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Media Matters: May 17, 2002

17 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 20
RFE/RL EXPANDS BROADCASTS TO AFGHANISTAN. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine announced the expansion of Radio Free Afghanistan's total daily air time in the Dari and Pashto languages from 6.5 to 10.5 hours. The expanded broadcasts will be available initially on FM in the Kabul area and on RFE/RL's website (, but expanded shortwave, satellite, and AM broadcasts will follow in the near future. "We are excited about this latest expansion of our Afghan programming," Dine said, noting that "by adding these four new hours of broadcasts per day we will be able to better serve U.S. national interests as well as the needs of our listeners by providing them with the objective news and analysis they need to rebuild their war-torn country." RFE/RL Director of Broadcasting Jeffrey Trimble said that the additional air time will be used to provide expanded news coverage on the hour and half-hour, as well as to offer more original programming, such as a daily combined Dari/Pashto cultural program scheduled for broadcast every evening from 2000-2030 CET. Special coverage of the preparations for the loya jirga, or grand council, to decide the political future of Afghanistan has also been expanded, Trimble said. (RFE/RL press release, 15 May)

OPPOSITION POLITICIAN APPEALS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 10 May, National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian said he has written to the ambassadors in Yerevan of all states that are Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe members to protest the closure of the independent television station A1+ and what he claimed are instances of biased coverage by Armenia's state-controlled media of opposition activities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)

WRITERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT'S 'ANTINATIONAL POLICY.' The Council of the Union of Belarusian Writers (SBP) has issued a statement protesting the authorities' "antinational policy," Belapan reported on 16 May. The statement cited last month's creation of a media holding that subordinated several Belarusian literary periodicals to rigorous state control and accused the authorities of nominating loyalist editors to run those publications. The SBP council also accused the government of illegally depriving the union of its press organ, the weekly "Litaratura i mastatstva" (Literature and Art). The statement concluded that the government is destroying the indigenous national culture and is curbing the use of the Belarusian language in Belarus in order to "surrender the sovereignty of our country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

SERBIAN PERIODICALS RETURN TO CROATIAN NEWSSTANDS. The Belgrade dailies "Politika" and "Borba," as well as several weeklies, were scheduled to go on sale at Croatian newsstands on 14 May, Reuters reported. It marks the first time that Serbian periodicals are freely available in Croatia since 1991. Branko Gretic, who heads the Tisak newspaper distribution agency, said that he expects that only "insignificant quantities" of the Serbian periodicals will be sold. Belgrade weeklies have long been available in much of the rest of Europe, but not the dailies. The independent daily "Danas," for example, cannot be bought at international newsstands in Germany, which is home to a large number of people from former Yugoslavia. The only Serbian daily readily available throughout Western and Central Europe is "Vesti," which is published near Frankfurt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

TELEVISION DIRECTOR CHARGED WITH ABUSE OF OFFICE. Police have charged Czech Television Director Jiri Balvin with abuse of office in managing company assets and with the infringement of economic regulations, CTK reported on 13 May. Balvin is suspected of acting unlawfully in a transaction for the purchase of mobile digital-transmission equipment from Czech Independent Television (CNTS), where he previously worked. Police said the transaction was negotiated with CNTS before a tender was published that was advantageous to one of the bidders and resulted in damages of more than 2.5 million crowns (nearly $74,500) to Czech Television. Balvin denied having negotiated with CNTS before publishing the tender and said the charges are unsubstantiated. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail. Czech Television Council Chairman Jan Mrzena said the charges do not endanger the normal functioning of Czech Television. Labor unions at the station called on Balvin to step aside until the investigation is complete in an open letter on 16 May, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

LOWER HOUSE OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO ON CZECH RADIO COUNCIL. The Chamber of Deputies on 9 May overrode a veto cast by President Vaclav Havel on a draft law on the Czech Radio Council, CTK reported. Out of 185 deputies in attendance, 135 voted for the government-sponsored bill, most of them from the ruling Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER HONORED FOR CIVIC COURAGE. Michal Zitko, the Czech publisher of a translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," was awarded a prize on 9 May for civic courage in defending the rights and freedom of citizens, CTK reported. The prize was awarded to Zitko by the Prague-based Karel Havlicek Borovsky Institute, which has close ties to the Young Conservatives civic association. The institute's chairman, Milan Hamersky, told CTK that by publishing Hitler's book Zitko was protecting freedom of expression in the country. Hamersky also said that the institute he heads has asked President Havel to pardon Zitko, who was fined and given a three-year suspended sentence for his deed. The institute also awarded Premier Milos Zeman a so-called "anti-prize" for "contempt of other people [and] their opinions, for not respecting court rulings, and for permanently harming Czech political culture." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)

