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Media Matters: November 23, 2001


23 November 2001, Volume 1, Number 39
BELARUS
CHIEF EDITOR OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER SUED FOR LIBEL. Prosecutors have sued Iosif Syaredzich, the editor in chief of the Minsk-based opposition newspaper "Narodnaya volya," for libel, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 November. The lawsuit was instigated by Minsk Oblast Executive Committee Chairman Mikalay Damashkevich in connection with a statement published by "Narodnaya volya" before the 9 September presidential election. The statement, signed by democratic opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk and several other opposition figures, alleged that on 5 September Damashkevich held a conference of raion-level executive officials and instructed them on how to falsify results of the voting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)

RALLY PROTESTS CLOSURE OF OPPOSITION WEEKLY. Some 100 people took part in Hrodna on 19 November in a protest rally against the closure of the local opposition weekly "Pahonya," Belapan reported. Police charged "Pahonya" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich, as well as journalists Pavel Mazheyka and Andrey Pisalnik, with holding an unauthorized demonstration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)

CZECH REPUBLIC
POLICE INVESTIGATOR OF TELEVISION MAGNATE PLACED UNDER PROTECTION. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has ordered that Vladimir Machala, the police investigator in charge of the case of television mogul Vladimir Zelezny, be provided police protection, Czech media reported on 19 November. The decision follows anonymous threats received by Machala. Last June, Machala was attacked and brutally beaten by unknown perpetrators. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November)

COURT FREES TELEVISION TYCOON. A Prague court on 15 November released television tycoon Vladimir Zelezny from detention, rejecting a request by police to detain him until he is tried on charges of attempting to financially harm a creditor, CTK and international agencies reported. The court said there was no need to keep Zelezny in detention during the investigation. The judge said she was not afraid he might try to influence possible witnesses, as police have claimed he may do. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

KAZAKHSTAN
PRESIDENT'S CONTROVERSIAL SON-IN-LAW RESIGNS. National Security Committee Deputy Chairman Rakhat Aliyev submitted his resignation to his father-in-law, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, on 14 November, and Nazarbaev approved it the following day, Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS reported that the resignation was the result of mutual criticisms in the media outlets they controlled between Aliyev and Pavlodar Oblast Governor Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov. Last month Aliyev, whose media empire has repeatedly criticized the situation in Pavlodar, accused Zhaqiyanov of being behind accusations by parliament deputy Tolen Toqtasynov that Aliyev is guilty of abuse of his official position. But Kazakh media suggested that Aliyev resigned voluntarily after his superior, Marat Tazhin, forbade him to appear before parliament to give an account of his actions as deputies had demanded. On 15 November Nazarbaev appointed a 45-year-old former KGB official, Major General Nurtai Dutbaev, to succeed Aliyev, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

ALMATY POLICE ARREST AUTHOR. On 14 November, the Almaty Interior Affairs Department press service announced the detention of Daniar Ashimbaev, author of the book "Who Is Who in Kazakhstan." He was detained by the Almaty police and arrested for alleged "illegal possession of drugs" on 14 November. The police claim they found 0.05 grams of heroin in Ashimbaev's luggage. Investigations are under way. Ashimbaev was placed in the Almaty Temporary Detention Center. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 15 November)

LATVIA
LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITS GERMANY. Chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel assured Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 16 November that the CDU annual conference in early December will express support for the Baltic states' accession to NATO, LETA reported. Vike-Freiberga told the Dusseldorf Industrialists Club that Latvia seeks foreign partners in the fields of information technology, telecommunications, timber processing, and the textile, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November)

PARLIAMENT AMENDS TELECOMMUNICATIONS LAW. The parliament passed on 1 November a new telecommunications law under which monopoly rights for the fixed-line national phone company Lattelekom expire 1 January 2003, BNS reported. The new law will also allow consumers free access to other public telecom networks, without changing their telephone numbers, from that date instead of the previously set 2005. One of the owners of Lattelekom, Tilts Communications, has already filed suit against Latvia in a Stockholm arbitration court for breaking the agreement granting Lattelekom a 20-year monopoly on fixed-line telephone communications. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 19 November)

MACEDONIA
JOURNALISTS ADOPT PRESS CODE. In an effort to strengthen the country's democracy, some 70 Macedonian journalists from the state-owned and the private media adopted a new journalistic code of ethics on 14 November, dpa reported. "The main task of the reporters is to respect the truth and the right of the public to be promptly informed, as stated in Article 16 of the Macedonian Constitution," the draft code says. "Showing respect for the ethical values and professional standards..., reporters will be honest, objective, and prompt." Media representatives worked out the new press code with international support. An "honor council" of the journalists association will oversee its implementation. "The code provides for greater professionalism and quality to the field of journalism in Macedonia," Ivan Andreevski, president of the Macedonian journalists association, is quoted as saying. Foreign observers have widely criticized the professional quality of much of Macedonian journalism, arguing that inflammatory press coverage of the crisis has contributed to ethnic polarization. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

