11 February 2002, Volume
JOURNALISTS CALL FOR SAFETY PLANNING.
On 6 February, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and International Media Support (IMS) in Denmark called for an international program of risk awareness training for journalists in danger areas. The one-day "Surviving Hostile Regions Awareness Course" includes segments on personal security, trauma, medical, mines and booby traps, public disorder and riots, and hostage situations. The IFJ and IMS are now planning safety training in high-risk areas. For more, contact email@example.com or see http://www.ake.co.uk or contact the International Press Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.ifj.org/. (International Federation of Journalists, 6 February)
NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER RECEIVES DEATH THREATS.
On 8 February, the International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East European Media Organization (SEEMO), expressed their deep concern over recent threats made against the paper "Albania" and its publisher Ylli Rakipi. According to SEEMO, over the past few months unidentified persons have tried to prevent Rakipi and his paper from running articles critical of Fatos Nano, chairman of the Albanian Socialist Party. On 3 February, Fatos Nano allegedly asked a journalist to mediate an agreement with Rakipi under which "Albania" would stop writing critical articles about the chairman. When Rakipi rejected this offer, he received anonymous death threats from persons who also threatened to bomb his paper's offices. (International Press Institute, 8 February)
OPPOSITION REJECTS PHONE CHARGES COMPROMISE.
Opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament vowed on 29 January to campaign for the invalidation of the compromise deal on telephone charges reached last week between the Armenian government and the telecommunications monopoly Armentel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That compromise requires private households to pay four drams (less than $0.01) for each minute of local calls over and above a six-hour monthly limit covered by the current flat fee of 900 drams (about $2). The opposition parties plan to introduce legislation banning per-minute telephone charges, but have little prospect of pushing it through parliament as they hold fewer than 30 seats in the 131-person legislature. The largest parliament faction, Miasnutiun, on 25 January lauded the compromise agreement, while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun also expressed approval. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
NEWS AGENCY TO BE LAUNCHED.
Plans were announced that a new news agency, Interfax-Azerbaijan, will be formed. The agency will be funded by the Azpetrol company which is close to the Azerbaijani government. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS States Bulletin," 28 January-2 February)
INDEPENDENT EDITOR PUNISHED.
The Shklou District Court (Mahileu Oblast) has fined Alyaksandr Shcharbak, the editor in chief of the independent and unregistered periodical "Shklouskiya naviny," Belapan reported on 30 January. In September, law enforcement officers found 300 copies of a fresh issue of "Shklouskiya naviny" in Shcharbak's house and charged him with violating the media law, which stipulates that the maximum circulation of unregistered publications is 299 copies. Shcharbak is to pay a fine of some $60, while the court also ordered the confiscation of the computer equipment used to prepare the periodical, as well as the destruction of the seized issue. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)SECOND NATIONAL TV CHANNEL TO BE LAUNCHED IN MAY.
Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny said on 30 January that Belarus's second national television channel will begin broadcasting on 1 May, Belapan reported. According to Padhayny, there are many companies that are ready to be among the new channel's founders. The channel will be run by a closed joint-stock company in which the state will hold a 51 percent stake. Padhayny added that he is conducting negotiations with Aleksandr Lyubimov, the first deputy director general of Russia's ORT public television network, on assistance in the establishment of the channel and on the purchase of some ORT programs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
OPPOSITION WANTS TO MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE.
Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova, addressing a meeting of her party, criticized "flagrant censorship of the media" and infringements on the freedom of speech. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
OSCE WARNS AGAINST TURNING BACK CLOCK ON MEDIA FREEDOM.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has entered the fray over a recent television program in Croatia that painted a bleak picture of the country's judiciary, Hina reported on 5 February. The OSCE's representative for media freedoms, Germany's Freimut Duve, warned in a letter to Foreign Minister Tonino Picula that the prosecution of critics could adversely affect the media and journalists' efforts to report on corruption. The broadcast last week of Denis Latin's Latinica program, in which participants debated Croatia's legal system and accused it of corrupt practices, prompted state prosecutors to say they were considering charges against Latin and his guests. Prosecutors said comments concerning ongoing cases amounted to coercion of judiciary officials. Duve said it would be unsettling if such prosecution undermined the country's considerable headway in the media sector, Hina reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)
GOVERNMENT APPEALS POLICE DECISION ON SHELVING COMPLAINT AGAINST 'RESPEKT.'
The Czech government appealed on 5 February against the decision by police to shelve the complaints launched in October by the cabinet and by the weekly "Respekt" against one another, CTK reported. The decision was earlier appealed by "Respekt" Editor in Chief Petr Holub. The prosecutor in charge of investigating the complaints will now have to resume the investigation, according to CTK. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)
GOVERNMENT SIGNS PACT WITH SWEDEN ON PROTECTING CLASSIFIED INFORMATION.