POLICE CHARGE SKINHEAD FOR DISTRIBUTING LEAFLETS ABOUT THE SUDETENLAND. Police on 13 May charged a 25-year-old skinhead with "support and propagation of a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens," saying the skinhead was involved in the distribution of leaflets whose text read: "The Sudeten[land] was German and will be German again," CTK reported, citing the daily "Pravo." He faces three years in prison if found guilty. The daily quoted a police spokesman as saying that other skinheads were also involved in the distribution of the leaflets, but that the information leading to the charge also came from one of them. The weekly "Tyden" wrote on 13 May that the leaflets were produced and spread by Czech neo-Nazis with the support of the Witikobund group in Germany. That group was set up in 1948 by former SS members and currently has a membership of some 500 people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

CHECHEN TV REPORTER KILLED IN PANKISI GORGE. Chechen journalist Ayup Paikayev, a freelance reporter for Rustavi-2 TV's "60 Minutes" program, was killed in the Pankisi Gorge area of Georgia, where several thousand Chechen refugees have found refuge. Paikayev reported on the illegal arms trade conducted by Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia with the assistance of Georgian bureaucrats and military officers. The weapons were then sold to Chechen fighters. According to some reports, Paikayev had been put on a death list by Chechen fighters. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 29 April-5 May)

PRIEST ATTACKS TV STATION. Renegade Orthodox priest Vasily Mkalavishvili and three supporters broke into the Pirveli Stereo TV studio. One of the men, Petre Ivanidze, slapped the studio's financial director, Vakhtang Chkuaseli. Mkalavishvili and supporters threatened and insulted staff after the studio resumed airing an evangelical program. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 6-12 May)

SOCIALISTS OUTLINE NEW MEDIA POLICY, LEGISLATION. The Socialist Party leadership has decided to submit to parliament this fall either a thorough amendment to the Media Law or a bill that would replace it entirely, the party's media spokesman, Istvan Ujhelyi, told reporters in the town of Tihany on 14 May. Ujhelyi said that neither the market nor the state can afford to finance three public-service television channels, Hungarian media reported. He added, however, that the interests of ethnic Hungarians abroad "should not be prejudiced, but must be addressed with fewer channels, at lower cost, and more efficiently." He also suggested that Hungarian Television President Karoly Mendreczky should resign because of the biased campaign the network conducted during the elections. For her part, Judit Kormendy-Ekes, the chairwoman of the National Radio and Television Board, described a reform of the Media Law as indispensable, as it is a precondition for Hungary's admission to the European Union, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 15 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

PANNON RADIO BROADCASTING FROM NEW AND OLD STUDIOS... The telecommunications supervisory body attempted to put an end to the apparent rift at Hungary's Pannon Radio on 13 May by ordering Gido Media, the company that operates the radio station, to shut down broadcasts from the station's former location at the Calvinist Church headquarters building in downtown Budapest. Gido Media Executive Manager Attila Gidofalvy announced last week that the radio station will move to a new venue, and its format will be changed. Gidofalvy said, "We do not want to pursue politics. We want a station that airs Hungarian music and unbiased news." "Nepszabadsag" commented by saying that "Gidofalvy has had enough of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party's influence on the station." The station began broadcasting music from the new site on 10 May. The telecommunications supervisory body said the provisional broadcasting license will expire on 18 May, adding that if no action is taken by that time, both transmitters will have to be switched off. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

...AS GIDO MEDIA REQUESTS PERMANENT LICENSE. Gido Media, the company that operates Pannon Radio, applied to the telecommunications supervisory body on 14 May for a permanent broadcasting license, according to Gidofalvy. Gidofalvy said the company's top priority is to meet its prior commitment to end the station's "parallel broadcasting," Hungarian media reported. Since 10 May, there have been two separate Pannon Radio transmissions on the single frequency allocated to the station. Thus far Gido Media has been unable to access and shut off the transmitter at the station's previous location, which staff members continue to use to air broadcasts reflecting the views of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

JOURNALIST SENTENCED. During the past two weeks, Iran's conservative Press Court has sentenced two journalists to prison. On 8 May, it convicted Mohsen Mirdamadi, a member of parliament and director of the leading reformist daily, "Norooz," of insulting the state, publishing lies, and insulting Islamic institutions in articles the paper had published. The prosecutor-general originally filed the charges against the paper in December. The court sentenced Mirdamadi to six months in prison, banned him from practicing journalism for four years, and ordered him to pay a 2 million rial ($1,149) fine. Mirdamadi has appealed the decision. A source told Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that while awaiting the appeal, the journalist remains free and his paper continues to publish, despite a six-month court ban. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 May)

PAPERS CLOSED. On May 4, the Press Court banned the daily "Iran," published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), after it ran an article in April saying that the Prophet Mohammed enjoyed listening to female singers. On the same day, the Press Court banned the daily "Bonyan." According to a source in Iran, the court cited the Precautionary Measures Law, a pre-revolutionary statute that allows courts to seize "instruments used for committing crimes." The court said that "Bonyan," known for its critical reporting, had taken its name and logo from a provincial weekly. But a source told CPJ that the charge seemed to be a pretext to punish the paper for its reformist editorials. The ban against "Iran" was lifted the following day, but the private "Bonyan" remains closed. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 May)

