6 December 2002, Volume
COURT FINDS IN FAVOR OF EMBATTLED TV STATION.
Armenia's Economic Arbitration Court ruled on 2 December that the state commission that distributes broadcast frequencies must accept a bid by the private television station Noyan Tapan for one of several broadcast frequencies up for tender last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Noyan Tapan had appealed the commission's decision to bar it from the tender on the grounds that its bid did not stipulate the specific frequency for which it was bidding. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
JOURNALISTS APPEAL TO OSCE.
Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," has appealed to Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Peter Schieder to take unspecified measures to safeguard freedom of the press in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 2 December. Seven criminal cases for libel were brought against "Yeni Musavat" last month alone. The paper is notorious for not always checking its facts before publication. In July 2001, it prematurely reported the death of President Heidar Aliev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)EDITORS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
Azerbaijan's Council of Editors appealed on 4 December to the Council of Europe to intervene to halt what they term a new and aggressive campaign by the country's authorities to silence the opposition media, Turan reported. They noted that 31 court cases have been brought against media outlets since January this year, 14 of them in the past two months. They appealed to Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross to attend court cases against media outlets scheduled for this month or to send observers to do so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)JOURNALIST RELEASED.
Irada Husseynova, detained in Moscow on 25 November, was released the following day in accordance with Russian law that does not provide for imprisonment for "libel and insult." Husseynova had been charged with "insulting the honor and dignity" of Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov and was detained by Moscow police for possible extradition to Azerbaijan. Now Husseynova cannot be extradited to Azerbaijan, but could face prosecution if she returns. The Journalists' Trade Union of Azerbaijan (JuHI) and other press freedom groups launched a campaign for her release, JuHI said in a statement released by IFEX, the international freedom of expression community, saying vigorous local and international intervention resulted in justice for the journalist. (JuHI/IFEX, 29 November)
In a 1 December letter to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the World Editors Forum expressed concern over the closure of "Mestnoe vremya," a newspaper founded in October that had only published three issues. The Belarusian Information Ministry said on 27 November that the newspaper had not legally registered its rental space. (WAN/IFEX, 2 December)WRITER: 'I REMAIN A CITIZEN OF MY COUNTRY.'
In an extensive interview with "Belarusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 4 December, popular Belarusian author Vasil Bykau, forced to live in exile in Finland, said he continues to consider himself a citizen of Belarus, although he was glad to be away from the aggravation of politics and government harassment in order to be able to focus on his own writing and reflections. Commenting on the crisis at the Union of Writers and a recent government-inspired takeover of the "'thick' literary journals," Bykau said, "The policy of the current government is the total, almost Orwellian liquidation of the national culture for the future, and in the past." CAF
TELEVISION DIRECTOR DISMISSED.
The Council of Czech Television on 27 November dismissed Jiri Balvin as director of Czech Television, CTK reported. The dismissal followed a failed attempt to dismiss Balvin on 18 November, when a similar resolution was one vote short of the needed majority. Balvin has long been accused of managerial failures, of failing to cope with budgetary problems, and of violating the law by secretly installing cameras to watch Czech Television staff. He took office in October 2001 after a prolonged crisis at Czech Television that led to strikes and street protests. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
MEDIA BOARD REGISTERS RIGHT-WING TV.
The National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) on 26 November registered the right-wing news channel Hir TV, which will begin broadcasting on 2 December, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Board Chairwoman Judit Kormendy-Ekes, as well as the opposition FIDESZ and Democratic Forum appointees to the five-person board, voted for the registration. The Socialist member voted against (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002), and the Free Democrat representative abstained. The ORTT also suspended broadcasts by the television stations TV-2 and RTL Klub for 30 minutes after ruling that both networks recently broadcast unacceptable sexual scenes on their "reality TV" programs. In other news, President Ferenc Madl on 26 November appointed Matyas Vince head of the Hungarian news agency MTI for a five-year term, beginning on 1 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)RADIO AND TELEVISION'S CHAIRWOMAN ANNOUNCES PLANS TO RESIGN.
ORTT Chairwoman Kormendy-Ekes on 1 December announced she is resigning, Hungarian media reported the next day. In an interview on state television, Kormendy-Ekes said she has made up her mind about quitting but has yet to decide when she will officially submit her resignation. As grounds for the decision, she mentioned heavy political pressure, particularly related to government's decision to cut ORTT's 2003 budget -- a move that will result in a 450 million-forint (nearly $1.9 million) deficit -- and the fact that parliament has rejected ORTT's report on its 2001 activities. On 2 December, Kormendy-Ekes told journalists she did not consult with anyone on her decision to resign aside from former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who appointed her to the position. She also said she does not know why the current coalition government wants her to be removed as ORTT chairwoman, adding that she never made a secret of her FIDESZ sympathies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
SATELLITE-DISH CONFISCATION RESUMES IN TEHRAN.
