the president's objections. If signed into law, it will come into effect on 1 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST NTV HALTED... A Moscow arbitration court has closed the bankruptcy case against NTV, Interfax reported on 25 December, citing an NTV press release. According to the press release, the court did not find any evidence of the company's insolvency because it has fully paid its debts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December)

...AND BEREZOVSKY NEWSPAPER LOSES SUIT TO FSB. The Russian Supreme Court ruled on 25 December that "Novye izvestiya" and its reporter, Valerii Yakov, must publish a retraction of previously published materials about FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. The newspaper and Yakov also must pay Patrushev 4,000 rubles ($133) and 1,000 rubles, respectively, in moral damages. Yakov's article reportedly contained false information about Patrushev's handling of antiterrorist operations in the North Caucasus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December)

JOURNALIST GIVEN SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR LIBEL. On 20 December, a Belgorod court sentenced Olga Kitova, a reporter for the paper "Belgorodskaya pravda", to a 2.5-year suspended sentence, as well as a 20,000 rouble fine, for libel. In a series of articles, Kitova maintained that a rape case involving six students at a local institute had been fabricated by local officials. (Glasnost Defense Fund, 24 December)

JOURNALISTS ATTACKED IN SEVEN AREAS. According to the Glasnost Defense Fund, journalists have been attacked in December in seven areas of the country: Volgograd, Vladikavkaz, Smolensk, Moscow Oblast, Yakutia, Moscow, and Saratov. In these cases, there is reason to believe that the journalists were attacked in connection with their professional activities. (Glasnost Defense Fund, 24 December)

ARQUETTE, NELSON TEAM UP FOR RUSSIAN 'AFFAIR.' David Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, and Emily Mortimer are starring in "A Foreign Affair," a dark comedy based on the "romance tours" designed to pair lonely American men with beautiful Russian women who hope to find freedom through marriage, "Variety" reported on 19 December. Now shooting in St. Petersburg, "Affair" is the story of two brothers from the U.S. Midwest who go to Russia to find and bring home a traditionally minded wife for the younger brother. Nelson and Arquette are executive producers on the film, which is being shot during a real romance tour. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 27 December)

SERBIA
JOURNALIST ATTACKED. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) protested "strongly" the 25 December attack on Radio Belgrade 202 journalist Vojin Vojinovic. He was attacked outside his home by two unknown assailants in the early evening, sustaining serious injuries to his body and head. In a statement to Radio B92, Nebojsa Spajic, the editor in chief of Belgrade 202, expressed his bitterness at such a violent act: "This concrete case is proof that the political tensions in our state, in our society, have become too intense, since in the attack on our colleague Vojinovic, the assailants accused him of being a member of a party of the former regime." Vojin Vojinovic is a journalist on an entertainment program and is not a member of any political party. In a press release today, Radio Belgrade 202 said that the editorial staff had received a telegram containing a warning prior to the attack on Vojinovic. (ANEM Press Release, 26 December)

HAGUE TRIBUNAL SHOULD BE SUBJECT TO MEDIA CRITICISM. "People must be aware of what The Hague does. Through impartial reporting, they should be confronted with the crimes that have been committed," the tribunal's press representative told an 18 December forum organized by the Helsinki Human Rights Committee. The spokesman insisted that public opinion is key to assist in cooperation between the former Yugoslav republics and the tribunal. He explained that many people in Serbia believe that the court was set up only to put Serbs on trial, while in Croatia they are informed only about the trials of Croats. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 December)

SOCIALIST DAILY BITES THE DUST. The Belgrade daily "Jutarnje novine" has ceased publication after its printer refused to print more issues due to unpaid debts, reported the 19 December "Danas." The paper was founded after the 2000 Belgrade's October revolution and was close to the Socialist Party of Serbia. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 December)

JOURNALISTS BACK 'BLIC' BOSS. On 20 December, the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists (IASJ) expressed support for "Blic" Editor Veselin Simonovic over libel charges filed against him by 13 Nis police officers. The IASJ described the charges, made with the encouragement of the Interior Ministry, as reminiscent of the "familiar scenario of orchestrated pressure on the media." ("ANEM Media Update," 15-21 December)