PEN: CONCERN FOR PRISONER'S HEALTH. The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is gravely concerned for the health of veteran journalist and film critic Siamak Pourzand, who reportedly suffered a heart attack in prison. Pourzand, 72, was sentenced to eight years in prison on 3 May and has been detained incommunicado since 24 November. On 10 May, Pourzand's family reported that he suffered a heart attack. For the past decade, Pourzand has been dependent on medication for a serious heart ailment, but has reportedly not been allowed to receive this medication from his family throughout his imprisonment. He is feared to be denied even basic medical treatment in jail. In early May, his sister reported that he was in very poor condition, and there are now grave concerns for his health. (PEN Writers in Prison Committee, 13 May)

IRANIAN BROADCASTS AIM TO SHAPE AFGHAN OPINION... Tehran has been closely involved with Kabul broadcasting since it went back on the air in November, but this is not the only way Iran is steering public perceptions in Afghanistan. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Mashhad station doubled its broadcasting slots in November and increased the duration of the transmissions to 11 hours a day. These transmissions reach nearly all of western Afghanistan, and they can be heard as far away as Kabul. Its twice-daily Dari-language news program is 30 minutes long, each time. A survey of the 46 news broadcasts from 17 April-10 May reveals three recurring international themes, four recurring domestic themes, and a noteworthy feature that might indicate Tehran has a new ally in Afghanistan. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

...ON THREE MAIN FOREIGN TOPICS... The three main international themes are (1) anti-U.S. commentary; (2) anti-Israel commentary; and (3) how much Iran is doing for Afghanistan, with at least 20 reports on that subject. There were at least 31 news reports that contained anti-U.S. material. The 10 May morning broadcast and the preceding day's evening broadcast led with the news that Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi issued a warning about America's intentions in the region -- he said U.S. actions threaten the independence and security of regional states. And near the end of both broadcasts there was a commentary about the threat of U.S. unilateralism. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

...LOCAL NEWS... Mashhad radio does carry reports that are of more immediate interest to its listeners, but even this "local" news has an Iranian dimension. There are four recurring domestic Afghan themes. These are (1) refugee repatriation; (2) news about Herat Province and promotion of its governor, Ismail Khan; (3) counternarcotics news; and (4) loya jirga news. There were some 19 stories about the return of refugees to Afghanistan on Mashhad radio in the 17 April-10 May period. This is an important subject for Iran, which hosts almost 2 million Afghan refugees and is keen to see the last of them and the costs they incur. Most of the reports are relatively straightforward discussions about the number of Afghans who have gone home from Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. Some of them try to encourage the Afghans to go back. A 24 April report that Iran is to send home 700,000 Afghan refugees during the year was followed immediately by a report that with foreign assistance the Herat Province health department is to open a clinic for refugees and residents. There is a greater emphasis on refugee affairs in Iran, however; on 1 May, for example, listeners were told that the registration of refugees had started in Zabol, and later that day an Afghan official described the daily return from Iran of 2,000-2,200 refugees. There are reports about repatriations from many different Iranian provinces, not just those bordering Afghanistan. Mashhad radio also is covering preparations for the loya jirga process; there were 23 reports about this topic. Many of these reports were either about the progress of the election of candidates (particularly in Herat Province) or explanations on how elections would take place. Six of these reports were about the visit to Iran of a delegation encouraging Afghan refugees to participate in the loya jirga process, which should lead to a new government. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

...HERAT PROVINCE... News about Afghanistan's Herat Province, which borders Iran and is governed by Iranian ally Ismail Khan, also is prominent in Mashhad radio's reports about Afghanistan. At least 20 reports dealt with Herat Province in some way. On 7 May, Ismail Khan talked to the Turkmen minority in his province and assured them that all Afghans will enjoy equal rights. On 1 May and 30 April, there was a two-part interview with Ismail Khan in which he praised Iran's contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction and called for the creation of an Islamic state. There were several reports about celebrations in Herat, such as Workers Day (1 May), the anniversary of the Afghan revolution (8Sawr, 28 April), and the liberation of the province from communist rule (18 April). Such reports may be trying to convey an impression of great happiness and satisfaction with life in the province, which in turn would encourage refugees to return. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

...DRUG CONTROL... Drug control is another recurring theme in Mashhad radio's programs, and there were at least 10 reports on this topic. On 9 May Mashhad radio reported that the UN Drug Control Program backs Iran's plan for crop substitution in Afghanistan. In the evening of 5 May there was a report that London and Tehran would cooperate in drug control in Afghanistan, and on 23 April Iranian Anti-Narcotics Headquarters Secretary-General Mohammad Fallah was quoted as saying that Iran would assist Afghan crop substitution efforts. In the 29 April broadcast, Herat Province drug control officer Said Omar Sadat said that 1,798 kilograms of narcotics have been confiscated and crop substitution was under way, and on 24 April there was a report that Ismail Khan ordered the destruction of all opium poppy crops. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