Law-enforcement personnel in Tehran have resumed the drive against satellite television reception by confiscating satellite dishes and then issuing summonses to their owners, according to a report in the 30 November issue of the "Etemad" newspaper. Earlier in November, the legislature began consideration of a bill to lift the ban on satellite dishes and receivers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December).RADIO AZADI OF RFE/RL'S PERSIAN SERVICE GOES OFF AIR.
After serving listeners for four years, Radio Azadi of RFE/RL's Persian Service broadcast its last program on 1 December. It will be succeeded later in the month by Radio Farda, which means Radio Tomorrow in Persian, according to a press release from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. Radio Farda will be a joint effort of two BBG entities: RFE/RL and the Voice of America. Radio Farda is aimed at listeners under 30 years of age, and it will broadcast news, features, and other information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, it will broadcast a combination of popular Persian and Western music designed to appeal to a young audience. Radio Farda broadcasts will be available on medium wave (AM), shortwave, digital-audio satellite, and via the Internet. Until Radio Farda begins its programs, the RFE/RL frequencies will be used for 30-minute newscasts and 2 1/2 hours of music daily. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)TEHRAN COMMENTS ON RADIO FARDA.
The "Kayhan" daily newspaper reported on 1 December that as part of its psychological-warfare program against Iran, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is closing down RFE/RL's Persian Service and replacing it with the new Radio Farda. "Kayhan," which is affiliated with the Iranian supreme leader's office, reported incorrectly that RFE/RL is "funded and managed by the State Department and the American espionage organization." In addition, RFE/RL's Persian Service is not closing but will broadcast Radio Farda in partnership with Voice of America. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)CONDEMNED PROFESSOR'S LAWYER FILES APPEAL...
Saleh Nikbakht, the attorney for political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, has filed an appeal on his client's behalf, "Mardom Salari" quoted Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization Secretary-General Mohammad Salamati as saying, IRNA reported on 2 December. Aghajari was sentenced to death for blasphemy in early November, and the sentence led to nearly two weeks of demonstrations across the country. Nikbakht said the case should be dealt with in Tehran, where the judges are more experienced. Nikbakht pointed out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a review of the case on 17 November, and he questioned why the president of the Supreme Court, the state prosecutor-general, and the head of the Judges' Disciplinary Court have not yet called for such a review. Nikbakht said Aghajari should be freed on bail. "I shall definitely file a lawsuit against the judge who spoke on television before the verdict was finalized," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 December)...AS AGHAJARI SAYS DEATH SENTENCE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED...
Aghajari said in an open letter faxed to IRNA on 3 December that the verdict against him resulted from the judge's misinterpretation of his philosophical challenge. Aghajari in his speech questioned the system of religious hierarchy and advocated people's freedom in choosing a source of emulation. Aghajari said that the verdict was politically motivated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)...AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER CALLS VERDICT 'ILLEGAL.'
Ayatollah Bojnurdi, who heads Iran's Islamic Human Rights Commission, said on 29 November at a conference in Spain that he did not care for the comments Aghajari made in June, but the verdict against him is illegal, IRNA reported. "He has definitely not insulted the Prophet (peace be upon him)," Bojnurdi said. He added that Aghajari will not be executed, and he criticized the damage the sentence has inflicted on Iran's image. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)IRANIAN POLLSTERS' TRIAL BEGINS AND ADJOURNS...
The first session in the trial of the managing directors of the Ayandeh Research Institute -- Hussein Qazian, Abbas Abdi, and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar -- was held in Tehran on 3 December. Public Prosecutor's Office representative Mr. Tashakori said information in the case came from queries submitted to the Intelligence and Security Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, according to state radio. The trial relates to a poll in which the majority of Tehran respondents favored a resumption of Iran-U.S. relations, and the accused face espionage charges because their research institutes conducted the poll in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization. The three are charged with setting up an unofficial Gallup office in Iran. Other charges include "secret and unlicensed contacts with institutes and individuals affiliated with foreign intelligence and security services"; secret contacts with a "Zionist institute, belonging to Jewish and Zionist elements in America, via a counterrevolutionary middleman"; and gathering information for a Swiss human rights organization. They are also charged with having "secret and unlicensed contacts and repeated meetings" with Columbia University Professor Gary Sick, with an MI6 official in Tehran, and participating in counterrevolutionaries' meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom. The trial adjourned and the next session is scheduled for 8 December, according to IRNA. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December)...BUT DEFENDANTS HAD LITTLE TIME TO PREPARE...
Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, said in the daily "Entekhab" of 30 November that he had not yet had a chance to meet with his client. Geranpayeh's wife said her husband has been in solitary confinement for 45 days and added that, "I still have not met the lawyers in the case and have no idea when his trial is going to take place." The trial was set to start on 1 December but was delayed for two days following a request Haji-Mashhadi made to Judge Mortazavi. According to "Siyasat-i Ruz" as cited by IRNA on 1 December, Haji-Mashhadi said in the request that he had only had time to study one out of the five dossiers related to the case and was not ready to defend Qazian. Saleh Nikbakht, who is representing Abdi, told "Siyasat-i Ruz" that he had not been informed of the charges against his client. Asked how he would defend his client, Nikbakht replied, "You should ask this question to Judge Mortazavi." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)...AND PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE CASE.
President Mohammad Khatami has appointed a three-member committee to look into the polling-institute trial, IRNA reported on 3 December. The appointments came in response to a letter Khatami received from 156 members of parliament in which they asked the president to ensure there will be a fair decision in the case and to stop recent actions against national research institutions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002). The committee consists of Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ismail Shushtari, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)
'BABIL' BANNED FROM PUBLICATION.
The Iraqi Information Ministry has banned the Iraqi daily "Babil" from publication for one month, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on 20 November. According to Al-Jazeera, the newspaper published reports that contradicted Iraq's media policy. Meanwhile, the website "Ilaf" reported on 21 November that, "The decision was made in implementation of strict instructions that the Iraqi authorities had issued to the country's newspapers banning the publication of any criticism of the Arab countries, including Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, following the Arab summit that was held in Beirut in March." "Babil" is run by Uday Hussein, the son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. ("RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 November)OBSTACLES FOR FOREIGN REPORTERS COVERING IRAQ.
As the world follows the daily reports of United Nations arms inspections of Iraq, foreign journalists are scrambling to get their visas to Baghdad -- never an easy process and now more difficult with possibly impending war. Some reporters who had obtained entry in the past are now facing delays if they had at some time filed critical reports or interviewed dissenters. Others are managing to wangle visas but are finding that they are being pressed into covering propagandistic exercises by the Iraqi government in exchange for access. At a minimum, they are forced to except regime-sponsored "minders" at their own cost of $100 a day. In "Air War: How Saddam Manipulates the U.S. Media" published on 16 October at www.tnr.com, Franklin Foer of "The New Republic" details the lengths to which the world's major news media go to get in the good graces of the Iraqi Information Ministry, which maintains legions of staff to follow their every movement and scrutinize every broadcast. "Like their Soviet-bloc predecessors, the Iraqis have become masters of the Orwellian pantomime -- the state-orchestrated anti-American rally, the state-led tours of alleged chemical weapons sites that turn out to be baby milk factories -- that promotes their distorted reality," writes Foer. In November, PBS Frontline also featured a special report, "Truth and Lies in Baghdad," describing overwhelming restrictions on the media. "Journalists must attempt to gather facts from wary -- and some would say terrorized -- Iraqis who are highly reluctant to criticize Saddam's regime," says PBS. (see http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/iraq/press.html) CAF
PRESIDENT SAYS ARRESTED JOURNALIST'S GUILT PROVEN...
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels on 29 November following talks with European Commission President Romano Prodi, Nursultan Nazarbaev claimed that biological tests have proven that arrested journalist Sergei Duvanov is guilty of raping an underage girl, Reuters reported. Duvanov claims he is innocent and that the charges against him are fabricated. No date has been set for his trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...AS HE IS HELD IN APPALLING CONDITIONS...
Duvanov is confined in a cell without electricity or glass in the windows and is not permitted to receive from his family dairy products, meat, coffee, fruit, vegetables, or plastic cutlery, according to Interfax and forumkz.org. Duvanov is subjected to body searches before and after meeting with his lawyers and is not permitted any reading material except from the prison library, which stocks only the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)...AND LAWYER SAYS POLICE FABRICATED EVIDENCE.