ROMANIA
SENATE COMMISSION SENDS TUDOR CASE TO THE PLENUM. The Senate Judicial Commission recommended on 15 November that the Prosecutor-General's demand to lift the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor be debated by the chamber's plenum, Mediafax reported. The lifting of Tudor's immunity is sought on grounds of spreading false information after he alleged that Romania has trained terrorists belonging to the Palestinian Hamas. The Senate Permanent Bureau has scheduled the debate for 29 November. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

RUSSIA
DUMA LIMITS TV ADS. State Duma deputies approved on 15 November in the third and final reading a bill limiting TV and radio advertising during children's, educational, and religious programs. Ads may not last longer than 20 percent of total air time, and the interval between each commercial should total at least 15 minutes. The bill amends article 11 of the law on advertising, according to ITAR-TASS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

BEREZOVSKII SAYS TV-6's FATE UNDER KREMLIN CONTROL. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 15 November, self-exiled media magnate Boris Berezovskii declared that the decision on the fate of the 15 percent stake in TV-6 will be "taken by the Kremlin" and not by LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov. Alekperov had earlier stated his company's willingness to sell its 15 percent stake in the company to Berezovskii. Berezovskii added that he offered LUKoil $10 million for their shares. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

LEITCH WINS TV-TSENTR CONTRACT. Leitch Technology Corporation has won a multimillion-dollar contract to provide Professional and Broadcast Digital Systems (PBDS), a systems integration company, with server and routing technology to support a fully integrated television newsroom in Moscow for TV-Tsentr. The new facility, built around Leitch's extensive VR(R) product range, will include 11 NEWSFlash-II (TM) editing solutions and will be based on a dual-fiber channel loop system offering 30 channels of ingest or playout, PR Newswire reported. Tom Gittens, U.K. sales manager at Leitch, said, "Our high server bandwidth and news-specific editing capabilities, together with simultaneous shared access, mean that [TV-Tsentr] will see workflow improvements that could not have been attained with other suppliers' equipment." The digital newsroom, further evidence of strong investment emerging within Russia, will be the first in the country with a media-asset management system and one of the first anywhere to have an integrated archive accessible across all operational areas. TV-Tsentr is currently the leading TV network in Russia, covering more than half of Russian territory, plus some Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic countries. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 13 November)

ROSTELEKOM SEES DOUBLE NET PROFIT IN 2001. Russian long-distance carrier Rostelekom sees its annual net profit doubling to 2-2.5 billion rubles as compared to a 1.03 billion-ruble net profit posted in 2000, Reuters reported. However, analysts warn that the Russian Accounting Standards (RAS) did not include the inflation rate and masked a decline in the company's revenues over the first nine months. Rostelekom reported a 1.8 billion-ruble RAS net profit for the first nine months of 2001, double the figure for the same period of 2000. Renaissance Capital analyst Andrei Braginsky said Russian investors would see the headline figures as positive but added the nine-month numbers hid a drop in revenues that would show up in Rostelekom's international-standard accounts (IAS) later. "The Russian standard figures show a trend.... The trend is that the business is growing slower than inflation and the rate of cost increases is higher." Rostelekom has been plagued by uncertainty about its role in the sector when it loses its monopoly in a few years' time and its stock fell to all time lows in recent months. Analysts have pinned hopes for a mid-term turnaround on a new management team and gradual increases in settlement rates with local operators. According to Rostelekom chief financial officer Vladimir Androsik, a recently approved increase in the tariff to Rostelekom by local operators is expected to increase Rostelekom's revenues by 4 to 5 percent in 2002. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 13 November)

UKRAINE
KUCHMA DISMISSES ENERGY MINISTER, NAMES HIS SPOKESMAN AS NEW TELEVISION CHIEF. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has dismissed Stanislav Stashevskyy from the post of fuel and energy minister, Interfax reported on 19 November. Last week, Stashevskyy was severely criticized by Kuchma and the parliament for failing to accumulate sufficient stocks of fuel at power stations for the winter. Kuchma also appointed Ihor Storozhuk as the president of the National Television Company. Storozhuk, who serves as Kuchma's spokesman, will replace Vadym Dolhanov. Both Stashevskyy and Dolhanov were relieved of their duties with the formulation "in connection with a transfer to another job." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)