Defense Minister Sven Mikser and his Swedish counterpart, Bjorn von Sydow, signed an agreement in Tallinn on 30 January on the protection of classified information, BNS reported. The agreement lays down the conditions for exchanging classified information and its protection in each country. Estonia has signed similar agreements with the United States, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Poland, and Finland, and is preparing them with a dozen additional countries, including Britain and Greece. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
PREMIER 'COOPERATES' WITH EXTREMIST MEDIA...
Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze on 29 January criticized Prime Minister Viktor Orban for appearing on the "Vasarnapi Ujsag" radio program, which Kuncze said is an indication that Orban is counting on the votes of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) in the April general elections. Kuncze said the prime minister's appearance on a program "viewed as a mouthpiece for MIEP and as a stain on the public service media," is tantamount to "a kind of cooperation" with the extremist party, Hungarian media reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)...SETTLES SCORES WITH BIOGRAPHER...
A recently released critical biography of Premier Orban, authored by journalist Peter Kende, has been disappearing from bookstores, dpa reported. The agency, citing a Kende interview with the daily "Nepszabadsag," said that Kende claims that offers have been made to purchase the book to prevent it from being distributed to book sellers and that an anonymous buyer has offered to purchase all the copies distributed to the Auchan and Tesco supermarket chains. Recently, a popular television show hosted by Kende was taken off the air by the public service broadcaster Magyar Televizio (MTV). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)...AND MEETS FOREIGN JOURNALISTS IN BUDAPEST.
Viktor Orban said at a breakfast with foreign correspondents on 31 January that he denies any association between himself and a list published in "Magyar Nemzet" criticizing foreign journalists in Budapest, Hungarian media reported. When asked at the meeting whether he considers the MIEP to be extremist, Orban said that he would characterize MIEP and other marginal parties as "radical" because of their desire to carry out profound changes in society. "I consider MIEP...an extremely radical party," he added. "The FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance, along with other smaller parties, stands a good chance of gaining a comfortable [majority] for governing in the next four years," Orban said. Regarding the government's policy toward the Romany minority, he said the cabinet's first goal is to increase support for education of Roma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
During the month of January, Nikolai Kishenin, a cameraman with the Khabar news agency, was attacked twice in the street. The most recent assault occurred when he was filming outside Almaty's central market. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, the attack was probably linked to his work. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS States Bulletin," 28 January-2 February)...AND ANOTHER DEFENDED.
Slander charges brought against Sergei Kozlov, a reporter for the Russian-language paper "Nezavisimaya gazeta," led to a protest demonstration in Almaty. This is the first time criminal slander charges have evoked public protest in Kazakhstan. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS States Bulletin," 28 January-2 February)SOUNDS OF SILENCE.
Under Kazakhstan's new media law, rebroadcasting of foreign TV programs cannot exceed 50 percent of total air time and will be cut to 20 percent by next January. Aydar Zhumabaev, head of the Kazakhstan Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters, argued that the purpose of the new regulations is a "purely economic" desire to collect "millions of dollars in duties and taxes" and paid advertising that leaves the country, reported Khabar Television. Khabar TV is reportedly partially owned by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga, who also heads the state news agency, Khabar. Zhumabaev does admit that the media "have become a very powerful instrument for political influence" and that "certain restrictions" are "quite justified." (khabar.kz, 6 February)PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SLAM PRO-GOVERNMENT MEDIA.
In a statement made public on 1 February and posted on the website of the Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan (FDSK) (http://www.forumkz.org), four parliament deputies deplored the failure of pro-presidential media outlets to provide coverage of the emergence of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), or the meetings organized in Almaty on 19 and 20 January by those two opposition groups. They also condemned Nazarbaev's instructions on 25 January to the Prosecutor-General's Office to bring to trial all persons who have criticized Nazarbaev and his family, describing those orders as being "in the best traditions of 1937," the year of one of Joseph Stalin's most notorious purges. The four proposed summoning the prosecutor-general to address parliament deputies on his response to Nazarbaev's orders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)
RESTRICTIONS ON PRESS DENIED...
In a 31 January press release, presidential press secretary Ilyas Bekbolotov denied the existence of any restrictions on the free press in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said the recent dispute between the state-owned publishing house Uchkun and the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa-novosti" was purely economic. Despite a court ruling on 29 January, Uchkun declined to print the 31 January issue of "Moya stolitsa-novosti." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)...BUT MINISTER ASKS MEDIA NOT TO CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT.
First Deputy Premier Nikolai Tanaev met on 4 February in Bishkek with representatives of 11 electronic media outlets, whom he begged to portray events in Kyrgyzstan fairly and objectively, rather than focus only on negative aspects, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Tanaev argued that it is not possible to solve all of Kyrgyzstan's economic problems immediately. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)RFE/RL FREELANCER DETAINED.