TAJIKISTAN
PRESIDENT FORSWEARS 'EXCESSIVE' MEDIA COVERAGE. Arguing that modesty is a quality that merits respect, President Imomali Rakhmonov has written to government ministers and local administrators asking them to refrain from devoting excessive media coverage to his person and activities, and to avoid displaying his portrait in every office, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 December. He also decreed that his image should not be reproduced on carpets, china, or other products. "We know what results a personality cult produces in certain countries, including neighboring ones," Rakhmonov commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

UKRAINE
PARLIAMENT FAILS TO PASS BILL ON COMBATING CD PIRACY... On 20 December the parliament voted twice but failed to approve a bill aimed at combating the piracy of compact discs in Ukraine, Interfax reported. In the first voting the bill was supported by 220 deputies (six votes short of the required majority), while in the second attempt only 204 deputies backed it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

... LEADING U.S. TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS. On 20 December, the U.S. imposed sanctions on $75 million worth of Ukraine's imports to the U.S. in an immediate response to the Ukrainian parliament's failure to pass an antipiracy bill, Reuters reported. The action, which takes effect on 23 January, follows repeated U.S. warnings over the past two years that Ukraine could face sanctions unless it cracked down on unlicensed copying of compact discs, which is a thriving industry in that country. "We hope Ukraine will now redouble its efforts to deal with intellectual property rights and pass the legislation needed to allow us to lift sanctions," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick commented. Zoellick added that the sanctions will come in the form of "prohibitive tariffs" on metals, footwear, and other imports from Ukraine. Zoellick also warned that Ukraine will find it difficult to become a member of the World Trade Organization unless it addresses the issue of protecting intellectual property rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December)

END NOTE
THE INTERNET: UKRAINE'S NEW SAMIZDAT

By Taras Kuzio

The rapid growth of the Internet in Ukraine had largely escaped the authorities' attention until the 6 December presidential decree which finally sought to rein in one of the country's last remaining independent media outlets. The Internet had become "the most mobile medium and the least vulnerable to censorship," according to the prestigious weekly, "Zerkalo Nedeli/Tserkalo Tyzhnia."

Internet use in Ukraine has increased fivefold since 1999. From 2000 to 2001, it jumped by 30 to 40 percent. In recent years, computer prices have dropped, since 85 percent of all computers sold in Ukraine are now assembled domestically. In 2001, 400,000 personal computers were sold (an annual increase of 22-25 percent) plus 10,000 computer notebooks (an annual increase of 60 percent). Due to increased competition among Ukraine's 260 Internet service providers -- which also increased their revenues through higher volume of Internet advertisements -- the cost of Internet connection has dropped dramatically. Add to that, cheap pirated software and cheaper computers. All in all, the Internet is more affordable and accessible in Ukraine.

Not surprisingly, Internet usage is most frequent in large cities, particularly Kyiv, which accounts for half of the Internet use, and eastern Ukraine. Lviv represents the only relatively large Internet use in the western part of the country. Rural areas and small towns suffer from more frequent electricity cuts, fewer computer terminals, and worse telecommunications infrastructure. Of the 18,301 websites registered in Ukraine as of April 2001, 5,772 were in Kyiv, followed by Odesa (1,309), Dnipropetrovsk (901), Kharkiv (722), and Donetsk (550).

Ukrainian press reports that the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) has recently hired 3,000 computer experts attest to official concern about the expansion of a media they do not control. The authorities not only feared a new technology they did not fully understand, but also were concerned at Internet use to promote opposition political parties and to expose official misdeeds. Students and young people -- among whom English is the most popular foreign language -- are increasing relying on the Internet to conduct research as well as to read the Western media.

President Leonid Kuchma was alarmed that during 1999-2001, the Internet became a key forum for opposition to the executive branch of government. As independent print outlets were increasingly stifled, the Internet was "performing the role that samizdat did in the 1960s in the USSR," the newspaper "Ukrainska moloda" wrote last year. Until the "Kuchmagate" scandal of November 2000, authorities were unperturbed by the Internet because its audience was limited -- compared to the broadcast and print media controlled by them and their oligarch allies. Only in 2001 did the executive branch of the Ukrainian government establish its own website (www.kuchma.gov.ua).

