1 November 2002, Volume
RSF CONCERNED FOR JOURNALISTS' SAFETY.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern that the European Social Forum to be held in Florence, Italy, from 6 to 10 November should "not [be] marred by any repetition of the violence that took place at the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001." Three journalists, RSF reported, were hospitalized in critical condition and several others were injured, brutally kicked by police or hit with police batons or shields. Computer and camera material was confiscated or destroyed. (Reporters Without Borders, 29 October)
INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED ON GRENADE ATTACK ON JOURNALIST...
Following the grenade attack on Armenian freelance journalist Mark Grigorian on 22 October (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 25 October 2002), the Prosecutor-General's Office in Yerevan announced that the Interior Ministry has opened an investigation into the incident, AFP reported. CC...AS HE IS RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL.
Grigorian was discharged from the hospital on 28 October, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Officials at the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on 29 October that they have questioned numerous witnesses in their investigation into Grigorian's attempted murder but have not yet identified suspects. Grigorian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau he believes the assault was undertaken by persons who "do not want to see people with independent thinking in Armenia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
IRAN RANKS 122 OF 139 ON WORLD-PRESS-FREEDOM INDEX.
Reporters Without Borders published its first worldwide press-freedom index on 23 October, and Iran ranked 122nd out of 139. The index measures how much freedom journalists and the media have and what efforts the government makes to ensure press freedom. RSF did this by sending a questionnaire to local journalists and to foreign journalists living in the country, researchers, legal experts, and regional specialists. The questionnaire asked about murder, imprisonment, and assaults on journalists; censorship and pressure on the media; and the impunity of those responsible for such incidents. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October)RSF PROTESTS FURTHER REPRESSION OF JOURNALISTS.
RSF protested on 24 October the seven-year prison sentence for Hassan Yussefi-Eshkevari, a cleric who contributed articles to the banned monthly "Iran-i Farda." His sentence included four years for saying that dress codes for women are unnecessary in Islam, one year for his participation in the spring 2000 conference in Berlin about reform in Iran, and two years for disseminating false news. RSF also noted that "Iran-i Farda" Editor Reza Alijani was summoned by the Tehran Revolutionary Court on 21 October. In recent weeks, according to RSF, the Edareh-yi Amaken has summoned Payam Afzalinejad of "Cinema-Jahan," and the Press Court has interrogated Mansur Bozorgian of "Gulistan-i Iran." The Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi (Public Establishments Office) is a Tehran police unit that deals with important things like listening to music and lewd behavior. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October)EDITOR RECEIVES COURT SUMMONS...
"Jameh-yi No" Managing Editor Fatemeh Kamali-Ahmad-Sarai, who is married to jailed journalist Emadedin Baqi, appeared before a Tehran public court on 21 October, the ISNA reported the next day. Kamali-Ahmad-Sarai said the charges brought against her concern both the presentation and the contents of the weekly. In terms of presentation, she said, the weekly too closely resembles the banned "Jameh" newspaper and it also follows an irregular publication schedule. As for the contents, the seven issues that have been published to date allegedly contain numerous offenses. These offenses, she said, include propagandizing against the Islamic Republic of Iran, insulting religious beliefs, propagating obscenities, and publishing indecent material. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October)...AS OLD PUBLICATION REAPPEARS.
Qom's "Rahian-i Fayzieh" weekly has resumed publication as a daily called "Fayzieh" after a hiatus of almost a year, "Iran" reported on 23 October. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October)THOMSON FOUNDATION TRAINS JOURNALISTS.
After an absence of 35 years, the British Thomson Foundation is training journalists in Iran during October and November, according to the foundation's website. For more, see http://www.thomsonfoundation.co.uk/. (IJ Net, 28 October)
GOVERNMENT EXPELS SEVERAL FOREIGN JOURNALISTS...
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on 25 October that the Iraqi government has ordered several foreign news reporters to leave the country in response to their recent coverage of events inside Iraq. The U.S. television network CNN reported that its chief Baghdad correspondent, Jane Arraf, and five other non-Iraqi reporters and staff members were ordered to leave the country within three days. CNN said its coverage of antigovernment protests in Baghdad that erupted last week at the Ministry of Information after the release of amnestied political prisoners had angered the Iraqi regime. AP reported on 24 October that Iraqi authorities have ordered reporters from U.S. television networks NBC and ABC to leave the country. CC...AND ISSUES NEW RULES FOR FOREIGN REPORTERS.