Baktybek Amanbaev, a free-lancer with the RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, was detained by the Bishkek police for 2 1/2 hours on 1 February. Amanbaev was covering ongoing demonstrations to protest the arrest of Kyrgyz parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov. The reporter was released later that day, but had to leave a tape recording with interviews at the Bishkek police station where he had been taken along with protestors. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 1 February)U.S. AMBASSADOR: INDEPENDENT PRINTING HOUSE NEEDED.
U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan John O'Keefe said on 1 February that an independent printing house should be set up in Bishkek. "We hope to work with the Kyrgyz government and the OSCE to establish it," said the ambassador. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 1 February)
PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ANNOUNCES 'IMAGE-IMPROVING' CAMPAIGN.
Presidential adviser Ioan Talpes said on 29 January after a meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defense that Romania will launch an international campaign geared at improving the country's image abroad and demolishing perceptions that Romania is on the brink of a crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Romania's perception as a corrupt state is to be particularly targeted. "Currently, the country's image is so negative that telling the truth is 10 times better," Talpes said. He mentioned the so-called two "Armageddon" reports anonymously distributed on the Internet as having caused particular damage. Talpes said he is "unaware" of any proof linking Romanian Intelligence Service chief Radu Timofte with businessmen currently under investigation for illicit deals and implicitly endangering national security. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)OPPOSITION CLAIMS VICTORY IN DEBATE OVER NEW LAW.
The Chamber of Deputies on 5 February returned the text of the law on access to classified information currently under debate in the chamber to the Defense Commission and Judicial Commission for re-examination, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Opposition parties expressed satisfaction with the decision, saying it is a "victory" of the criticism they formulated against two articles in the envisaged legislation. Article 16 was criticized for obliging any Romanian citizen to protect classified information -- even they received it by accident -- and making it obligatory to return that information to the authorities. Article 39 stipulates sanctions for the unauthorized use, transmission, publication, or alteration of classified information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)
MONEY, MEDIA MOGULS, AND LOYALTY.
Writing in "The Moscow Times," Russian media expert Alexei Pankin asserted that "the state's goal of depriving the oligarch-blackmailers of their main weapon -- their television channels -- is quite reasonable." But irked by the "official hypocrisy" that this process is merely a "dispute between businesses," Pankin adds that he was concerned about the "unfettered enthusiasm with which law enforcement agencies and the judiciary have joined the fray." Pankin said that he was unconvinced by former Media-MOST mogul Vladimir Gusinsky's or Yevgenii Kiselev's claims that "their treatment was revenge for critical coverage of the war in Chechnya." In Pankin's view, "the Kremlin believed that, having pumped roughly $1.5 billion of Gazprom and state funds into Media-MOST, it had bought [Gusinsky's and Kiselev's] loyalty for good." ("The Moscow Times," 29 January)'ZOMBIFICATION' AND NEWS.
According to "The Economist," the main state TV channel ORT includes a "pungent" Kremlin critic. Yuliya Latynina, a business journalist, has labeled the Kremlin's current media policy "zombification." The most interesting news sources available in Russia are to be found in the business press, radio -- "The Economist" cites Ekho Moskvy and Radio Liberty -- and on the Internet. ("The Economist," 26 January-1 February)MEDIA BATTLE SEEN AS PREPARATION FOR UPCOMING ELECTIONS.
"Ekspert," No. 4, argues that the main explanation for "chaotic and scandalous" developments around TV-6 is that various groups such as the so-called "Family" and the St. Petersburg group within the Kremlin are fighting to redistribute ownership and control in the Russian media market before the end of the year. That way, the situation in the media market will have time to settle before Duma elections in 2003. The weekly also argues that the theory widely propagated in Western media that President Vladimir Putin "personally hates" oligarch Boris Berezovsky has no basis, because it was Berezovsky who "did everything he could to bring Putin to power." It instead suggests that Putin wanted to get rid of NTV and TV-6 because he believes that their owners, Gusinsky and Berezovsky, through their rapacious behavior in the domestic economy, undermine Russia's international reputation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)IN RARE SHOW OF UNITY, LEADERS OF LEFT, RIGHT PARTIES COME OUT IN DEFENSE OF TV-6.
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky, and Union of Rightist Forces head Boris Nemtsov have signed a joint declaration in defense of TV-6, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 5 February. The leaders declared that with the disappearance of TV-6 from the airwaves the government has an effective monopoly over television programming, adding that in such a situation it is impossible to provide a well-rounded public discussion of the authorities' actions or of the struggle against corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)MEDIA MINISTER DENIES CENSORSHIP...
Speaking to the Duma on 6 February, Mikhail Lesin said the Media Ministry has prepared a concept for developing the state mass media, strana.ru and "Izvestiya" reported. Lesin refuted critics' claims that the government imposes censorship on the mass media, but admitted that "development of free mass media in the last decade has led to some contradictions." However, he added, "the economic dependence of the mass media on the state does not allow [the state] to leave the scene too quickly." Lesin also said that in Russia there are currently 303,318 print, 3,805 broadcast, and 628 Internet-based publications, of which he claimed only 10 percent are owned by the state. Lesin failed to mention that the 10 percent includes all national television channels and most of the national newspapers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)...AND ALLEGES SALE OF NTV STOCK IN THE WORKS.
