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Media Matters: October 1, 2001

1 October 2001, Volume 1, Number 32
CONFERENCE ON BROADCASTING LAWS SCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER. Journalists and media experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Georgia, and Russia will join representatives of the Council of Europe and other international organizations in Yerevan, Armenia, on 6-7 October to discuss issues related to broadcasting laws, the Yerevan Press Club (YPC) announced. The conference, "Legal Regulations of Public and Private Broadcasting," is being organized by the YPC to discuss broadcast legislation and to study the experience of post-totalitarian countries in creating and applying such laws. Support for the conference comes from the Council of Europe, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and the Open Society Institute. Participants will examine recommendations of the Council of Europe and their relevance to countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc. For more information on the upcoming conference, visit YPC's website at (IJNet, 24 September)

POLICE DISPERSE JOURNALISTS' PROTEST. Police in Baku on 19 September used force to break up a protest outside the Supreme Court by journalists of the newspaper "Ulus," which supports exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, Turan reported. At least three journalists were injured, one of them seriously. The journalists had sought to present a petition to the court on behalf of the editor and deputy editor of the paper, who were arrested on 13 July on charges of having insulted and resorted to physical violence eight days earlier against a former journalist with the paper. That journalist, Aybeniz Ilgar, had accused the two editors of assaulting her after she submitted her resignation following an unsanctioned two-month absence from work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

EDITOR WARNED OVER ARTICLE SAYING MOSCOW BEHIND UNREST IN AZERBAIJAN'S NORTH. Elchin Shikhlinskii, the editor of Baku's "Zerkalo" newspaper, and one of his correspondents were summoned to the prosecutor general's office on 26 September and given a warning for publishing an article suggesting Russia had played a role in terrorist actions in Zagatala in northern Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Prosecutors told the two that there is no truth to their story and that it "can be harmful" for relations between Baku and Moscow. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)

EDITORS DEPLORE GOVERNMENT PRESSURE ON MEDIA. Meeting in Baku on 20 September, members of the editors' union Yeni Nesil expressed concern at the recent increase in government harassment of the media and decided to establish a five-member commission to investigate the circumstances of the forced closure of several newspapers and the arrest of three journalists, union Chairman Arif Aliyev told Turan. Aliyev said that if such selective harassment continues, editors may decide to publish a common newspaper. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September)

TWO JOURNALISTS SENTENCED. A Baku district court on 21 September sentenced Elmar Huseinov, founder of the now-defunct newspaper "Bakinskii bulvard," to six months in a prison camp on charges of insulting the honor and dignity of Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov, Turan reported. The paper's editor, Bella Zakirova, received a six-month suspended sentence. The charges were based on an article by a second journalist with the paper, Irada Huseynova, that accused Abutalibov of corruption. Huseynova is currently in Warsaw attending an OSCE-sponsored conference and has reportedly asked the German embassy there for political asylum. In a separate case, the same court had fined Huseinov, Zakirova, and Huseynova 18 million manats ($17,090) each earlier this month for insulting Abutalibov and ordered the paper's closure. On 22 September, fellow editors met in Baku to found a committee to defend Huseinov's rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

RUSSIAN COMPANY WINS GSM LICENSE. Belarus's Communications Ministry has awarded the country's second dual-band GSM 900/1800 license to Russia's Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Belapan reported on 25 September. Communications Minister Uladzimir Hancharenka said MTS pledged to invest $49.9 million in Belarus's GSM network next year and $198.9 million by 2011. Four other bidders -- two Russian companies, one from Saudi Arabia, and another from Austria -- reportedly made lower investment offers. Hancharenka said MTS must pay to the Belarusian budget $15 million for the license plus $6 million within five years beginning in 2003. MTS will be required to form a joint venture with Belarus's state-run company, Mezhdugorodnaya Svyaz (Intercity Communication), which will hold a controlling 51 percent stake. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