Iraqi officials warned CNN that they would now institute even tighter controls on foreign reporters by allowing only one non-Iraqi journalist from each news organization into the country and permitting visits no longer than 10 days, the CPJ reported on 25 October. The Iraqi government already imposes very tight restrictions on the movement of foreign journalists. Foreign reporters are also assigned a Ministry of Information minder whose presence often intimidates those being interviewed. CC
OPPOSITION JOURNALIST DETAINED ON RAPE CHARGE...
Police detained independent journalist Sergei Duvanov at his home in Almaty early on 28 October on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old girl, Reuters and forumkz.org reported. Duvanov, who edits a human rights bulletin, said in a statement he lost consciousness after drinking strange-tasting tea prepared by an underage girl who accompanied neighbors who visited his dacha on 27 October to use his banya. AFP on 28 October quoted Evgenii Zhovtis, head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, as condemning the arrest as "a provocation." In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment on Duvanov's arrest, saying he lacked sufficient information to do so, but noted a "string of abuses, the pattern of harassment" against the independent media in Kazakhstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)...AS PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION IMPLICATED IN HIS ARREST.
Kazakh opposition figures joined forces on 29 October to campaign in defense of Duvanov, forumkz.org reported. Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan Executive Committee Chairman Amirzhan Qosanov told journalists that a number of independent international experts have volunteered their services on Duvanov's behalf. Forumkz.org also pointed out that at a 29 October press conference convened by the local police, a press release was distributed that had been faxed from the presidential office even before Duvanov had been taken into custody on 28 October with instructions on how to field journalists' questions related to his arrest. A copy of the 6-point press guidance has been made available to "RFE/RL Newsline." On 29 October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded an independent investigation into the charges against Duvanov. In a press release, HRW said, "Duvanov's longstanding history of criticizing government policy...raise[s] suspicions that this has all the makings of a politically motivated case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE SILENT ON PRESS PROBLEMS.
An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) delegation headed by Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz arrived in Astana on 29 October for talks with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and the 30 October issue of the weekly news bulletin distributed by Kazakhstan's Embassy in Washington, D.C. Da Cruz declined to comment to journalists on the situation of the embattled Kazakh media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)
JOURNALISM-TRAINING PROGRAM IN THE U.S.
The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) is seeking 10 media professionals and journalism faculty from independent publications, news agencies, or journalism schools in Kyrgyzstan for a four-week training program in the U.S. to start in late January 2003. After the U.S.-based portion of the program, two American media experts will travel to Kyrgyzstan to consult at each of the participants' media outlets and conduct workshops in Bishkek and Osh. For more, contact Kentaro Aragaki, ICFJ program officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org. (IJ Net, 28 October)
JOURNALISTS DISAGREE WITH INTERNATIONAL ELECTION MONITORS.
On 24 October, the Association of Independent Electronic Media and the Association of Young Journalists of Montenegro criticized assessments by election monitors from the Council of Europe and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for labeling private media as biased during the recent election campaign, whereas state media were described as well-balanced. ("ANEM Media Update," 19-25 October)
HACKER SENTENCED FOR ATTEMPTED EXTORTION.
A Timisoara court has sentenced a 25-year-old man to three years in prison for hacking into a U.S. company's computers, stealing information about its customers, and then trying to blackmail the firm, AP reported. Nicolae Mircea Harapu was arrested by Romanian authorities in 2000 after hacking into New York-based Zwirl.com's computers and subsequently demanding $5,000 in exchange for keeping confidential private information he obtained about the company's customers, including credit-card numbers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
MOSCOW NEWSPAPERS HIGHLIGHT INITIAL STAGES OF HOSTAGE DRAMA.
Moscow newspapers highlighted various aspects of the Moscow hostage drama which began on 23 October. "Vechernyaya Moskva" reported that the authorities had imposed a news blockade, while "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that the press services of law enforcement agencies controlled the flow of information. Reporters for "Moskovskaya pravda" who were among the hostages said from inside the theater that Russian military sharpshooters were firing at the theater's windows and that numerous hostages were killed or wounded. Government sources did not confirm or deny such reports, and, according to observers, were generally unavailable to the media. However, members of the Alfa special antiterrorist unit Veterans' Council called on reporters not to publicize the views of "dubious experts" or use unchecked reports which might jeopardize talks with the terrorists. The council claimed that the "special services are doing whatever is needed." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 21-27 October)TWO DAYS OF 24-HOUR TV NEWS.