Vitalii Voronov, Duvanov's lawyer, filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office on 1 December, claiming police tampered with evidence to support charges against his client, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported the same day. Voronov said several times during the search of Duvanov's home and dacha, at which he was present, his view was obstructed and investigators went out of sight, or he was on the second floor when they were on the first. He rejected the prosecution's contention that he was present on the first floor when an incriminating document was found, saying a videotape of the proceedings proves his point. His 31 October appeal to the prosecutor to investigate police fabrication of evidence was rejected on claims of lack of proof. CAFTHREE FORMER COPS SENTENCED FOR ATTACK ON KAZAKH JOURNALIST.
An Almaty district court has sentenced three former police officers to 12 months' imprisonment for attacking and injuring television journalist Artur Platonov in August, Interfax reported on 27 November. Platonov suffered a broken nose in the assault. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
POLICE ACCUSE OPPOSITION PAPER OF DEFAMATION.
In a statement released on 25 November, Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry accused a number of journalists, including some from the newspaper "Moya stolitsa," of tarnishing the image of the police by publishing inaccurate and unverified information, akipress.org reported. In particular, the ministry objected to a "Moya stolitsa" article comparing the Kyrgyz police with the notoriously ruthless rulers of the Kokand Khanate and accusing them of systematic reprisals against residents of Kyrgyzstan's southern oblasts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)
PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLISHING HOUSE NULLIFIED.
The government decided on 2 December to nullify the privatization of Nova Makedonija publishing house, Makfax news agency reported. The previous government of Ljubco Georgievski sold the publishing house to the Slovenian consortium Jug-Storitve (Jug-Uslugi in its Macedonian form) in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). Striking employees of the publishing house protested the sale and demanded that the government revise the decision and pay their unpaid wages. Workers there went on strike four weeks ago. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
RIGHT-WING LAWMAKERS ATTACK DOCUMENTARY ABOUT CATHOLIC BROADCASTER...
Thirty-four lawmakers from the right-wing League of Polish Families, Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, and the Catholic-National Circle have protested the airing of a documentary, "Father Rydzyk's Empire," about the Catholic radio station Radio Maryja and its head, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, by state-owned Polish Television on 25 November, PAP reported on 26 November. The documentary alleged that Father Rydzyk was involved in major tax evasion while setting up and running Radio Maryja. The protest slams the television station, saying the documentary was an action to besmirch "the good name" of Radio Maryja and its director. Radio Maryja is an influential, radical Catholic media outlet claiming a regular daily listenership of 1.4 million and a weekly audience of 5.9 million. The station is known for spreading strongly worded anti-EU and xenophobic messages. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, has sought to diminish the clout of Radio Maryja among believers by banning the operation of its bureaus at parishes in Warsaw Diocese. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)...AS TAX INSPECTORS TO PROBE RADIO'S FINANCES...
Polish tax authorities said last week that they will investigate the finances of Radio Maryja following accusations of unlawful financial activity, Reuters reported on 28 November. "Our job is to find out whether laws are being broken and by whom and to stop it," Deputy Finance Minister Wieslaw Ciesielski told journalists. Poland's chief prosecutor Karol Napierski said Radio Maryja avoided paying import taxes on cars by saying they were donations, failed to obtain a permit to remove large amounts of currency from the country for foreign equipment purchases, and made large public collections for nonreligious purposes, AP reported. Father Rydzyk has refused to comment on the allegations of financial misdemeanors, saying only that he will pray for his accusers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...AND BROADCASTING AUTHORITY TO SCRUTINIZE STATION.
The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) on 3 December decided that it will monitor the programming of Radio Maryja and re-examine the station's financial reports for last year, PAP reported. The KRRiT will also analyze the documentary about the radio aired by Polish television containing allegations of financial misdealings. The KRRiT said it was prompted to adopt a stance toward the station and the documentary by a request from state officials, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Deputy Finance Minister Waclaw Ciesielski. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)
FINAL VERSION OF 'LANGUAGE-DEFENSE' BILL.
The Chamber of Deputies approved on 26 November the final version of the Law on the Defense of Romanian Language, also known as the "Pruteanu law," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Senate has already approved the legislation, which now awaits promulgation by President Ion Iliescu. The controversial law, named after its main proponent, Senator George Pruteanu, stipulates that foreign words displayed in public places must be accompanied by translation into Romanian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)AUDIOVISUAL COUNCIL ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN.
The National Audiovisual Council on 26 November elected journalist Ralu Filip as its next chairman and Atilla Gaspari as deputy chairman, Romanian Radio reported. Filip's election must be approved by parliament. In related news, the Chamber of Deputies on the same day approved legislation on the national news agency Rompres. The forum did not accept President Iliescu's request to eliminate from the bill a stipulation that guarantees the confidentiality of the sources of information used by Rompres journalists. Iliescu proposed that the law guarantee confidentiality "except when public interest is at stake" and a court order obliges journalists to disclose their sources. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)RADIO-STATION DIRECTOR SANCTIONED FOR INDULGING IN CENSORSHIP.