After his remarks, Lesin told reporters that NTV General Director Boris Jordan "with a Russian banker" is going to buy Gusinsky's stake in NTV, which amounts to about 31.5 percent, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February. However, both Gusinsky and Jordan flatly denied any sale is taking place. Gusinsky told Ekho Moskvy that the "minister is trying to pass off his wishful thinking for reality." An unidentified high-level source at Gazprom told the newspaper that his company has a good relationship with Jordan based on trust and has not heard about any negotiations. However, a source in the Media Ministry told "The Moscow Times" that Lesin announced the deal in order to force Gazprom to make the tender open and prevent Jordan "from quietly taking control of the station." "Izvestiya" reported that, according to unidentified sources, the Russian banker in question is Mezhprombank head and Federation Council senator (Tuva Republic) Sergei Pugachev, who is an old acquaintance of Jordan's. The daily also reported that the sum of $50 million has been discussed as the price for Gusinsky's stake. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)BEREZOVSKY SAYS PUGACHEV APPROACHED HIM TO BUY TV-6.
In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 8, Berezovsky said that Federation Council representative (Tuva) and Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev approached him on behalf of the Kremlin telling him to sell his stake in TV-6 -- an offer that Berezovsky refused. Berezovsky added that the only thing they did agree on was not to discuss their meeting -- an agreement he said Pugachev has already violated, which led Berezovsky to confirm that the meeting took place. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)GAZPROM MEDIA REPORTEDLY TO BE PUT UP FOR SALE SOON.
In an interview with "Profil" on 4 February, Gazprom Media General Director Boris Jordan said that Dresdnerbank will soon submit to Gazprom its suggestions for the best way to sell the Gazprom Media holding. Jordan also revealed that if the conditions of sale are "right," he would personally be interested in purchasing the entire holding. Conditions for bidding for the company will be announced in February, Jordan said. According to Interfax, Gazprom Media currently includes the NTV, TNT, NTV-Plus, and AST TV television channels; the Sport-FM, Open Radio, Ekho Moskvy, RDV, and Do-Radio radio stations; and the publications "Karavan," "Istorii," "7-Days," "Trud," and "Tribuna." Also on 4 February, an unidentified source close to Gazprom's board of directors told Interfax that the board may consider the company's media assets at its next meeting in early March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)NTV TO DO OLIGARCH SWAP?
"Izvestiya" reported on 31 January that with the end of January, Gazprom head Aleksei Miller's promised deadline for announcing the price and structure of Gazprom's shares in NTV that will be offered for sale has elapsed. The daily also reported that some unidentified sources continue to name the Alfa Group as a likely purchaser of NTV. These sources note that Alfa Group already has shares in the STS and MUZ-TV channels, and that it has political connections. Deputy presidential chiefs of staff Vladislav Surkov and Aleksandr Abramov both used to work at Alfa. The newspaper also reported that Federation Council representative (Tuva) Sergei Pugachev has also "evinced at least indirect interest in NTV." Pugachev is considered to be close to Putin and the presidential administration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ACCEPTS ACCESS TO INFORMATION CASE LINKED TO TV-6.
The Russian Constitutional Court has accepted a case brought by a V. Afanasieva of Moscow, who claims that the closure of TV-6 infringes on her constitutional right to free access to information. Kolokol.ru reports that this case is part of a campaign in support of TV-6 initiated by the paper "Novye izvestiya." According to Ekho Moskvy, some 250 similar individual suits will soon be brought. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 28 January-2 February)POLICE IMPOUND KISELEV'S LAND ROVER.
Moscow police stopped the car of TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev on 2 February and then seized it, Interfax reported. Kiselev was told that the car had been wanted since 11 January under a decision of the bailiff service. The Land Rover automobile has belonged to Kiselev personally since 1999, according to Ekho Moskvy. The website ntvru.com reported that police officials said Kiselev can get the vehicle back when he pays the 5,000 rubles ($160) he owes to former Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko. The sum was awarded as the result of a lawsuit in December 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)OLYMPIC COMMITTEE TO FORM TV COMPANY...
Russia's Olympic Committee will form a television company called Sport Russia by the middle of March, committee official Rudolf Nezvetskii told Interfax on 4 April. However, Nezvetskii explained that since applications to participate in the tender for TV-6 are due on 6 March, the committee will not be able to make the deadline. The same day, Media Ministry spokesman Yurii Akinshin told the agency that the ministry will only postpone the tender "due to a lack of applications, because of some court rulings, or serious technical problems, but not at someone's request." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)...AS UNION OF RUSSIAN WRITERS SUPPORTS IDEA OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHANNEL...