...AND SHIA LEADER. The attention paid by Mashhad radio to Ayatollah Mohammad Assef Mohseni of the predominantly Shia Harakat-i Islami movement is noteworthy. Mohseni has not become the star of Mashhad radio, but he gets more coverage than other Shia leaders in Afghanistan. This is somewhat unexpected, because he was estranged from Iran following his 1979 imprisonment by the revolutionary authorities, while Iran helped create and has been closer to the Hizb-i Wahdat, a Shia party led by Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq. "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May)

JOURNALIST ARRESTED. Bakhytkul Makimbai, who is a correspondent for the independent newspaper "Sol-Dat," was arrested on 8 May outside the Uzbek Embassy in Almaty, where several dozen Kazakh students had congregated to stage an unsanctioned protest against the unresolved border dispute between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over the villages of Baghys and Turkestanets, Deutsche Welle's Russian Service and the press service of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan reported. Police pressured the protesters to disperse after less than half an hour and detained several of them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)

COURT RULINGS ON INDEPENDENT TV STATIONS. A Pavlodar city court ruled that the Irbis TV company should publish a refutation of its article on Kazakhstan parliamentarian Vladimir Dvoretsky and pay him 300,000 tenge in moral damages. In another development, the Karaganda regional court ruled in favor of the managers of television stations Channels 43 and 27 and TKT by upholding a Temirtau city court's ruling that closed the case against them because the managers had committed no administrative offense. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 29 April-5 May)

POLITICAL MANIPULATION OF THE MEDIA?... World Press Freedom Day was marked on 3 May, and in Macedonia, a number of broadcast journalists staged a five-minute work stoppage, reportedly to protest government interference. Many Western diplomats and Macedonian analysts agree that the news media in Macedonia are often manipulated by the government for its own purposes. Meanwhile, public trust in the country's media outlets is low. In one example, Macedonian news media recently reported that an Albanian gunman had been killed and two others injured in a shootout with Macedonian forces near the country's border with Kosova. The source was an army spokesman who said the gunmen had been in a truck trying to cross the border illegally into Macedonia and had opened fire on a border patrol, after which a second group of gunmen on the Kosova side of the border opened fire. There were no outside witnesses, and the Macedonian forces claimed to have dispersed the alleged gunmen. It was the latest in a series of unverifiable reports about Macedonia's security forces over the past several months that invariably place the government in a positive light and provide a justification for the deployment of security forces along the border with Kosova. Western diplomats and Macedonian analysts, however, express skepticism about the veracity of such reports and the way they are disseminated in the local news media. Over the last two months, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski has publicized a variety of incidents in a way that -- in the view of his critics -- constitutes an attempt to manipulate the news media. More than 10 years after Macedonia declared independence amid the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the country still has not enacted a law on public information. As one senior Western diplomat in Skopje put it, "The level of journalism in Macedonia is of very poor and of uneven quality." ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May)

...OR FINANCIAL FLAWS?... Former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov says the news media's weakness -- that is, its frequent inability to avoid being manipulated -- is part of the widespread corruption and organized crime that he says pervade state structures. Vladimir Milcin, who heads the Open Society Institute in Macedonia, says it is difficult for the public to have well-informed opinions about the issues given the partial information available in most of the country's media. Milcin says the primary cause of this situation is the opaque way the news media is financed in Macedonia, which he says is related to the nontransparent funding of political parties. Political parties in the government influence the media, Milcin says, by allocating advertising and ensuring income for some media and none for others. "The other issue which is influencing [the media] is that there are threats, there is violence used against journalists and also there have been issues of wiretapping a number of journalists. So it is a combination of factors. Some of the journalists are bribed -- it's obvious -- because you have cases where suddenly overnight you have a complete change of position by some journalists." Milcin says editors often inject their own political views into TV news programming so that on one station on one day, the news will have a pro-reform, pro peace-with-the-Albanians slant. The next day, as Milcin puts it, "You have completely the opposite -- xenophobic reporting that is opposed to the Ohrid framework peace agreement." ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May)

IS THE ALBANIAN MEDIA WORSE? Presidential adviser Ljubomir Frckovski alleges that private Macedonian news broadcasters have shown greater responsibility than the Albanian-language media. "[The independent Macedonian-language TV stations] more or less keep a line in relatively objective information. And we avoid a situation like in the Albanian camp where the media are completely, 100 percent, covered by the parties' influence." The ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the PDSH, which was already controlling the daily "Flaka," is said to have gained control over the private Albanian-language newspaper "Fakti," too, leaving the Albanian minority with no independent daily. But "Fakti" editor Arben Vratkovci denies this. He insists "Fakti" remains independent while "trying as much as possible to promote unity among the Albanian political parties." The chairman of the Coordinating Council of Albanians in Macedonia and amnestied political commander of the disbanded UCK, Ali Ahmeti, says some media outlets, particularly Macedonian-language ones, are encouraging groups to undo what has been achieved so far. Nevertheless, he says, modest progress is being made, though much still remains to be done. ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May)