The board of directors of the Romanian Broadcasting Authority (SRR) announced on 25 November that it has sanctioned the director of the radio's classical-music station Romania Muzical for censorship, Romanian Radio reported. The board said that the station's director ordered the interruption of a live concert broadcast on 19 November after conductor Iancu Dumitrescu addressed the audience and criticized the authorities for the meager funds they allocate to culture. The board said the station's director has been demoted for one month. It also assured listeners that the SSR "will not tolerate censorship" and ordered that the concert be rebroadcast in full, including Dumitrescu's improvised speech. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)
PUTIN VETOES MEDIA-LAW AMENDMENTS...
President Vladimir Putin on 25 November invited the heads of Russia's leading media corporations who had earlier appealed to him to veto proposed amendments to the law on the mass media that would have regulated coverage of antiterrorism operations and informed them that he had granted their request, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said he had sent a letter to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov explaining that the proposed amendments would not help the state combat terrorism but would instead introduce censorship. He asked the legislators to create a conciliation commission and, together with representatives of journalists, to work out new amendments. ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst, speaking on behalf of the journalists present, told Putin that some "unwitting mistakes" were made during coverage of the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow but that "they were not conscious actions but rather misunderstandings about how to behave in such situations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)...BUT DOES NOT CONCEAL HIS IRRITATION WITH JOURNALISTS...
Speaking to the journalists gathered at the Kremlin, Putin said that he is not fully convinced of their argument that the problems with the hostage-drama coverage were all the result of unintentional mistakes, RTR reported on 25 November. He said that one television channel showed movements of special-forces units just moments before the beginning of the operation to storm the theater where Chechen fighters were holding more than 700 hostages in deliberate violation of an agreement between journalists and the staff of the operation command center. He noted that this action could have led to a terrible tragedy. "There was the desire to increase ratings and to make money, but this should not be done at the price of the blood of our people, assuming that they see them as 'our people,'" Putin said. The president also did not hide the fact that he was annoyed by the communication between journalists and the hostage takers. "It is not the mass media but the special services that should save hostages. The mass media should inform [the public]," Putin said. "The main weapon of terrorists is not bullets or grenades but blackmail, and there is no better means for blackmail than turning a terrorist act into a public spectacle," Putin said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)...WHILE MEDIA BOSSES STRIKE CONCILIATORY TONE.
ORT General Director Ernst told journalists following the meeting with Putin that the public should not interpret the president's veto as a victory of journalists over legislators, ORT reported on 25 November. It is, rather, an opportunity for legislators and journalists to work together to elaborate a reasonable professional code for journalists in extreme situations. He added that a corresponding professional code should also be created for law-enforcement agencies. Among the media leaders who met with Putin were VGRTK President Oleg Dobrodeev, Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov, "Komsomolskaya pravda" Editor in Chief Vladimir Sungorkin, "Gazeta" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov, and "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Viktor Loshak. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)REPORT: MEDIA BOSSES, KREMLIN AGREED ON NEW MEDIA LAW.
The Industrial Committee of leading media corporations and the government and Duma have agreed that a new mass-media law should be adopted rather than simply making amendments to the old one, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 November. According to the committee's head, ORT General Director Ernst, the new media law will not directly restrict the activity of journalists, but it will contain reference to the law on combating terrorism and other relevant legislation. Ernst said that in addition to the new law, the journalistic community will draft and adopt a voluntary code of professional conduct for the coverage of extreme situations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)DUMA DEPUTY URGES CUTTING OFF TERRORISTS FROM MEDIA.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov on 4 December told a roundtable sponsored by the Union of Journalists that one can "block 90 percent of terrorist activity by cutting off the flow of information to television and the newspapers," RosBalt reported. He said that a single terrorist act can generate more publicity than political parties are able to muster even if they spend millions of dollars on promotion. "The terrorists' goal of forcing the authorities to undertake political negotiations would be impossible to realize under conditions of an information blockade," Mitrofanov said. He added that even if the law on the mass media is revised, the government will continue using "informal methods" to close down "inconvenient" media outlets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)PROSECUTORS CONFISCATE EKHO MOSKVY TAPE.
Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Venediktov told journalists on 26 November that an investigator from the Prosecutor-General's Office had confiscated an audio tape containing an interview with one of the Chechen fighters involved in the 23-26 October Moscow hostage drama, newsru.com reported. Venediktov said that he voluntarily handed over the tape but noted that prosecutors had prepared a protocol saying the tape had been "confiscated." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)EXTREMIST AUTHOR ON TRIAL.
Speaking from a defendant's cage in the Saratov regional court where he is on trial on charges of terrorism, illegal arms possession, and creating an illegal armed formation of his National Bolshevik Party, author and publisher Eduard Limonov blasted the Federal Security Service (FSB) and denied accusations of incitement and criminality, "The Moscow Times" reported on 6 December. Limonov is also charged with calling for the violent overthrow of the government, as is one other defendant, Sergei Aksenov, owner of the party-affiliated newspaper "Limonka." Limonov has been an outspoken critic of President Putin. Less than a month before his arrest, Limonov published an article accusing Putin of having overly close ties with aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, and he is also on record as calling Putin a latent homosexual. Limonov has been in prison since April 2001, when security officers detained him, Aksenov, and four more party members outside the remote village of Bannoe in the Altai region, near the border with Kazakhstan. All were held on weapons charges, but only Limonov and Aksenov have been kept in custody. In his 20 months behind bars, Limonov has written seven books, four of which have been published, with the rest due out next year. According to a high-ranking source in the Prosecutor-General's Office cited by "The Moscow Times," investigators admit their case is "raw" because they were rushing to trial. A verdict is expected in February or March. ("The Moscow Times," 6 December)INTERIOR MINISTRY REMOVES CHECHEN FIGHTERS FROM THE WEB...
There is not a single "Wahhabite" Internet site operating in Russia, strana.ru reported on 4 December. Dmitrii Chepchugov, head of the Moscow Interior Ministry department for combating high-technology crime ("Department R"), told journalists that as part of the antiterrorism measures adopted following the 23-26 October hostage taking in Moscow, his department has identified all the websites associated with Chechen fighters. An unspecified number of domestic sites have been shut down, and the Foreign Ministry has sent formal complaints to all foreign countries hosting such sites, acting on information provided by Chepchugov's office. Chepchugov said that the website Kavkaz-Tsentr was registered in Canada and was shut down following a Foreign Ministry appeal to the Canadian government, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)...AND SAYS 'TERRORISTS' FUNDED BY PORN SITES.
At the same press conference, Chepchugov said that the profits generated by pornographic websites worldwide play a significant role in the financing of extremist and terrorist organizations, strana.ru reported on 4 December. He estimated that a child-porn site can bring in as much as $30,000 per month in illegal revenue. Since March, Chepchugov's office has been tracking 3,000 websites and has launched 14 criminal cases. He said that, in addition to pornographic sites, his agency monitors sites "with extremist tendencies." ('RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)
DOCUMENTARY ON KIDNAPPING STIRS CONTROVERSY.
An effort to produce a documentary film about the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr., son of the former Slovak president, is already creating controversy, "Sme" reported on 4 December. Film director Mario Homolka and the editor of the weekly "Plus 7 Dni," Luba Lesna, are producing the film about the kidnapping, which some believe was carried out by allies of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar within the SIS secret service. For the project, Homolka and Lesna filmed the home of one of the accused, identified only as "Lubos K." The same suspect called Homolka and forbade usage of the tape, Homolka alleged. Twelve people were charged in connection with Kovac Jr.'s abduction -- which occurred amid a continuing power struggle between his father and Meciar -- although the charges were dismissed in June 2002 by a court that cited amnesties issued by Meciar while he was temporarily executing the duties of the Slovak president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)
OFFICIALS CLAIM GONGADZE MURDER WAS A 'SETUP.'
The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office considers it highly likely that the murder of "Ukrayinska pravda" journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was deliberately organized by opponents to undermine the reputation of President Leonid Kuchma, pravda.ru reported 4 December, quoting Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin at a press conference the same day. In the long-drawn-out saga of the investigation into Gongadze's murder, officials facing the clamor of international and local watchdog groups for justice, as well as increasingly critical Western governments, have resorted to pointing the finger back at the opposition. In another interview with the newspaper "Segodnya" cited by pravda.ru, Shokin floated several theories of the assassination, including one version where rogue police agents known as "werewolves" killed Gongadze over debts. Yet another independent forensic examination of the tissue of the body found in a forest will be performed by French experts in Switzerland in January, journalists say, noting that the Gongadze has yet to be buried. CAFJOURNALIST ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OF STIFLING MEDIA...