The Union of Russian Writers that unites mostly nationalistic authors published a letter to President Putin that calls on him to embrace the idea of the creation of a Russian Orthodox television channel, Interfax reported on 31 January. In letter signed by Valentin Rasputin, Valise Belov, Vasilii Lanavoi, Iliya Glazunov, and others, the authors call for the formation of channel to be known as Sobor under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church. They argued that the state should fund the channel because "most taxpayers are believers and patriots who hate the cynicism and immorality that dominates television today." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)...WHILE FEDERATION COUNCIL HEAD OPPOSES RELIGIOUS OR SPORTS PROGRAMMING ON TV-6.
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said on 5 February that he opposes the creation of either a sports or a religious channel in place of TV-6, polit.ru reported. Mironov said that while he has much respect for the Russian Orthodox Church, and the patriarch in particular, he thinks that while there should be an audience for Orthodox programs on various channels, the creation of an entire channel devoted to the theme is "inexpedient." He also said there are already plenty of opportunities to watch sports on television. He added that he thinks there is a chance the "fine professionals" at TV-6 will return to their work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)STATE TV CONTENT WITH 'EURONEWS,' WILL NOT BID FOR TV-6.
Andrei Bystritskii, the deputy head of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), said that VGTRK will not take part in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, as it is content with its current EuroNews broadcasts, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 31 January. Bystritskii added that EuroNews is a vehicle to promote Russia's future membership in the EU, and the Russia is paying for the right to broadcast EuroNews programs just as EU members are. He refused to name the price Russia pays for those broadcasting rights, but said EuroNews reaches some 25 percent of the domestic television audience. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)PUTIN VETOES MASS MEDIA AMENDMENT FAVORING FOREIGN INVESTORS.
President Putin rejected on 31 January an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would have allowed foreigners to retain co-ownership of Russian television companies if they were among the proprietors prior to August 2001, gazeta.ru reported on 31 January. The amendment approved by the State Duma last August does not allow for foreign ownership in Russian television media companies that broadcast to over 50 percent of Russia's territory or reach an audience of over 50 percent of Russia's population. However, the legislation included an exception for foreign investors who had attained ownership before the amendment was approved last August. However, Putin vetoed the exception, saying it would place domestically owned companies at a disadvantage. Gazeta.ru commented on 31 January that through his decision Putin, a lawyer by profession, violated a basic principle of jurisprudence: that a law cannot be enforced retroactively. "Kommersant-daily" added the same day that Putin's veto deprives Russian television companies of the option of attracting both foreign and private domestic investments, leaving them at the mercy of semi-state energy companies when looking for investors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)STATE DUMA TO DISCUSS BILL ON CLOSING MEDIA OUTLETS FOUND GUILTY OF SLANDER.
The State Duma has included in its agenda an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would allow for the Media Ministry to close down a mass media outlet in the event that it is found guilty in a slander case filed by a citizen or public entity, Russian news agencies reported on 4 February. The bill was submitted by the Nizhnii Novgorod Duma. Because such suits are a rather routine matter in today's Russia, many analysts feel the amendment if adopted could be used broadly as a tool to silence unwanted media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)GOVERNOR PEEVED BY PHOTO CAPTION.
A criminal slander case has been launched against Sergei Bachinin, the editor in chief of "Vyatskii nablyudatel," for insulting Kirov Oblast Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 January. The governor was irked by an issue featuring a photo caption below a picture of himself along with a number of pigs. Sergeenkov had just visited a local pig farm. The caption read "Third on the left --- Vladimir Nilovich." According to "Izvestiya," "Vyatskii nablyudatel" is an independent paper that has frequently criticized local authorities. The head of the oblast's legal department told the daily that "this is not the first such incident with this newspaper. But we opt for civilized methods and defend our interests in court. How much can we tolerate? There are ethical norms." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)BOOMERANG EFFECT OF TV-6 CLOSURE ON REGIONAL NETWORK.
With a total potential audience of 80 million, the 156 regional TV stations with contracts for TV-6 programming scrambled to fill the void left by the sudden closure of TV-6, reported "The New York Times." According to Vladimir Pozner, chairman of the Television Academy of Russia, in some regions "the local stations are extremely important and much more widely watched and followed than the national networks." Without attractive programs such as those of TV-6, advertising gaps will be very hard to fill. Yet most regional stations mainly depend on ads to stave off power-hungry local governors -- such as in Krasnoyarsk and Sverdlovsk -- and oligarchs, reported the paper. The longer the TV-6 stations have to wait for a resolution of TV-6 ownership -- now scheduled for 27 March -- the more money they stand to lose -- not to mention the vastly diminished programming options. The state-controlled networks are similarly bland, while private national networks, such as STS and TV-Tsentr, offer only entertainment. One regional TV affiliate in the Siberian city of Surgut found a humorous short-term programming solution -- the office parrot found sudden TV star status, while Stavropol simply featured a black screen. ("The New York Times," 24 January)ASTRAKHAN MAYOR WANTS TO EDIT TV NEWS.