PARLIAMENT RESTRICTS ALCOHOL, TOBACCO ADVERTISING... On 15 November the Ukrainian parliament passed amendments to a law on advertisements, banning the advertising of alcohol and tobacco products "on all information carriers," Interfax reported. The move in effect limits the visual promotion of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks to billboard advertising. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

...BUT FAILS TO PASS BILL CURBING CD PIRACY. Only 140 deputies -- well below the required majority of 226 votes -- voted on 15 November in the second reading for a bill that would establish licensing for production of compact discs and thus put a barrier to widespread piracy of music CDs in Ukraine. According to estimates, illegal production of compact discs in Ukraine costs up to $300 million a year in damages to the global record industry. The U.S. has threatened to impose trade sanctions on Ukraine if it fails to curb this piracy. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov told UNIAN that the government will insist on an additional hearing of the bill. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November)

END NOTE
INTERNET SCAM THREATENS ARMENIA'S IMAGE

By Emil Danielyan

Armenia is earning an unwanted -- and undeserved -- reputation as a safe haven for perpetrators of a type of Internet crime called "cyber-squatting." The name describes a practice by which people purchase website domain names similar to those of legitimate companies in order to blackmail them.

Armenia is figuring increasingly in press reports of people using pornographic material to extort money from owners of mainstream websites around the world.

The most recent case of so-called "cyber-squatting" was registered in New Zealand earlier in November. Owners of a hard-core pornography site with a contact address in Yerevan reportedly demanded $6,000 in return for abandoning the site's domain name, which was virtually identical to the address of a site belonging to New Zealand's Ministry of Education.

Visitors who mistakenly left off the dot and two-letter country suffix -- in this case, dot nz -- found themselves looking not at education resources and classroom itineraries but at a Dutch pornographic site.

The same has happened with at least a dozen other domain addresses that are either similar to popular sites or simply named after prominent people. Targets of the cyber-squatters are amazingly diverse, ranging from a Hollywood actress, to a top Indian politician, to a rugby club in London.

The cyber-squatting sites are registered with different Internet companies but have the same content and owner -- an apparently fictitious organization called Domain For Sale. Domain For Sale's contact address in Yerevan is also false. The company has been traced to Glendale, California. That Los Angeles suburb is home to the largest Armenian community in the United States, so there is some reason to believe that Armenian nationals could be involved in the Internet scam.

Tom Samuelian is a Yerevan-based American business lawyer. He believes law-enforcement authorities in both the U.S. and Armenia can bring a commercial libel or unfair competition case against the perpetrators. He was alerted to the Internet scam earlier this year by one of his clients, another victim of the cyber-squatting-and-blackmail scheme.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Samuelian said: "We don't know whether they are actually in Armenia. But wherever they are, they are using a name that is similar enough to the legal name of a company or organization, and are therefore doing harm to its reputation."

But some Internet providers in Armenia disagree with this assertion. Vahram Mkhitarian of the Armenian Computer Center had this to say: "The sale of domain names that are popular or easy to remember is a widely accepted business in the world. There are even countries that will sell their national domain suffixes to anybody willing to pay for them."

Mark Perry teaches a course on law and the Internet at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He argued in an Armenian newspaper recently that while the blackmailers may be acting unethically, it will be difficult to win a lawsuit against them. He said appeals to ICANN -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- are therefore unlikely to be successful.

Samuelian said persistent news reports implicating Armenia in the dubious practice could prove damaging to Yerevan's image and particularly to its growing information technology sector. He called for an official investigation into the reported cases but admitted that tracking down Internet abusers is not an easy task: "It's a kind of hooliganism -- like throwing a rock through a window. If you don't get caught [on the spot], it's hard to catch you."

If law-enforcement authorities eventually launch an inquiry, they may find clues by talking with an Armenian student reportedly studying in California on an exchange program. Eighteen-year-old Emil Lazarian faced a lawsuit last summer for creating a porn site bearing the name of Joe Montana, a retired American football star.

The U.S. media reported that the web address -- www.joemontanafanclub.com -- linked visitors to pornographic sites. It has since been shut down, and it is not clear if it is linked to the other allegedly Armenian domain names promoting pornography.

The Yerevan office of the American Council for International Education, a government agency that selects young Armenians to study at U.S. universities and high schools, denies ever dealing with Lazarian.

So far, there have been no reported cases of a celebrity or an organization paying the cyber-squatters a "ransom" to protect their good name. The New Zealand government, for example, decided against buying the web address on the advice of police and instead moved to block local school access to the false site.

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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