MACEDONIAN POLITICIANS AND MEDIA WANT INTERIOR MINISTER TO GO. Macedonian politicians of almost all political parties as well as media representatives have called on Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski to resign, Macedonian media reported on 16 May. The previous day, he accidentally wounded two policemen, a translator, and a journalist of the daily "Dnevnik" when he fired an automatic grenade launcher. Branko Gerovski, the editor in chief of "Dnevnik," announced that he will sue Boskovski for bodily harm. "This incident shows...that Macedonia has an interior minister whose place is behind bars -- not in The Hague, but in Skopje," Gerovski said. But "Dnevnik" quoted prominent law professor Gjorgji Marjanovic as saying, "I do not believe that 'brother' Ljube [injured people intentionally], and most likely it will be treated as negligence." Boskovski has accepted responsibility for the incident and expressed his regrets, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

ECHR AGREES TO EXAMINE TELERADIO MOLDOVA'S STRIKERS COMPLAINT. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 7 May agreed to examine "in emergency procedure" the complaint by the Teleradio Moldova strikers' committee against the government's infringements of the European Convention on Human Rights, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)

GOVERNMENT STARTS EU INFORMATION CAMPAIGN. The government on 9 May launched an information campaign about Poland's integration into the European Union, Polish Radio reported. The campaign -- supervised by the government's commissioner for EU information, Slawomir Wiatr -- is to be presented on public and commercial television and radio stations at both the national and regional levels. A day earlier, the right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR) announced that it is starting a nationwide information campaign against Poland's entry into the EU. Meanwhile, the Freedom Union (UW) -- a liberal party not represented in the Polish parliament -- said on 7 May that in a recent mock referendum organized by the UW in 114 cities, towns, and villages, 75 percent of 89,000 participants voted in favor of Poland joining the EU. "The organizers did not guarantee an opportunity for anyone but themselves to count these votes," Roman Giertych from the LPR commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)

OPPOSITION POLITICIANS CRITICIZE PERCEIVED THREAT AGAINST JOURNALISTS... Politicians representing the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL), Democratic Party, and Greater Romania Party (PRM), as well as journalists and prominent human rights activists on 13 May harshly criticized what they said was a threat by the Defense Ministry against journalists, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Reacting to an article published in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" about NATO's apprehensions about the continued presence of Securitate officers in the secret services and the military, the Defense Ministry said in its statement, in an apparent attempt to be ironic, that it wishes to "thank" those Romanian journalists who sounded the alarm, and at the same time "remind them that their life is short and their health has too high a price to be endangered by debating highly emotional subjects." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

...AS DEFENSE MINISTRY REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE... Maior also said at his press conference that the Defense Ministry sees no need to apologize to journalists for making statements they interpreted as a threat to their safety, pointing out that the ministry's comments were intended to be humorous, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry recently issued a statement advising journalists to keep in mind that life is short and health important. President Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said they believe the alleged threats carried, as Nastase put it, "ironic connotations," and that the journalists' interpretation of the comments has been "exaggerated." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

...BEFORE DEFENSE MINISTER TRIES TO MAKE AMENDS. Ioan Mircea Pascu released a statement on 16 May saying he "sincerely regrets" that his remarks about journalists included in a recent ministry communique "were interpreted in a manner different from what was intended," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Pascu said he realizes that "my sense of humor generated concern among my friends in the media." The 9 May communique told journalists that their "life is short" and their health too precious to be wantonly endangered by debating "highly emotional subjects" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 May 2002). According to AP, the apology reflects concern in the government about negative foreign press coverage. Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior said on 14 May that there was no reason for the ministry to apologize. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)

PRESIDENT NEEDS 'NO JOURNALIST ADVICE' ON FORMER SECURITATE OFFICERS. Ion Iliescu said on 7 May that Romania "does not need the advice of journalists" to address the problem of former officers of the communist secret police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu was reacting to last week's article in "The Wall Street Journal Europe." The daily reported that NATO is questioning whether those officers can be trusted. In related news, Defense Minister State Secretary Sorin Encutescu said on 7 May that NATO experts who visited Romania have "never raised" the issue of former Securitate members with his ministry. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said on 8 May that the issue "could become relevant only after Romania joins NATO or receives an invitation to join," the bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)

MILITARY SECRETS ORDER OVERTURNED... On 7 May, the Supreme Court appeals college ruled that the Defense Ministry's Order No. 010 is illegal and Order No. 055 is an unsound regulation. Order No. 010, issued in 1990, banned contacts between foreigners and military personnel who have security clearances, unless such contacts were in the line of duty. The order also listed categories of secret data. People sentenced for violations of these Defense Ministry orders may now expect a review of their cases. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 6-12 May)

...IMPACT ON PASKO CASE UNCLEAR. According to environmental journalist Grigorii Pasko's defense lawyer, the orders banning contacts between military servicemen and foreigners were nullified in 1993 after the State Secrets Law took effect. But a Defense Ministry official has a different view on the recent ruling. He sees Order No. 055 as a departmental regulation and not applicable to civilians and, since Pasko was a military officer, he should have been aware of the order. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 6-12 May)