The main Russian TV channels went into running news sequences on the night of 23-24 October in response to the seizure by some 40 Chechen rebels of some 800 hostages at a theater in Moscow. Russian ORT public TV, state-owned Russia TV, commercial NTV and TVS, TV-Tsentr, and Ren TV stayed on the air in Moscow all night. Frequent news updates were broadcast all night on NTV, TVS and TV-Tsentr; Russia TV and ORT had extra bulletins in the late hours of 23 October and carried frequent updates after midnight on 24 October, the BBC reported on 30 October. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists on 25 October, many Russian-media interviews with hostages and gunmen during the first days of the crisis were conducted by cell phone. CCDUMA TOUGHENS RESTRICTION ON MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORISM.
On 23 October, deputies passed in their second reading amendments to the laws on mass media and on the struggle against terrorism, Russian agencies reported. The vote was 259 in favor, with 34 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, the mass media would be forbidden to publicize statements by persons hindering antiterrorism operations or any kind of information about counterterrorism operations. According to polit.ru, supporters of the bill say it will discipline the media, while opponents believe it will constitute a new means for authorities to pressure the press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)WEBSITES CLEANSED...
When Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio broadcast a brief 24 October interview with a gunman in the theater, Media Ministry spokesman Yurii Akinshin threatened to close any media outlet which aired more statements from the hostage takers, according to Interfax; the next day he threatened to shut down Ekho Moskvy's website. According to Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov, his station had received a Media Ministry warning, but said, "In the view of our lawyers, we have not violated a single provision of Russian law." On 25 October, the Media Ministry requested that the Communications Ministry close Ekho Moskvy's Internet site, but withdrew the request after the station removed the text of the interview from its website, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists citing Russian news reports. The Chechen website kavkaz.org was also taken offline, reported "The Moscow Times" on 29 October. CC...AND TV STATION SHUT DOWN...
On 25 October, the Media Ministry closed down Moskoviya, a Moscow television station, for allegedly promoting terrorism for broadcasting an interview with a hostage who called for an end to the war in Chechnya, according to "The Moscow Times" on 29 October. "Vremya novostei" reported that participants in the counterterrorist operation were reportedly "incensed" by Moskoviya's showing the movements of special units around the theater, airing a recording from Al-Jazeera Satellite TV with an appeal by the hostage takers, discussing possible exit routes and "backup airfields" the terrorists might use, and airing remarks by the channel's reporters and talk-show participants who said, "For Muscovites all people from the Caucasus look alike." CPJ reported that after meeting with the director of the station, the ministry announced later on 25 October that Moskoviya would be back on the air the next day, according to Russian media. CC...AS NEWSPAPER WARNED FOR ITS PHOTO OF DEAD CAPTIVE...
Another Russian media outlet, the Moscow daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," received a warning from the Media Ministry for publishing a photograph of the body of the young woman who was killed by the armed captors on 23 October, as she tried to enter the theater where the hostages are being held. (CPJ, 25 October)...AND SILENT TV IMAGES OF HOSTAGES AND GUNMEN.
Early on 25 October, two NTV reporters entered the theater to interview several of the armed Chechen gunmen and the station broadcast footage from inside the theater. Although NTV showed video footage of the hostages and their captors, it did not broadcast their voices. (CPJ, 25 October)JOURNALISTS WERE AMONG HOSTAGES...
Journalists were among the hostages: A journalist for the Moscow-based Interfax news agency, an editorial assistant for AFP, and a typist from Ekho Moskvy were all reported to be among some 700 hostages, CPJ reported on 25 October. An AFP staffer who was among those taken hostage said on 27 October that none of the dead or injured bore bullet wounds, the AFP reported the next day. "They are not telling us anything about the nature of the gas," Oleg Zyogonov said by telephone from his hospital. He said hospital staff had forbidden him to talk to anybody and were monitoring his telephone conversation with the AFP office in Moscow. CC...AND AMONG NEGOTIATORS.
According to Russian press reports, the hostage takers specifically requested that Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya who has covered human rights violations in Chechnya be included in a team of negotiators. Politkovskaya, a war correspondent for the Moscow paper "Novaya gazeta," along with doctors and Red Cross officials, entered the theater several times on 25 October to deliver emergency supplies and attempt to negotiate the release of the hostages, Interfax reported. (CPJ, 25 October)POLITKOVSKAYA GIVES 'INSIDE' VIEW OF HOSTAGE CRISIS.