The administration of the city of Astrakhan has started to openly exert pressure on its journalists, RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent reported on 1 February. Astrakhan Mayor Igor Bezprukavnikov has accused Natalaya Filatova and Olga Dyakova, journalists with the Lotos television company, of being "unprofessional" and "corrupt." On 29 January, Mayor Bezprukavnikov arrived at the station and addressed the entire workers' collective there. In a long speech, he emphasized his achievements and enumerated at great length the number of awards and other honors bestowed upon him during his tenure as mayor. He also explained that there are a few deputies in the city's legislature who are in what he calls the "destructive opposition" and "only interfere with work." Dyakova and Filatova are following the political orders of this opposition with "their one-sided reporting," according to the mayor. In response, Dyakova said that she tried to present the administration's point of view, but the deputy mayor refused to meet with her and called the TV station's management to ask that another journalist be sent. According to the correspondent, this is not the first time that the city administration has refused to meet with independent journalists and tried to stop their reports from appearing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)WILL FORMER GROZNY MAYOR BECOME CHECHEN MEDIA MINISTER?
Interfax and "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 February quoted Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as saying that former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov has resigned his post as an inspector on the staff of presidential envoy to Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev, and will shortly be appointed Chechen media minister. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted unidentified sources as saying that Gantemirov wants that post in order to control the Chechen media during the run-up to presidential elections, in which he intends to run and which he anticipates will be held next year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)ATTACK ON EDITOR OF EKHO MOSKVY IN SAMARA.
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) expressed its concern at the 5 February attack on Sergei Leibgrad, editor in chief of the Ekho Moskvy station in Samara. According to the RSF, Leibgrad was beaten by unknown persons in front of his home on the evening of 5 February. The journalist is also the director of a weekly political satire programme, "Metabola," which is broadcast on the local independent TV station Terra. The attackers hit the journalist, stole all his documents, and told him, "There, we got you." Leibgrad has several bruises on his head but his condition is not considered to be serious. The journalist did not dismiss the possibility that the attack was connected to his professional activities. Leibgrad recently criticized Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii on his satirical show, denouncing the city budget's lack of transparency, and claimed that Limanskii was developing populist programs that did not respond to local needs. The journalist has also criticised Alibert Macachov, an ultranationalist former member of the Samara Duma. In response to the journalist's criticism, Macachov has called Leibgrad a "zionist." For more, e-mail: email@example.com or see http://www.rsf.fr/. (Reporters without Borders, 7 February)REGIONS CONTINUE TO PROTEST PASKO SENTENCE...
A picket in support of military journalist Grigorii Pasko was expected to take place in St. Petersburg on 1 February, Interfax-Northwest reported on 31 January. Pasko was convicted last December of espionage and sentenced to more than four years in prison for handing over information about the Pacific Fleet's hazardous handling of nuclear waste to Japanese journalists. The protest is being organized by Civil Control, the Association of Environmental Journalists, Memorial, Soldiers' Mothers, and For Military Reform. Meanwhile, in Irkutsk Oblast, the NGO Baikal Ecological Will is collecting signatures in support of Pasko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)...AS RUSSIAN MILITARY COURT REFUSES TO RELEASE PASKO PENDING OUTCOME OF APPEALS PROCESS.
The military college of Russia's Supreme Court declined to change the terms of punishment for former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February, citing one of Pasko's lawyers, Anatolii Pyshkin. Pasko's lawyers had asked that he be released while his case is appealed, stating that his continued detention violates his constitutional right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court. Yabloko deputy Aleksandr Shishlov reported the same day that a resolution asking the Supreme Court to free Pasko will be considered by the Council of Europe's parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 18 March, ntvru.com reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS ABOUT 'INFORMATION TERRORISM.'
Speaking to journalists in Rome on 4 February, Sergei Ivanov said that although future terrorist attacks will likely make use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, Russia fears a new type of threat -- "information terrorism," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. He argued that the defense and financial security of modern society relies on electronic databases and telecommunication channels that are open to attacks by computer "pirates." The warning is also mentioned in the "White Book of the Russian Intelligence Community" published in 1996, which outlines one possible scenario for such an attack in which terrorists would use powerful electromagnetic pulses to instantly destroy the databases of a country's stock exchanges and financial institutions, and simultaneously erase the data of the largest national television channels. In the aftermath of such a scenario, no further attacks on government or military objects would be needed, as the country would be paralyzed, according to the authors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)FSB FLOATS IDEA OF PATRIOTIC HACKING.
A group of student computer programmers in Tomsk Oblast who hacked into the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, regions.ru reported on 31 January. The directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Tomsk Oblast issued a statement that the students' efforts to create difficulties for the website did not violate Russian law and was merely a way for the students to express their views as Russian citizens. According to an FSB spokesman, the Internet site Kavkaz-Tsentr, propagates ideas of separatism, international terrorism, and regional and racist hatred. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)PUTIN' ON THE PUTIN ON THE WEB.