PRIVATE TV TO LAY OFF STAFF. Georgios Douvletis, the executive director of private broadcaster Nova TV, on 26 September told journalists that the station will lay off 20 percent of its staff, BTA reported. The measure follows the revocation of Greek-owned Nova TV 's nationwide license by the Supreme Administrative court last July. The court overruled a decision of the former cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov to award Nova TV a nationwide broadcast network for 15 years. Lawyers for Nova TV working on the case said they are considering appealing the decision in an international court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)

PUBLIC TELEVISION COUNCIL SHORTLISTS CANDIDATES FOR DIRECTOR'S POST. The parliament-appointed Czech Television Council on 19 September selected 30 of the 44 candidates seeking to head the public broadcaster for consideration in a second round of review, CTK reported. The council also eased unspecified conditions in the application process, reportedly after discovering that the terms had been met by only two of the candidates. Most candidates exceeded the maximum allowable space for outlining their individual plans for Czech Television, CTK reported. Most of those weeded out of the process failed to submit screening certificates testifying to their not being listed in an archive of collaborators with the communist-era secret police, or StB. The naming of a new director, which was necessitated after the public broadcaster was crippled by a protest against political influence at the station in December and January, should take place in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

PRAGUE CONSIDERS APPEAL AGAINST TELEVISION ARBITRATION RULING. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said his country may lodge an appeal against a Stockholm arbitration court's ruling that the Czech state had violated the terms of a Czech-Dutch investment protection treaty, CTK reported on 19 September. Zeman was speaking while on a visit to Katowice, Poland, where he was campaigning for the Democratic Left Party ahead of Polish elections on 23 September. The court found the government culpable in failing to adequately protect an investment by Central European Media Enterprises, or CME, into Czech TV Nova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2001). It is not clear from media reports whether or not the arbitration court's decision can be appealed under international law, while compensation is expected to be determined in the next round. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

TRADE UNION DECLARES STRIKE ALERT AT CZECH PUBLIC TELEVISION. The Independent Trade Union at state broadcaster Czech Television on 21 September threatened to strike for the second time in less than a year over what it considers harassment by the company's interim management, CTK and AP reported. Station employees want an apology for threats they say were made by management to reporter Martin Schmarcz after he expressed opposition to a 2 million crown ($53,000) fine levied by the broadcast council. The council found that journalists, including Schmarcz, compromised the station's independence when they appeared on television during a December-January strike to air their demands. After expressing his disagreement with the finding, Schmarcz was reportedly told he could be dismissed for breach of contract. The union is also demanding a public apology from managers for damaging Czech Television's good name. The station's interim director, Jiri Balvin, and senior News Editor Petr Bohus deny that they acted improperly and have variously called the strike threat "blackmail" and "harassment," while rejecting union demands. The public broadcaster has been wracked by infighting and political horse-trading since employees rallied public support for a protest alleging political meddling that began in December. A new director is expected to be named in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

ONE IN TWO CZECHS WANTS SECRET POLICE FILES DECLASSIFIED. Half of those polled agree with a Czech Senate proposal to completely declassify the files of the communist-era secret police, or StB, CTK reported on 23 September. Advocates say opening the files to the public will help people deal with the past, polling agency TNS Factum said, while opponents say there is no need to delve further into the country's checkered past. Some 52 percent of respondents agreed with a complete declassification, compared to some 20 percent who believed the opposite. Roughly 80 percent of those wishing to see declassification think it would prevent potential blackmail. More than two-thirds of those opposed said they believe the files are unreliable. The Social Democratic government swept aside on 12 September a Senate-backed proposal to open StB files to anyone over 18 years of age. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