In an article which first appeared in the Moscow paper "Novaya gazeta." Politkovskaya describes the gunman with whom she spoke as being "one of those [Chechens] who has known nothing but a machine gun and the forest for the last decade, and before that he'd only just finished school." After Politkovskaya made her five requests for the hostages, she also asked about the political goals of the Chechen gunmen, although she knew that he is "just a soldier." The four points include the withdrawal of Russian forces in 24 hours from one area in Chechnya, but "sweeping operations [had] been renewed" already that day. The gunman told Politkovskaya that he would only trust Council of Europe rapporteur Lord Frank Judd to tell him the truth about a troop withdrawal. As for the identity of the gunmen, the journalist is told that they are "a reconnaissance-sabotage battalion," an elite group "picked for the operation," and that although Maskhadov is their president, the gunman told Politkovskaya that his is group is "fighting of its own accord." According to the journalist, this means that the Moscow gunmen "have their own autonomous war" and that "they really couldn't give a damn about Maskhadov, because he doesn't share their extremism." The gunman concludes by saying that for "a year and a half, people have begged to come here as kamikazes," and that the hostage takers have come to die. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 31 October)LEADING JOURNALIST SAYS CENSORSHIP ACCEPTABLE DURING CRISES.
Noted television anchorman and president of the Russian Television Academy Vladimir Pozner endorsed "censorship constraints on the mass media during wartime, including during the war against terrorism," strana.ru reported on 29 October. However, he added that since there currently is no appropriate law, journalists should not be punished. "If a journalist sees that the government is lying, he should report this, if he has solid evidence," Pozner said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN CALLS FOR MEDIA-ETHICS CODE...
Leading media figures gathered at a 29 October roundtable sponsored by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" to discuss the lessons of the 23-26 October Moscow hostage drama, Russian news agencies reported on 30 October. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told the gathering that it is time to work out "unwritten rules of conduct" for journalists in extraordinary situations, lenta.ru reported. "This must be worked out within the journalistic community, and not by the authorities for journalists," Yastrzhembskii said, according to strana.ru. However, he added that government and security officials should participate in the process of formulating the guidelines. Yastrzhembskii described the live television coverage of the special-forces operation on 26 October to free the hostages as a clear violation of the law on terrorism. "That is not acceptable," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)...WHICH SOME JOURNALISTS EMBRACE.
"Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 31 October published a lengthy transcript of remarks by journalists, state officials, and media experts who attended the 29 October roundtable. "Izvestiya" television critic Irina Petrovskaya cited the "completely obvious" need to work out rules for covering extraordinary situations, but she emphasized that such a system should be self-imposed by journalists, not enforced by censors. The Union of Journalists has long promoted a general "journalist's code of ethics." Various documents with recommendations for journalists working in "hot spots" or covering wars have been published in Russia as well (see Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations at http://www.cjes.ru). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)MEDIA MINISTRY WILL FORGIVE MEDIA'S HOSTAGE-CRISIS LAPSES...
First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said on 29 October that his ministry will not punish any media outlets in connection with the 23-26 October Moscow hostage drama, even if violations of the law on mass media are established, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 30 October. "Not only the media made mistakes, and searching for the guilty or blaming everything on the media would not be correct," Seslavinskii said. He said that no media outlets had been or would be issued formal ministry warnings as a result of the hostage crisis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)...WHILE DUMA SPEAKER LASHES OUT AT MEDIA'S HOSTAGE COVERAGE.
Speaking to reporters in Rostov-na-Donu on 30 October, Gennadii Seleznev criticized Russian television for showing the actions of security forces during the 23-26 October Moscow hostage crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. "It is bad when they show the specific methods of fighting with terrorists," Seleznev said. "I did not like many things in the coverage. There are limits that the mass media should not transgress." Meanwhile, polit.ru reported on 30 October that Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Konstantin Vetrov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) had called for the creation of a Duma commission to study the media's performance during the crisis. Vetrov also expressed concern that several television channels are currently preparing programs about the crisis that will reflect badly on the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)KREMLIN 'PASSED OFF DEFEAT AS VICTORY'...