Addressing a parliamentary hearing on the freedom of expression on 4 December, the nascent Independent Trade Union of Journalists' Kyivan leader Andriy Shevchenko described a policy whereby the presidential administration effectively dictates news coverage through unsigned cues sent to media outlets, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. He said such prompts, or "temnyky," detail what news and in what manner the presidential administration wishes to see information reported in newspapers and on radio and television. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko said. "Let us admit honestly: Instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies. Because every half-truth is a lie, and there should be no illusions about that." Shevchenko proposed that media legislation be amended to broaden the definition of illegal interference in journalistic activities and toughen sanctions for such interference. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)...AND NEWS AGENCY'S EDITOR PROVIDES MORE DETAILS.
Oleksandr Kharchenko, editor in chief of the UNIAN news agency, said at the same hearing that authorities have recently begun "taming" Ukrainian news agencies to encourage a certain manner of reportage, UNIAN reported. According to Kharchenko, UNIAN's pluralistic information policy has undergone change since the appointment of Executive Director Vasyl Yurychko earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 October 2002). Kharchenko said Yurychko has limited journalists' opportunities to present differing points of view in their news coverage and initiated a policy of publication that can be construed as politically biased. Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk proposed setting up a working group comprising lawmakers, government officials, and journalists to propose amendments to media legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)PARLIAMENT MULLS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.
The Verkhovna Rada on 4 December gathered for a hearing titled "Society, Media, Authorities: The Freedom of Expression and Censorship in Ukraine," Ukrainian media reported. Deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko, who opened the debate, said the hearing should result in specific changes to legislation on Ukrainian media. More than 50 representatives from the government, parliament, and the media asked to speak at the hearing. A poll conducted last month by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies among 727 Ukrainian journalists revealed that 61.6 percent of them have come into contact with "manifestations of political censorship," UNIAN reported on 3 December. According to the poll, the most common forms of political censorship in Ukraine are self-censorship of journalists for fear of reprisals and removal of politically sensitive passages from texts by editors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)
MINISTER THREATENS LIBEL SUIT.
Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic has threatened to bring libel charges against journalists for their "impudence" in raising issues of government accountability for selling weapons to Iraq, the "Weekly Media Update" of the Association of Independent Media (ANEM) reported this week. Asked by Radio Beograd 202's Aleksandar Nikolic whether, as chairman of Jugoimport, he felt morally responsible for the company's illicit arms deals with Iraq, Mihajlovic replied that neither he nor the company's board had anything to do with the deals. "You can only take moral responsibility for something you took part in," he added. Pressed again on the question of moral responsibility, Mihajlovic replied, "If you want to be so insolent, I could bring libel charges against you". Radio Beograd 202 has demanded an apology from the minister. ("Weekly Media Update," ANEM, 23-29 November)
LAUGHING AT A DICTATOR
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Something curious happened on 26 November at the annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner -- this even honors courageous reporters and benefits the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) -- at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. This popular event on the charity circuit is usually a somewhat somber occasion, where about 1,000 journalists, media executives, and philanthropists from the media-capital elite gather to honor their persecuted colleagues and to view a clips of horrific scenes of reporters being shot at in combat zones from Palestine to Chechnya in a documentary created specially for the event.
It is not a time for levity, beyond the light banter of the master of ceremonies, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, as he introduces his brave colleagues from around the world who have encountered violence for practicing their profession. Yet, this year's footage revealed the work of Irina Petrusheva, editor of the Kazakh business newspaper "Respublika," the audience began to chuckle.
They were soon roaring with laughter as they heard Petrusheva's touchingly simple portrayal of censorship in her country. "The media is not supposed to cover certain taboo subjects, like the president's own businesses," she said. "But no matter which topic you pick -- aluminum or oil or failure to pay taxes -- you will run up against taboos, because the president and his family are involved in so many of the country's businesses," including the media market, she explained.
The audience was howling by the time the film reached a scene showing an airplane taking off. A voice-over described how President Nursultan Nazarbaev's eldest daughter Dariga, herself a media owner, had ordered the removal of ordinary passengers from an aircraft in order to commandeer it for a family vacation.
Abruptly, the guffaws of the black-tie crowd changed to horrified gasps as they watched the film's next scenes of a decapitated dog hanging from the windowsill of "Respublika's" editorial offices in Almaty, skewered with a note warning, "There will be no next time." The dog's head was later dumped near Petrusheva's home with another threat. Her printer also announced he was quitting after finding a human skull on his doorstep.