TV PROGRAM CENSURED FOR UNFAIR REPORTING. The complaints committee of the National Radio and Television Board on 25 September ruled that the "A Het" ("The Week") program on state-run Hungarian TV did not satisfy legal requirements to provide balanced and objective information in its report on late Socialist Deputy Zoltan Vancsik, who died recently in an automobile accident. The board said the report called into question Vancsik's moral integrity when it linked him to the underworld and dealt at length with his son's drug problems, in which Vancsik was not directly involved. The complaint was submitted to the board by the Socialist Party. In other media news, Free Democrat parliamentary member Ivan Peto won a lawsuit against "Magyar Nemzet." The daily will have to pay Peto 500,000 forints ($1,800) for having listed him among corrupt politicians in an article published in August 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN TV'S ALLEGATIONS... Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 September that his ministry would send a protest note to Moscow later that day expressing "outrage" over "unsubstantiated" and "libelous" Russian TV broadcasts on 20 September that accused Georgia of abetting Chechen terrorists, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He denied that Georgia harbors any "terrorists." In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, President Eduard Shevardnadze on 24 September said the Russian allegations reflect double standards, Caucasus Press reported. He specifically condemned the appearance in one of the Russian TV programs of former Georgian National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued in connection with his alleged role in the August 1995 attempt on Shevardnadze's life. Shevardnadze on 24 September also accused Giorgadze of three other murders, including those of his close associate Soliko Khabeishvili and opposition National Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Gia Chanturia in 1993. Shevardnadze nonetheless conceded that some of the Chechens currently in Georgia may have taken part in fighting against the Russians but pointed out that it is extremely difficult to establish which ones. He affirmed that Russia has "no legal right, nor any grounds" to launch an attack on Georgian territory. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

DEMACI TO HEAD KOSOVA MEDIA BOARD. Veteran political dissident and human rights campaigner Adem Demaci is to head the Administrative Board of Radio-Television Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Prishtina on 26 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)

PREMIER CRITICIZES 'INDOCTRINATION' IN HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE MEDIA. Adrian Nastase on 21 September said he is "dissatisfied" with "distorted reports" in the Hungarian-language media in Transylvania on his recent visit to schools in Harghita and Covasna counties, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said the media in the language of that minority indulges in "indoctrination," and "the time has come" for the cabinet to address the population there "without mitigation" and to "break the cartel" of that media. Nastase also said that schools teaching in languages of the national minorities must use only textbooks produced in Romania, and that this is "particularly important for history and geography" in order to avoid inculcating "other visions" to students. He said principals of schools that use textbooks produced abroad will be dismissed. The leadership of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania said that it is "worried" by the premier's "insulting" statements. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER MURDERED. Eduard Markevich, editor and publisher of a local newspaper in the town of Reftinskiy, Sverdlovsk Region, was found dead on the night of 18 September, according to press reports. He had been shot in the back. Markevich edited "Novyy Reft," a paper that was often critical of local officials. The journalist's colleagues told the ITAR-TASS news service that he had received threatening telephone phone calls prior to the attack. This was not the first attack on Markevich, the Region-Inform news agency reported. In 1998, two unknown assailants broke into his apartment and severely beat him in front of his pregnant wife, but police never caught them. Last year, Markevich was illegally detained for 10 days after the local prosecutor's office charged him with defamation over a "Novyy Reft" article questioning the propriety of a lucrative government contract that gave a former deputy prosecutor the exclusive right to represent the Reftinskiy administration in court. In May 2001, federal Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov reprimanded the local prosecutor for violating Markevich's constitutional rights. Police have launched an investigation into Markevich's murder, and CPJ will continue to monitor the case. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 September)

JAPANESE JOURNALIST MISSING AFTER LEAVING GEORGIA FOR CHECHNYA. Both the Russian government and the Georgian Interior Ministry said on 21 September that they do not know the whereabouts of Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, who left Georgia in June intending to travel to Chechnya, Russian media reported. He is said not to have applied for accreditation to work as a journalist either in Georgia or the North Caucasus. On 22 September, Georgian border guards detained one Sudanese and one Jordanian citizen trying to enter Georgia illegally from Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press reported. On 23 September police rounded up one Indian and five Pakistani citizens illegally residing in Tbilisi who may now face deportation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

ITAR-TASS JOURNALIST IN NEW YORK RECOVERS. Yurii Kirilchenko, the ITAR-TASS journalist who suffered a heart attack after providing assistance to victims of the 11 September attack on the World Trade Center, was released from New York's St. Vincent's Hospital on 21 September, the Russian news agency reported. He underwent six hours of open-heart surgery and is expected to recover fully. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