During the Moscow hostage crisis, the "authorities did in Moscow what they have been doing for more than three years in Chechnya: They blocked the flow of information, they lied and passed off defeat as victory," wrote Boris Kagarlitsky in "The Moscow Times" on 29 October. ("The Moscow Times," 29 October)...AS STATE PAPER CRITICAL OF 'TOTAL SECRECY' OF RESCUE OPERATION.
The state-controlled daily, "Rossiiskaya gazeta," decried the Kremlin's withholding of information about the 26 October-morning raid, reported Toronto's "The Globe and Mail" on 30 October. The Russian newspaper said the "total secrecy around the rescue operation" was reminiscent of "the times when we were denied a right to information," according to the Canadian paper. ("The Globe and Mail," 30 October)CHECHEN NGO SAYS IT CAN DISPROVE RUSSIAN CLAIMS OF MASKHADOV'S INVOLVEMENT IN HOSTAGE TAKING.
The Chechen Committee for National Salvation (ChKNS), based in Nazran, released a statement on 25 October rejecting as "an outrageous lie" claims by Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko and Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev that Russian intelligence intercepted a videocassette that proves Maskhadov's complicity with the hostage takers, according to chechenpress.com on 25 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 October 2002). The statement says the ChKNS is ready to furnish the media with proof that Maskhadov did not give the orders for the hostage taking. It further explains that on the videocassette in question Maskhadov merely informed foreign journalists that the Chechen armed forces are strong enough to undertake an action that would fundamentally change the course of the war and compel the Russian Army to withdraw from Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)TELL NO LIES ABOUT THE DEAD?
After the storming of the Moscow theater and the release of the hostages, photos of a dead Movsar Baraev, leader of the Chechen hostage takers, with a cognac bottle beside him were "splashed across Russian newspapers," although former hostages said they never saw him smoke or drink, reported "The Globe and Mail" on 30 October. The "suicide squad" of 18 Chechen women was also portrayed as drug addicts with needle marks on their arms who died with syringes at their feet, the Canadian paper reported. ("The Globe and Mail," 30 October)PAPER ASKS WHAT LIES IN THE FUTURE.
"What should the press do now?" asked "Vremya MN." "The tragedy is over only in the Theater Center in Dubrovka, but it is not over in Chechnya.... We will never know what gas was used by the special troops and if its use was justified" to end the Moscow hostage crisis, the paper notes. "If there is a war in the country, this sort of information is a military secret." And the FSB will tell reporters, "Do you want to tell terrorists that they will be poisoned next time so that they can secure themselves against it?" ("Vremya MN, 30 October)PSKOV RESIDENTS SIC THE FSB ON LOCAL JOURNALIST.
Several residents of Pskov telephoned the local office of the FSB on 27 October with complaints against a local radio journalist who reportedly advocated independence for Chechnya, regions.ru reported, citing the Pskov Information Agency. According to one of the callers, Dmitrii Osherov said "offensive" things about the special-forces operation to release the hostages, offered justifications for the hostage takers' actions, and said Russia "should give Chechnya its independence and let them live as they please." It was unclear from the report whether the FSB intends to investigate the complaints. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)STEAM(Y) PRESS?
A joke making the rounds in Russia is as follows: "Putin is arguing with [former U.S. President Bill] Clinton about whose sauna is better. 'Mine is,' Clinton says and invites Putin to use his. Putin enters, pushes a button, and staff wash him in the steam. He is dressed and emerges cleaner. Putin then invites Clinton to use his sauna. Clinton enters, pushes a button but nothing works. He cleans himself, exits the sauna and says, 'Your button doesn't work!' But Putin answers, 'What do you mean it doesn't work? The television showed you for a full hour.'" ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 October)
VOJVODINA PARLIAMENTARY LEADER THREATENS JOURNALIST.
On 15 October, Radio 021 condemned threats by Vojvodina parliament speaker Nenad Canak against its journalist Asli Djuricin. Canak threatened Djuricin on the phone after his column was aired on 021. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)MAYOR INSULTS JOURNALISTS ON AIR...
On 13 October, the Association of Independent Electronic Broadcasters (ANEM) issued a protest over a repeated attack by Cacak Mayor Velimir Ilic on journalists from TV Cacak. Ilic, who is also the leader of the New Serbia party, insulted journalists and editors on air on TV Cacak on 11 October. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)...LEADING TO THREATENED LEGAL ACTION...