The main Internet site to seize on the "Kuchmagate" scandal was "Ukrainska pravda" -- launched on 17 April 2000 by Hryhoriy Gongadze and its current editor, Olena Prytula -- five months before Gongadze's still-unsolved murder. The "Kuchmagate" scandal led to public demands for prompt and unbiased information. This is reflected in visits to the "Ukraina pravda" site, which increased from 3,000 per day to 80,000 during the December 2000 parliamentary deliberations over the scandal, exceeding the circulation figures for the pro-presidential hard-copy newspapers, such as "Kievskiye vedomosti."

The authorities were also concerned that the Internet allegedly provided a negative image of Ukraine to the outside world. During the "Kuchmagate" scandal, Ukraine's international image indeed drastically worsened. But the authorities, by blaming the Internet for highlighting their misdeeds, show they do not understand the media's role as the "fourth estate" in a democratic society. For example, President Kuchma recently complained that the Internet was a "killer" because it was always pouring out "dirt" through "anonymous information."

Reflecting such official concerns, in 2001 a special Internet Administration was set up in the State Committee for Information Policy, Television, and Radio. The SBU is also attempting to take over control of the ".ua" (the Ukraine Internet country code since 1992) domain-name registration. This ".ua" system is controlled by a San Francisco-based networks administrator, Dmytro Kohmaniuk, through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). On 31 October, the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) passed a resolution "On Methods to Improve State Information Policy and Ensure Ukraine's Information Security." This was followed by a 12 November meeting with Internet journalists where Yevhun Marchuk, NSDC secretary and former Ukrainian KGB and SBU chairman, complained that the Internet constituted a threat to Ukrainian national security due to its large volume of compromising material. Marchuk said "the state cannot ignore a new developing phenomenon, to just stand by and have no influence on it." A presidential decree dated 6 December (1193/2001) implemented the 31 October resolution, which in turn followed an earlier Internet decree dated 31 July 2000 and five previous "information policy" decrees in July 1997; April, July, and December 2000, and April 2001.

The 6 December 2001 decree ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to undertake a range of detailed measures within one-, two-, three-, six- , and eight-month deadlines. Within one month, the cabinet is to draw up a draft law on a "National Information Policy Concept and Ukraine's Information Security." A more detailed licensing procedure for Internet service providers is to be introduced, requiring that they retain copies of Internet traffic for six months. It is disturbing to note the SBU role in the licensing of Internet providers and potential SBU access to Internet traffic in the "interests of national security." The SBU is also instructed to come up with proposals to improve its work against "information aggression and specialist information-propagandistic operations" undertaken by foreign intelligence services.

A recent example of how the SBU may deploy the notion that the Internet constitutes a national security "threat" was its 26 November house search of Oleh Yeltsov, editor of the "Ukraina Kriminalnaya" (www.cripo.com.ua) website. The court order which sanctioned the SBU action alleged that it was being undertaken in order to "prevent the release of confidential information." After the search, Yeltsov's computer was disabled. The reason the SBU undertook this action is probably because Yeltsov's website had recently begun to include translations from the "RFE/RL Crime, Corruption, and Terrorism Watch." The SBU seems to be oblivious to the fact that the Internet does not respect state frontiers. If the "Kriminalnaya Ukraina" website is shut down, Ukrainian surfers can simply go to www.rferl.org to obtain the information.

Various Western organizations, such as Freedom House and Reporters without Borders, have chronicled the deteriorating media situation in Ukraine since the late 1990s. In 1999 and 2001, the Committee to Protect Journalists placed President Kuchma among the world's top 10 "Enemies of the Press." As the authorities attempt to exert control over the Internet, Ukraine's reputation as a country with a poor record on media freedom is now likely to worsen even further.

Taras Kuzio is a Research Associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

XS
SM
MD
LG