The reality of journalism "in the stans" suddenly hit home for Americans, particularly those who had visited the region but then safely returned to their desks in New York. Facing renewal of a suspended court case on alleged business violations along with these grisly threats, Petrusheva hired a bodyguard for her children and moved herself and her staff to Moscow to edit the paper. (The newspaper can be viewed on the Internet at www.respublika.kz.)
The sound of a crowd of journalists laughing at a dictator -- a proven remedy in many societies seeking press freedom -- was not something she hears in her native Kazakhstan, Petrusheva acknowledged in an interview with "RFE/RL Media Matters" following the CPJ dinner. "Americans must find all this pretty wild," she surmised.
The lack of a similar type of event in Kazakhstan is not, however, because such occasions are explicitly forbidden. "Journalists just don't gather in this way and don't form such organizations [as the CPJ] in quite this fashion," she explained. While there are some media groups, including those formed with help from Western democracy-assistance grants, a high-profile and effective group similar to the CPJ or its counterparts in neighboring countries has not come together in Kazakhstan, and not only out of fear of punishment. "There is a lack of corporate spirit" in the formation of the journalistic profession itself, Petrusheva said. "There is a poor understanding of what journalism is, and it is viewed as a kind of office work," where obedience rather than principled civic positions are valued, Petrusheva added. "We have to do what they tell us for fear of losing our jobs," Petrusheva finds her colleagues admitting to her.
While groups like the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations and other local human rights groups cover press freedom in Kazakhstan, "it is just monitoring and cannot stop the repression itself, especially in the regions," she said. "We need to create our own internal organization to defend ourselves on the scene."
Petrusheva recounted the time she was stopped by security police and managed to call prominent attorney and human rights campaigner Yevgenii Zhovtis. "He walked me through very specific instructions on how to respond, from getting into my car and locking my windows and refusing to be searched without a warrant," Petrusheva said.
Timely intervention with such defense can prevent a situation from escalating -- "once journalists are in detention, it is often impossible to help them," she said.
Responding to accolades for her bravery in her acceptance speech at the CPJ dinner, Petrusheva said she did not consider herself a hero but had stuck to her last because she feared for herself and her sons being forced to live "in a totally corrupt society."
In a reflection of the view of the media's social role commonly found in the newly independent states, Petrusheva expressed her wish that Kazakh society would "welcome the honest and professional fulfillment of individual responsibility which benefits the people" and for the media "to be the fourth estate, rather than a government lackey."
Finding an audience under difficult publishing conditions can be a challenge. While "Respublika" appears only in the Russian language, not only ethnic Russians read the paper. "Most Kazakhs in urban centers speak Russian" and look to Russian media for more information and analysis than can be provided in local media and view it with tolerance, she said. "Any ethnic hatred between the two groups is artificially incited [from] above," Petrusheva said.
One of the problems in developing more competent media is the lack of investment. Indigenous Kazakh businesses do not appear to be prepared to invest or buy ads in Kazakh papers, she said. Meanwhile, a business elite has emerged in Almaty and other cities; many of them are in their 30s or 40s, Russian-educated, and prepared to sponsor Russian-language media. "Their mentality comes from [Moscow State University]," she said.
Most ordinary people in Kazakhstan, especially in the hinterlands, do not read newspapers but listen to radio instead -- they listen to Radio Tochka or the state-sponsored, Soviet-era cable radio system still available in many homes on cheap receivers. This is the main source of news for rural elderly people, whereas young people tune into Radio Rossiya and focus mainly on FM music programming.
Such issues of format, medium, language, and audience could all be fine-tuned under better working conditions. The chief obstacle to building a durable free press in Kazakhstan is the National Security Committee, Petrusheva said. She believes it is responsible for the firebombing of her office and for attacks on other media outlets and reporters.
Responding to a query on the debate as to whether independent media in Central Asia should be organized on a business model or directly subsidized as alternative press, Petrusheva said, "I always thought newspapers should be done as a business project" with business plans and the sale of advertising. Yet facing state-organized violence and technical problems related to printing outside state-controlled presses, she now concludes that the press requires outside support. U.S. training programs for journalists should concentrate more on survival under actual harsh conditions and less on one-size-fits-all training about how to write, for example, on environmental issues or on how to cover elections, she said.
While Kazakh journalists would not benefit directly from a project to create a U.S.-sponsored independent publishing venture in neighboring Kyrgyzstan due to custom controls, a similar plan would also be beneficial for Kazakhstan. For that to succeed, the international community must hold Kazakhstan's government to account for violence against the media and to secure the protection of journalists.
The laughter of 1,000 journalists along with their serious international award is a start toward that goal.