As a result of the ongoing televised insults of journalists by Cacak Mayor Ilic, on 14 October two TV Cacak journalists, Jelena Katanic and Vesna Radovic, declared they plan to take legal action against him. They also announced that they would seek the support of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. In turn, Ilic claimed that Djindjic and his party were behind a series of conflicts at the TV station and warned that New Serbia members of the Serbian parliament would demand the prime minister's dismissal. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac told daily "Danas" on 17 October: "The behavior of Velimir Ilic and his attitude to journalists and media are such that no comment is needed any more. The public knows everything." ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)...AND A RESIGNATION.
On 18 October, Dragan Kovacevic, the former director of the publishing company Cacanski glas, said that his recent resignation was in protest of Mayor Ilic's descriptions of TV Cacak staff at a recent press conference. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)JOURNALISTS MORE INSOLENT THAN POLITICIANS?
On 19 October, Vojvodina Social Democrats official Aleksandar Kravic called for the city of Novi Sad to cut its ties to municipal broadcaster Radio 021, saying the station's style is inappropriate. "The manner in which they report is not appropriate to a city radio, along with the harsh language and insults used without reason against politicians," said Kravic. He added that, since 2000, journalists had been even more insolent than politicians. ("ANEM Media Update," 19-25 October)JOURNALIST'S FAMILY THREATENED.
On 23 October, ANEM protested threats against journalist Jovan Dulovic and his family. Dulovic, who writes for the weekly Belgrade "Vreme," said today that most of the evidence he gave at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic before The Hague tribunal had been in closed session due to threats against his family. ("ANEM Media Update," 19-25 October)EDITOR REFUSES TO PROVIDE NEWS SOURCES TO COURT.
On 14 October, the weekly "Reporter" announced that its Editor in Chief Perica Vucinic had refused to tell a Novi Sad court how he obtained a list of 362 policemen and officials who had taken part in Kosovo military actions and who are allegedly now on The Hague witness or suspect list. Vucinic said that to answer that question would compromise his source and damage the dignity of journalism and his paper. This trial is one of 10 currently under way against the paper after Prime Minister Djindjic and Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic called on policemen from the list to sue the weekly. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)EDITOR ACQUITTED OF LIBEL CHARGES.
The editor in chief of the weekly "Monitor," Branko Vojicic, was acquitted of libel charges on 16 October. RTS journalist Mila Stula had recently filed libel charges against him after Vojicic wrote in an article that she had disseminated hatred, fear, and national intolerance over the past 10 years, and claimed that her work had produced many victims. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)PRIME-TIME NEWS CANCELLED BY STRIKE.
On 12 October, Belgrade's city Studio B TV failed to show its prime-time evening news due to a one-hour warning strike. A news presenter told viewers that a warning strike had been called due to staff dissatisfaction with low wages, the failure to recategorize jobs, and the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. ("ANEM Media Update," 12-18 October)
NEWS AGENCY HEAD IS REPORTED MISSING.
The news agency Ukrayinski novyny (Ukrainian News) on 28 October stated that its director, Mykhaylo Kolomiyets, has been missing since 21 October, Ukrainian media reported. "Reporters of the agency are very concerned over the fate of Kolomiyets. They fear that the incident could be the result of the agency's policy of providing independent information," Ukrayinski novyny said in a statement. The agency on 25 October reportedly notified the police of Kolomiyets's disappearance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
CENTRAL ASIAN WORKSHOP ON INTERNET BROADCASTING.
The Asian-Pacific Institute for Broadcast Development and UNESCO in Almaty will hold an Internet broadcast training workshop for 12 Central Asian media professionals in Kazakhstan from 11-15 November. Candidates, to be selected by UNESCO, should be TV and radio executives with five years experience. For more information, contact Hara Prasad Padhy at email@example.com or see http://www.unesco.kz/ci/projects/aibd/ib/index.html.
U.S. MEDIA CRITICIZED FOR PERFORMANCE IN SNIPER CASE
By Andrew Tully
The three-week drama of the sniper who terrorized the suburbs around Washington, D.C., had several compelling subplots. They included the frustration of police at the lack of evidence, the crippling of the area's roads as police tried to trap the killer, and -- as often happens in America -- the role of the media.