SPECULATION MOUNTS REGARDING SLAIN EDITOR IN TOLYATTI. An alleged local crime boss, Igor Sirotenko, and the leader of an ethnic-Chechen organized-crime group, Suleiman Akhmadov, reportedly recently made threats against Tolyatti journalist Valerii Ivanov, who was found murdered at the beginning of the month, reported on 7 May, citing the website of the newspaper "Samara Segodnya." Ivanov's newspaper, "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," was preparing to publish an article about the alleged participation of some of Sirotenko's associates in the murder of two high-ranking police officers. In addition, the Chechen group was reportedly angered by a series of articles about them that followed the filing of a murder case against two of Akhmadov's former bodyguards. The deputy editor of "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," Aleksei Sidorov, alleged that both he and Ivanov were threatened by Nikolai Abramov, an adviser to Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin, following the publication of an article about a scheme to extract funds from foreign companies concocted by a municipal enterprise headed by Abramov's son. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, "tens of thousands" gathered for Ivanov's funeral in Tolyatti and journalists from all over Russia send messages of condolence. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 May)

FSB FOUND SPIES AMONG WESTERN JOURNALISTS. The chief of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Directorate for Counterintelligence Operations, Lieutenant General Nikolai Volobuev, said in an interview with "Gazeta" on 6 May that his agency exposed spies in the ranks of Western reporters in Russia. According to Volobuev, 31 Western newsmen have been involved in "illegal journalistic activity," while 18 of them have been expelled from the country and their exit visas annulled for five years. Volobuev also said that last year his directorate exposed 80 "cadre" officers of the foreign intelligence services and 45 "assets" of western services, including two Russian citizens. Volobuev gave his interview on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his directorate, founded as the counterintelligence department of one of the predecessors of the KGB and the FSB, the OGPU. ("RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 8 May)

VOLOGDA GOVERNOR URGED TO CRACK DOWN ON ANTI-SEMITIC PAPER. On 10 May, Professor Isaak Podolny, a resident of the Vologda region and editor of the "Mezon" magazine, sent a letter to the governor of the Vologda Region, Vyacheslav Pozgalev. He urges that the law be applied with respect to the publication of the local paper "Slavyanin"-- one of the most anti-Semitic publications in Russia. According to Podolny, "Vologda occupies one of the leading places in Russia when it comes to the publication of anti-Semitic and pro-fascist newspapers," particularly those of V. F. Popov. Podolny writes that he has made verbal and written appeals for detailed legal analysis of the paper to the Prosecutor's Office of Vologda Oblast, the vice governor, and the presidential representative, but has never gotten any response. Podolny says the paper was closed by a decision of the Vologda City Court on 9 November "not because it violated constitutional norms" but because it did not in a timely fashion "present its charter to the Prosecutor's Office." In March, the newspaper was registered by the Media Ministry under the new name "Slavyansky Nabat" and is again being sold in Vologda kiosks.(Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry, 11 May)

FIRST BROADCAST OF SOUTHERN FEDERAL DISTRICT TV. The seventh of May saw the launch of the news program of the Southern TV station, covering 13 republics, krais, and oblasts in the Southern Federal District. The channel was organized due to the initiative of southern state-run TV and radio companies and supported by Victor Kazantsev, the Southern Federal District's presidential envoy. He believes the channel will bring the district's residents closer together. The first program covered developments in Chechnya, the federal program for social and ecological development in southern Russia, renovation of the Volgograd war memorial, and the reconstruction of the Church of Saint Prince Vladimir in Astrakhan. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 6-12 May)

HUNGARIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST. On 8 May, reporters from Yugoslavia's only Hungarian-language daily, "Magyar Szo," marched to the Vojvodina Parliament in Novy Sad to protest recent statements by the parliament, which owns the daily, that financial problems could lead to the paper's closure. The employees are demanding that "Magyar Szo" become an independent company with its own financial management and the power to appoint its own board and executives. ("ANEM Media Update," 4-10 MAY)

CPJ: PRESS FREEDOM CONCERNS OUTLINED... On 8 May, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter to the Tajikistan's foreign minister, Talbak Nazarov, in response to an April 19 CPJ meeting with Tajikistan's United Nations ambassador, Rashid Alimov, and the foreign minister, who committed to reviewing a letter outlining CPJ's concerns. CPJ asked the minister to investigate cases of government harassment of journalists, intimidation, murder, censorship, and bureaucratic obstacles that stifle the independent media in Tajikistan. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 May)

...JOURNALISTS INTIMIDATED... Government officials continue to intimidate and attack journalists with impunity, even though Article 162 of the Tajik Penal Code criminalizes obstructing a journalist's professional activities. Most incidents come in retaliation for reporting on the military, organized crime, drug trafficking, official corruption, opposition parties, and criticism of officials. Since 1992, CPJ has documented eight such cases. For example, in July 2001, the Tajikistan government tried in vain to have Dododjon Atovullo -- the exiled publisher and editor of the Tajik opposition paper "Charogi Ruz" -- extradited from Russia. He was charged with sedition and insulting the president for articles in his paper. In another instance, officials from the State Security Ministry on 14 June 2001 questioned and threatened Khrushed Atovulloyev, a reporter with the paper "Dzhavononi Tojikiston." These threats were in reprisal for a June 8 article on the horrible living conditions in student dormitories and bribe-taking by teaching staff. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 May)