Internet names with the "putin" letter combination were taken long ago, often in the hopes of eventual profitable sale. More virtual Putins were spawned with the creation of new domain names (.name, .info). One fake presidential site inundates the user with a wide-ranging collection of 'kompromat.' Another site rewards efforts to move from its homepage to news or speeches with the logo "You are unauthorized to view this page." Some websites provide constant news updates on Putin's doings. One site features a president-locator with a red dot which pulsates against a gray map of the world to show the exact location of the website's namesake. Early virtual Putin versions remain unchanged at http://www.putin2000.ru/ (for election results) and http://www.vvp.ru (for an un-updated issue of strana.ru). President Putin's only official website remains http://www.kremlin.ru. ("Izvestiya," 19 January)POLICE PLAN TO MONITOR INTERNET...
The paper "Novye izvestiya" reported on 1 February that the Federal Security Service (FSB) plans to increase its surveillance over Internet usage. This initiative was undertaken by the Interdepartmental Commission for Information Security recently set up within the Security Council by FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev. The paper reported that the Interior Ministry is working on a number of legislative initiatives which will severely restrict Internet access for ordinary citizens. Internet users would first have to get a permit at the local police station before they can purchase a modem or install a direct telephone line at home. These permits would be issued after the "appropriate conclusions [have been made by] local commissions, precinct police officers, and neighbors." Article 272 of the Criminal Code on "Unauthorized Access to Computer Information" will be expanded. Internet service providers (ISPs) will be required to report the number of their users to the internal affairs departments and will have to bear the cost of the necessary equipment. Officials told "Novie Izvestiya" that the FSB initiative is motivated by the need to prevent criminal use of the Internet and the spread of pornography. ("Novye izvestiya," 1 February)...AS INTERIOR MINISTRY DENIES PLANS TO RESTRICT INTERNET USE.
The Russian Interior Ministry is not drafting any proposals to restrict access to the Internet, Interfax reported on 1 February. The ministry press service called such reports "absurd" and that the Interior Ministry "does not intend to limit Internet use by Russians in any way." (Interfax. 1 February)
TWO JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED.
Ivan Besyada, press secretary of the Lviv branch of the Our Ukraine movement and staff member of the paper "Za Svodonuyu Ukrainu," was attacked in his home. Tania Goriacheva, editor in chief of the paper "Berdyansk Delovoy" in Berdyansk in Zaprozhye Oblast, was subjected to an acid attack. In both cases, there is reason to believe that the assaults were related to the journalists' work. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS States Bulletin," 28 January-2 February)OUR UKRAINE LEADER, COMMUNIST PARTY HEAD MEET ON RFE/RL AIRWAVES.
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 4 February broadcast live a discussion between former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the Our Ukraine election bloc, and Communist Party head Petro Symonenko. It was the second high-profile political debate aired by RFE/RL during the election campaign in Ukraine, following a meeting between Yuliya Tymoshenko and Viktor Medvedchuk two weeks ago. Symonenko slammed the reforms undertaken by all governments of independent Ukraine, including Yushchenko's, as detrimental to the interests of the people. Yushchenko stressed the importance of a democratically elected parliamentary majority in pursuing changes to the economy and society. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February)CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION ALLOCATES AIRTIME.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 6 February drew lots to allocate airtime and space in newspapers to political parties and election blocs, UNIAN and Interfax reported. This was done to ensure their rights to state-financed election advertising on the nationwide Ukrainian Television (First Channel), Ukrainian Radio (First Program), and in the governmental "Uryadovyy Kuryer" and parliamentary "Holos Ukrayiny" newspapers. CEC Chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets told journalists that the commission registered 4,113 candidates running in the 31 March parliamentary elections on party lists, and 3,107 candidates in single-seat constituencies. Ryabets added that 268 deputies of the current parliament are seeking re-election. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)FOR A UNITED UKRAINE LEADER REJECTS INVOLVEMENT IN 'TAPE SCANDAL.'
Presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn, who leads the For a United Ukraine election bloc, said on 1 February that he has no connection to the "tape scandal" provoked by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Melnychenko's secret recordings from the president's office, which were made public by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in 2000, suggested that President Leonid Kuchma, former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Lytvyn might have been involved in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Last week, Moroz made public five questions about the "tape scandal" that he would like to pose to Lytvyn in their anticipated public debate on radio or television. "Let Moroz elucidate this problem with Melnychenko or the Prosecutor-General's Office, while I am ready for debates on election programs," Lytvyn responded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)PRESIDENT STIFFENS CONTROLS ON CD PRODUCTION.
Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree intended to curb CD piracy in the country in a move aimed at halting $75 million of U.S. trade sanctions, Interfax reported on 30 January. The decree orders the government to designate state officials to monitor CD production and sales, and requires that every CD be stamped with a special identification code. Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets has said that an investigation of five Ukrainians plants determined that those plants did not have the facilities to produce the large number of pirated CDs claimed by the United States. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
POLICE ASSAULT JOURNALIST...
The Paris-based media monitoring group Reporters without Borders (RSF) protested "police aggressive acts" against Ruslan Sharipov, a reporter for the Russian news agency Prima and president of the Independent Journalists Association of Uzbekistan. According to RSF, Sharipov was attacked on 30 January in Tashkent by two security forces officers who attacked and dragged the journalist to a car. They then proceeded to hit Sharipov and immobilize him before forcing him into the car. Several witnesses were present at the scene. One officer asked, "Are you not afraid to write articles in Uzbekistan?" After several threats, the officers set him free, apologizing for having detained him for no reason and without a legal warrant. Sharipov and the Prima news agency staff believe that the attack is linked to a recently published article by the journalist on the 27 January referendum on the extension of President Islam Karimov's presidential mandate. (Reporters without Borders, 4 February)...AS THEY DID LAST YEAR.
Ruslan Sharipov and his family were also subjected to pressure from the authorities in 2001. On 12 July, he was chased by security service (NSS) agents while on his way to a Tashkent court, where he was going to cover a trial. His assailants were about to start hitting him when passers-by intervened. In late August, he published a series of articles on repression of his country's Muslims as well as on the suspicious deaths of several political opponents. On 31 August, Sharipov was taken in for questioning by NSS agents who accused him of being involved with a terrorist group. For further information, contact Jean-Christophe Menet at RSF, at firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.rsf.fr/. (Reporters without Borders, 4 February)
FOUR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS FROM BELARUS SPEAK OUT
By Catherine Cosman
Speaking to an audience at RFE/RL in Washington on 7 February, four journalists told their stories which highlighted various aspects of the continuing campaign by the Belarusian government against the independent media. They told a tale -- sadly familiar in other countries as well -- of press laws and practice which fall far short of international norms, harassment, and economic discrimination.
Media lawyer Andrei Bastunets, who is vice president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, has been stripped of his license to practice law due to his efforts to defend media outlets against government lawsuits. As befits a lawyer, Bastunets stressed that the true picture of the media in Belarus today can best be seen in the telling details. In response to government claims that there are 1,000 nonstate media outlets operating in Belarus, Bastunets pointed out that only 40 of them treat social or political topics.
The media lawyer also stated that state-supported publications sport print runs which are 10 times larger than those of the independent press. Bastunets said that the licenses of most FM radio stations limit their broadcasts to music, while local TV stations are under the strict control of the government. As for the national Belarusian television station, Bastunets claimed it is under total presidential control and that the government will retain 51 percent ownership of the new national TV station set to start up in the spring of this year.
Vyachaslau Khadasousky, editor in chief of "Belarusky rynok" -- the first independent paper to cover business and economics in Belarus -- asserted that official limits on freedom of the press and public access to information find "ever new forms" in his country. He pointed out that independent publications pay two or three times more fees and tariffs to the government than do the official press. State enterprises -- which still comprise the overwhelming majority of businesses in Belarus -- do not place advertisements in the independent media. In what he claimed is the newest refinement in the government's antimedia campaign, Khadasousky said that licenses may soon be required to print sociological information in media outlets.
Mikola Markevich, editor in chief of the independent paper "Pahonya" published in the city of Hrodno, detailed various tactics used by the Belarusian government to close his publication -- although his paper has not violated the law. According to Markevich, his popular newspaper has become a particular target because it is a Belarusian-language publication -- indeed, it is the only one to treat social or political topics. He stated that today there is not a single Belarusian-language school in Hrodno, whereas eight years ago 75 percent of the schools were conducted in Belarusian. Markevich said that although the most recent census revealed that 3.5 million people in Belarus consider Belarusian to be their native language, the Belarusian government is undertaking a systematic policy of russification.
Iosif Syaredzich, editor in chief of the paper "Narodnaya volya," which is published in Minsk, is currently facing a criminal libel suit for his critical coverage of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. (Perhaps, dear reader, you thought you had found an article about Belarus which would not mention the name of its president!)
According to Syaredzich, his paper's actual "crime" was to publish a manifesto signed by those politicians who had run against Lukashenka in the September presidential elections. The manifesto declared those elections invalid. Everyone who signed this manifesto has since been summoned by the police for questioning.
Syaredzich stressed that his newspaper "just covers factual information" which is often reprinted from other sources. Although the government likes to point to his newspaper as proof of a free press in Belarus, Syaredzich said the staff had been forced to work from Lithuania for several years. He also pointed out that since the independent publications must use a printing house which is owned by the presidential administration, they are more vulnerable to government pressure. These tactics include police confiscation of nettlesome individual issues and just plain old censorship of particularly stinging critical articles in their publications.