At one point, the director of the investigation -- Charles Moose, a police chief in the state of Maryland -- criticized a local television station and newspaper for publicizing a piece of evidence that he said should have been kept secret. But the police chief also used the media as a way to communicate with the killers and issue information that eventually led to the arrest of the two men now suspected of killing 10 people and wounding three others. For that, law-enforcement and other officials thanked the media. Maryland Governor Parris Glendening said a debt of gratitude is owed to television and newspapers: "The tremendous cooperation from the media made a difference, and so thank you all, and -- [on behalf of] the citizens -- thank you for your help."
But the media, particularly the 24-hour television news channels, still face criticism for their handling of the story, especially for broadcasting interviews with reputed "experts" who may have misled the public by incorrectly speculating on the identities of the killers. Many of these experts, usually former police officers, surmised that the killers were probably white. As it turned out, the two men arrested -- 41-year-old John Muhammad and 17-year-old John Malvo -- are black. At least one analyst, writing in a newspaper, speculated that a terrorist cell could be responsible for the killings. There is no evidence of such a link.
Some critics say the media's questionable behavior did not stop with the arrests last week of Muhammad and Malvo. They say newspapers and television channels immediately began publicizing negative information about the suspects' backgrounds. Alison Schafer, an assistant professor of communications at American University in Washington, said the news organizations embarrassed themselves in the sniper case. Schafer told RFE/RL she believes television has been particularly inept. She said the print media are not as desperate to fill time as are the 24-hour television news channels: "The electronic media tends to be worse at this than the print media. There tends to be sort of a rush to judgment, and I think that that's what you're seeing here. There's such a strong demand for closure, it makes for good drama. Let's settle this right here and now on the airwaves and not really wait for the judicial system to kick in and do its thing."
Schafer recalls the case of Richard Jewell, who was briefly suspected of being responsible for the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta that killed one person and injured more than 100. Jewell was first called a hero for moving people away from the bomb before it exploded. But news reports eventually identified him as a suspect in the case and publicized background information that made him appear guilty. He eventually was exonerated and threatened lawsuits against media outlets -- both broadcast and print -- for ruining his reputation. He settled out of court.
According to Schafer, there is a distinct parallel between Jewell's case and that of Muhammad and Malvo: "With Richard Jewell, he fit the profile. He was a fat loner who lived with his mother. Therefore, he was a murderer, a potential murderer. And it's the same with the [sniping suspects]: 'They're drifters, they're clearly bad guys, there's some weird relationship between the older one and the younger one. They must have done it.'"
Not all analysts agree the American news media are portraying the sniper suspects unfairly. One is Stephen Hess, who specializes in American government and culture at the Brookings Institution, an independent policy research center in Washington. Hess told RFE/RL that the profiles of Muhammad that he has seen on television and read in newspapers have revealed that the suspect is far from fearsome. "Muhammad seems rather ordinary. Obviously, he's not ordinary at all. He's gone out and probably killed 10 people, but he doesn't appear to be a psychopath, hasn't done remarkably crazy things." In fact, Hess says, he believes the media -- driven as they were by a dramatic story -- performed admirably under the circumstances: "I thought the media did just fine. Obviously it was a feeding frenzy. It's a hell of a big story. I thought the media acted with some real restraint."
A more important question is whether such exhaustive coverage of the two suspects -- negative or not -- could deny them a fair trial. Many analysts suggest the trial may have to be moved far away from where the sniper killings occurred. But even if Muhammad and Malvo are tried in the states of Maryland or Virginia, where most of the killings took place, there is a good chance the two will be treated fairly. That's the opinion of Paul Rosenzweig, who specializes in legal issues at the Heritage Foundation, another Washington think tank. Rosenzweig told RFE/RL that if the lawyers and the judge handle the case properly, the jury will be able to decide guilt or innocence solely on the basis of physical evidence and testimony, disregarding what they may have seen on television or read in newspapers. Rosenzweig says U.S. courts expect to be able to give fair trials to people accused of being connected to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, so why not to the Washington snipers? "We anticipate [for example] being able to give fair trials to the people who are accused of being tied to Al-Qaeda. It takes hard work, to be sure, but a fair trial means a jury that's willing to base the decision on the evidence that's presented to them. It doesn't mean a jury of people who are 'tabula rasa' and have absolutely no idea what's happening around them in the world."
Despite her concern, Schafer of American University agrees. She said newspapers and television may use their pages and their programming to put Muhammad and Malvo on trial in the court of public opinion and find them guilty. But Schafer added that when the two suspects come before a real judge and jury, they will probably be treated fairly.
Andrew Tully is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington, D.C.