...UNSOLVED MURDERS OF JOURNALISTS... Many journalists were murdered during and after the civil war in Tajikistan. CPJ has documented 19 cases since 1992. Khushvakht Haydarsho, secretary of the editorial board of the Tajik-language government paper "Jumhuriyat," was shot dead in Dushanbe on 18 May, 1994. Local journalists believe his murder was connected to articles he had run on the country's "criminal and political mafia." Viktor Nikulin, a correspondent for Russian Public Television (ORT) in Dushanbe, was fatally shot on 28 March 1996. He had received three telephone threats a week before his murder. Nikulin had reported widely on Tajikistan's drug trafficking, ORT said. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 May)

...PRINTERS UNDER STATE CONTROL... The printing industry is under strict government control, with little or no room for independent papers. The state-run Sharki Ozod printing house-run by Manzurhon Dodohonov -- appointed by President Imomali Rakhmonov censors articles or publications that criticize the government -- although Tajikistan press law bans censorship. CPJ has documented four such cases, including that of the private paper "Jubish." The weekly had reported on the Islamic United Tajik Opposition and was forced to cease publication in mid-October 1999 because the Sharki Ozod printing house refused to print it. On 13 November 1997, Sharki Ozod refused to print the Russian-language weekly paper "Vecherniye vesti" after it ran a 6 November front-page interview with opposition leader and Deputy Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajonov. Abdullajonov was running against President Rakhmonov in elections that same month. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 May)

...INDEPENDENT BROADCASTING STIFLED. The Ministry of Communications and the State Committee for Television and Radio routinely deny independent television and radio stations broadcast licenses -- for example, the Asia Plus news agency and Radio NIS. Officials sometimes charge excessive licensing fees, up to $3,000, and only for short-term licenses. As a result, there are no independent television or radio stations in Dushanbe. Radio Tiroz, a local station in the northern city of Khundand, is the country's only independent radio station. The nominally independent radio stations Somonien and Potakht in Dushanbe are run by individuals loyal to Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev, CPJ reports. Fifteen independent television stations operate in Tajikistan, mostly in less-populated northern areas. On 19 February, the State Committee for Television and Radio sent a letter to independent TV stations instructing them not to broadcast programs which they have not produced. Since most stations operate on small budgets, they often rebroadcast shows from other countries, including Russia. This new policy will severely restrict broadcast material and jeopardize the stations' financial well-being, according to CPJ. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 May)

HEAD OF MAIN TV STATION DISMISSED. On 6 May, the latest victims of the ongoing purge were announced, including the head of Turkmenistan's main television channel, Dovletmurat Annamuradov. The individuals were dismissed by President Saparmurat Niyazov during a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. Annamuradov was supposedly sacked "for producing substandard programs," Turkmenistan's Altyn Asyr TV said. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 9 May)

MOVES TOWARD ABOLISHING PRESS CENSORSHIP? Erkin Komilov, who headed Uzbekistan's agency for protecting state secrets, was compulsorily retired on 7 May in a move that local journalists believe heralds the liberalization of the press, Deutsche Welle's Russian Service reported. At the same time, the State Committee for the Press redefined the functions of the agency for protecting state secrets, which will no longer be empowered to cut or demand changes in press articles. Deutsche Welle's Tashkent correspondent noted that since the beginning of this year, Komilov and his colleagues have cut 15 articles from the government newspaper "Pravda Vostoka" alone. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)

KYRGYZ JOURNALIST DETAINED AT BORDER POST. Uzbekistan border guards detained Kyrgyz journalist Zhumamidin Zhakiev, a reporter for the Djalalabad regional paper "Akyikat," at the Khanabad border checkpoint. The guards accused the journalist of fomenting anti-Uzbek sentiment. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 6-12 May)

NEW ARAB PRESS FREEDOM GROUP. A new group to promote press freedom in the Arab world has been formed by leading writers and intellectuals from the Middle East. The Arab Organization for the Defense of Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression, launched on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, pledges to defend the rights of journalists, writers, and others to express their opinions and promote the independence of Arab media and democratic principles. The group plans to offer an annual press freedom prize to an Arab journalist or institution and will create a monthly magazine and a website dedicated to press freedom and democratic issues. It plans to monitor and publicize press freedom violations in Arab countries and will work closely with other press freedom groups. Arab journalists, editors, and intellectuals, some of them in exile, created the group. World Association of Newspapers (WAN) provides technical assistance; the group is also supported by UNESCO, the International Press Institute, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. For more, see (World Association of Newspapers, 8 May)