RTR CARRIES 'TRIBUTE TO HEROES' CONCERT. Russian state television RTR on 22 September carried the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" concert organized in the U.S. in memory of the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks. RTR officials said that the U.S. producers of the program did not require Moscow to pay any royalties for use of the program and charged the Russian channel only for the cost of the signal itself -- some $6,000, Interfax reported on 21 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

KREMLIN OUTRAGED BY INFORMATION LEAKS FROM PROTECTION AGENCY. The Kremlin is reportedly infuriated that there have been leaks from the Federal Protection Service (FSO), which guards top leaders, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 21 September. The Kremlin's anger reflects the nature of the information: It concerns an Interior Ministry investigation that uncovered FSO surveillance of 12 prominent businessmen. The paper said that the agency attempted to justify the action by saying that it had to "screen" the businessmen before they met with the Russian president, but President Putin's anger about the leak signals that the FSO should expect to be reshuffled in the near future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

MEDIA-UNION WANTS STATE SUPPORT FOR REGIONAL PRESS. Aleksandr Lyubimov, the head of Media-Union, said on 21 September that his organization believes that the government should provide financial support to small and regional publications, Interfax reported. He said that media outlets in 52 regions of the country have turned to his group with requests for such help. Meanwhile, in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Birobidzhan, a seminar took place on 21 September to discuss how journalists can resist pressure from judicial and administrative officials, Interfax-Eurasia reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE TO HAVE COMMON RADIO STATION. Russian-Belarusian radio station Union will begin broadcasting soon, as questions of financing are worked out, Interfax reported on 25 September. The station is to broadcast 24 hours a day across the territories of the two countries, the news service said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

CHANGE AND CONTINUITIES IN THE RUSSIAN MEDIA. In an article published in "The Moscow Times" on 25 September, Aleksei Pankin, the editor of the media magazine "Sreda," said that shock over the terrorist attacks on the U.S. served as a wake-up call for the Russian media, forcing them to examine themselves and become more professional. One example of that phenomenon is an article in "Komsomolskaya pravda" the same day that listed the pros and cons of an American military presence in Central Asia. But other developments pointed to certain continuities: "Izvestiya" on 25 September played up an American newspaper report that the American authorities "will not exclude" the use of disinformation during the upcoming antiterrorist campaign. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry's press service called on the Russian media to show restraint in covering the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 25 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

MEDIA COVERAGE OF CENTRAL ASIA SAID INADEQUATE. An extensive survey of Moscow press articles on the countries of Central Asia conducted by four Russian scholars who specialize in following the media found that the coverage of events in that region is inadequate and distorted, according to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

KREMLIN SETS UP CIVIL SOCIETY INTERNET PORTAL. Kremlin political adviser Gleb Pavlovskii is behind the opening on 25 September of a new Internet portal devoted to resources on Russian civil society, reported the same day. The portal,, is intended to promote the government-sponsored organization of civil society institutions, the site said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

THE .SU RETURNS ON THE INTERNET. The Fund for the Development of the Internet told Interfax on 24 September that as of 1 October 2001, Internet users may again register with the domain .su. The fund's spokesmen said such registration will cost $15,000, and that they hope it will be used across the former USSR. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)

JUSTICE MINISTRY OPENS WEBSITE ON POLITICAL PARTIES. As required by the political parties law, the Justice Ministry has opened a website on Russia's political parties, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 September. The site is still "under construction" with only two of its four categories having any content, the paper said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

ANOTHER DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKS OUT AGAINST LATIN SCRIPT FOR TATAR LANGUAGE. Bashkortostan Academy of Sciences President and State Duma Deputy (Russian Regions) Robert Nigmatulin told reporters on 20 September that the introduction of Latin script for the Tatar written language will result in the break of the Tatar language from the Bashkir language as well as from Russian language and culture, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 24 September. Nigmatulin said that this is not "a private issue of Tatarstan." In an earlier interview with Russian Television (RTR) on 18 September, he called for resolving the question at the federal level. During that same RTR program, Marat Murtazin, rector of the Islamic University, also condemned the Latinization program, saying that it should be "forbidden to experiment on a people, abandoning one plan for another." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)