A BALKAN CONFERENCE BEGINS IN LJUBLJANA. An international journalists' gathering opened in the Slovenian capital on 10 May, the BBC reported. The meeting will focus on the role of media and the free market in postcommunist countries. The British broadcaster said in a commentary that it is testimony to how far the Balkans have come in recent years that a conference devoted to "normal and everyday" topics like the media is taking place without any discussion of possible future hostilities in the region. Among those in attendance were several presidents: Croatia's Stipe Mesic, Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, Macedonia's Boris Trajkovski, and Zivko Radisic, who heads the Bosnian joint presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)

Chechnya: An Information Ghetto

By Andrei Babitsky

From the onset of the second Chechen campaign, the Russian military and political authorities succeeded in establishing a censorship regime that immediately screened out journalists whose reports on the war were not in accord with the official position. At the start of the war -- both voluntarily and after official pressure -- most Russian media outlets began to reflect the official position which excluded reports on the massive human rights violations committed by military personnel against the civilian population. Some Russian media outlets continued to publicly report on the crimes committed by the military against civilians. These include four Moscow-based, relatively small-circulation newspapers -- "Novaya gazeta," "Novaya Izvestiya," "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and "Kommersant" -- and various Internet sites. The issue is not so much how Russian journalists assess the general situation in Chechnya. Most reporters are in agreement with the official Russian position that it is an antiterrorist and antiseparatist war. This does not mean, however, that Russian journalists would not report on crimes conducted by the military against the civilian population. The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture, and kidnappings of civilians by the Russian military. The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.

In the first months of the military operations, one could manage to get into the territory of Chechnya via informal channels. This was the only way foreign journalists could carry out their work after Russian officials -- without any explanation -- denied them their right to be in the conflict zone. Several foreign journalists who remained in Chechnya or Ingushetia without the necessary official permission have been deprived of their accreditation or denied Russian visas. Last year, the Russian government denied Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova entry into Russia for the next five years, although her husband is a Russian citizen and a permanent resident of Ingushetia. I also know of another eight foreign journalists who covered the war in Chechnya who have been put on a visa blacklist by the Russian security forces and the Russian Foreign Ministry. They will not be allowed to enter Russian territory for five years.

Today, the Russian authorities have virtually resolved the problem of reporting on human rights violations in Chechnya. Television was the first target of the Kremlin campaign to suppress such information, even during the days of such independent TV stations as NTV and TV-6. Direct TV broadcasts from Chechnya are totally under the control of the Russian military, since the only TV satellite-relay dish is located in the main Russian military base in Khankala. The Khankala base is the command center for the Unified Group of the Russian Federation Armed Forces of the Northern Caucasus which oversees the activities of the Russian army, the Russian Security Services (FSB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) troops. It is also where the Unified Group has its Press Center, and its daily press releases serve as the basis of all information from the conflict zone. Access to Chechnya is in effect limited to those journalists who are willing to agree to 20 pages of extremely strict rules of accreditation which violate Russian law.

The Press Center of the Russian Federal Group of the Russian Forces in the Northern Caucasus carefully monitors the reports of journalists who have been in Chechnya. It also denies entry to those journalists whose reports -- in the opinion of the military censors -- contain defamatory material about Russian military personnel. On the territory of Chechnya, journalists are required to restrict themselves to the territory of the Khankala military base. They may leave Khankala only if they are accompanied by Press Center officers. There are a few journalists who continue to work in Chechnya but only after they have made incredible efforts and ignore official regulations. They do so at the risk of their lives. During her last assignment in Chechnya about one month ago, "Novaya gazeta" reporter Anna Politkovskaya was forced to illegally escape from Chechnya after FSB officers made threats against her life. She was collecting material about the killing of civilians by members of a special detachment of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Main Espionage Directorate (GRU) in the Shatoi region.

Having resolved their assigned tasks in the conflict zone, the Russian authorities and the FSB are starting to bring under their control those regions which neighbor Chechnya -- first of all Ingushetia, which shelters over 150,000 Chechen refugees. In the last few months, and without any explanation, the FSB has expelled several groups of foreign reporters from Ingushetia. Journalists have been detained, held for hours of interrogation, and threatened with physical reprisals. The FSB in Ingushetia told one of my acquaintances -- a foreign reporter whose name I cannot reveal for obvious reasons -- that they would break her hands if she did not leave the republic. The FSB officers told the journalist that they had to operate this way because they had no formal reason to expel her from Ingushetia.

The Russian authorities want to convince the public of the need to conduct this war. But they are also convinced that the Russian troops and the FSB are justified in using brutal methods against the civilian population in Chechnya. I do not believe that President Vladimir Putin is not informed about the Chechen war. Due to his previous KGB career, Putin knows that the security services and the Russian army operate without public or judicial control. Even if Putin is not aware of operational details, he is well informed on the nature of the Chechen war. President Putin is also the ideological and operational center of a politically planned military operation. From the very start, this military and political campaign has aimed at making a ghetto of the war zone. This ghetto is shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.

(This is a condensed version of RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky's testimony before a 9 May hearing on Chechnya by the Commission on Security and Cooperation. It was translated by Catherine Cosman.)