...AS TATARSTAN OFFICIALS STAND FAST. "Our children will lose the opportunity to read, to read literature that was written in the Tatar language during the last 70 years," he continued. According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, Nigmatulin and Murtazin admitted at a Moscow press conference that they themselves do not read any books or newspapers in Tatar -- even in Cyrillic script. Meanwhile, local Tatarstan officials were defiant. Farid Mukhametshin, chairman of Tatarstan's Legislative Assembly, said on 21 September that federal authorities cannot legally block the switch to Latin script. And Mansur Khasanov, president of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, said that if the State Duma votes to prohibit the switch, this would be a "return to the past" and would represent the annihilation of Tatarstan's sovereignty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)

MINORITY LANGUAGES, AT MERCY OF REGIONS, NOW DYING OUT. An article published in "Vremya MN" on 26 September on the occasion of Europe's Language Day said that languages spoken by only a few people in Russia are now at the mercy of the whims of regional leaders rather than of any central policy as to whether they will survive or die out. These languages saw their first major decline from the 1950s to the end of the 1980s when their use in textbooks and instruction was reduced by Moscow's fiat. But since 1991, one of the "small" languages has died out -- Kerek, which was spoken in parts of Chukotka -- and many of the 60 others in this category are threatened with extinction, the article said. It also noted that Russia has never signed a single international convention on the protection of small ethnic groups and languages spoken by relatively few people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)

OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY MAY CLOSE DOWN. TASR Director Ivan Ceredejev on 21 September said the agency may have to stop operations by February 2002. Ceredejev said the budget for that year provides for only one-third of the agency's needs, and that instead of receiving 72 million crowns ($1.5 million) as in 2001, TASR is to receive only 27 million next year. "We will not be able to work under these conditions," AP cited Ceredejev as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)

FIRST PRIVATE TV CHANNEL GOES ON AIR. TA3, Slovakia's first private, all-news television channel, started broadcasting on 23 September, AP reported the next day. The station is run by Martin Lengyel, a former spokesman for Premier Dzurinda, and its editor in chief is Zdenek Samal, who previously worked as a journalist for Czech public television. Lengyel said the station's main backer, U.K.-based Millennium Electronics, will invest 150 million Slovak crowns ($3.1 million) in the new venture. The station's debut comes less than a year ahead of general elections that will pit Dzurinda's fragile government coalition against an attempted return to power by former Premier and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)

PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS SAY UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOT INVOLVED IN JOURNALIST'S DEATH... Kroll Associates, a private investigative agency from the United States, said on 25 September that there is no evidence to link Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to the murder of Ukrainian Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Kroll Associates was hired by the pro-Kuchma Labor Ukraine party to conduct an independent investigation into the Gongadze case. Secret recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko suggested that Kuchma may be involved in the slaying of Gongadze. "Our investigation raised questions about the credibility of the person [Melnychenko] purportedly making the tapes and the integrity of the recordings themselves," Kroll Associates said in their report. The report does not answer the question of how Gongadze was killed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

...WHILE ANTI-KUCHMA OPPOSITION REMAINS UNCONVINCED. Ukrainian opposition activists have dismissed Kroll's findings, saying it was a public-relations exercise to lend credibility to Kuchma's statements of innocence ahead of parliamentary elections next year, Reuters reported on 25 September. "Their task was to clear Kuchma and they fulfilled it. There was no investigation; they did not find any new facts. They just discussed existing theories," Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement, told the agency. Michael Cherkasky, Kroll's chief executive, said his firm interviewed dozens of witnesses, including Kuchma, his chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and some top politicians. The firm, however, failed to meet with Melnychenko, with former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, or with former Security Service head Leonid Derkach, whom Melnychenko charged with complicity in the murder of Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES NEW PROBE INTO GONGADZE'S DEATH. The Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe considers it advisable to recommend that Ukraine initiate a new investigation into the Gongadze case with the participation of international experts, Novyy Kanal television reported on 25 September, quoting the Monitoring Committee's rapporteur on Ukraine, Hanne Severinsen. Former presidential bodyguard Melnychenko has reportedly agreed to testify before an investigation commission with the participation of international experts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)