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Western Press Review: World Justice, Media Bias, ECB, Sino-Russian Summit

Prague, 17 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Editorials and commentaries in the Western press look at a multitude of issues today. Fairness in the international justice system, media bias, and attempts to replace European Central Bank chief Wim Duisenberg are among the subjects discussed. Other topics considered are the efforts to dismantle Russia's Pardons Commission, relations between China and Russia in the wake of yesterday's signing of a "friendship and cooperation" treaty between the two nations, and the India-Pakistan summit, which has concluded falling far short of expectations.


In a commentary in the "International Herald Tribune," analyst Ramesh Thakur discusses equity and prejudice in the international justice system. He writes: "Former dictators need to be tried in free and fair trials in their own countries. The decision on whether to try them or go down the route of truth and reconciliation commissions has to be made by the people and the countries concerned, not by outsiders. Europeans in particular need to avoid the temptation of launching a fresh wave of judicial colonialism, substituting their courts and morality for the choices made by the affected societies."

Thakur continues: "It will be difficult for justice to be seen to be done in the case of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague tribunal. [NATO's] unlawful war against Serbia in 1999 has made it deeply problematical for a familiar litany of reasons. The tribunal is sited in a NATO country, its expenses are met mainly from NATO members' contributions, the indictment of Mr. Milosevic during the war on the basis of evidence supplied by NATO infected the process of criminal justice with security-political calculations, and the enforcement of the tribunal's indictment of Mr. Milosevic and cronies as war criminals has been totally dependent on the same NATO powers."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" columnist Tunku Varadarajan assesses editorial bias in the media. He writes that news "is rarely self-evident. Mostly -- often -- it is a matter of selection and revelation by editors, who evaluate its 'fitness' for general dissemination on a grid of subjective taste and judgment, and by testing it against the newspaper's [or network's] institutional morality. [The] high-minded players are seldom the guarantors of a free flow of information."

Varadarajan considers the contrast between what he calls "highbrow" news that seeks to "edify" and editorial material that merely seeks to "titillate." He says: "The essential difference between the [tabloid] 'New York Post,' on the one hand, and the '[New York] Times,' on the other, is that the latter is always looking (as are other papers of its ilk) for reasons not to run stories that are 'intrusive.' The existence of a 'personal' or 'private' angle can often vitiate a story for its editors."

"The 'Post' has fewer qualms," he continues. "If there's a 'story' -- broadly defined as a source of narrative that will make people want to buy a copy at the newsstand -- only a monumental degree of intrusiveness will render it unfit to print. This approach may have its problems," he says. "But the 'Times'' reticence [can] lead to an abdication of responsibility. One of the strengths of the British press (which, for sure, has major problems of its own) is that the boundaries between the tabloids and the broad-sheets are not [drawn] on the basis of subject matter. The differences lie in the contrasting manner in which the same material is handled by the highbrow and the lowbrow [media]."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Melvyn Krauss says in a commentary that the European Central Bank, under the leadership of Wim Duisenberg, "has done a more than creditable job under difficult circumstances. So why all the talk about Mr. Duisenberg's 'pending' departure?" he asks.

Krauss writes: "Mr. Duisenberg's early exit is being sought by those who seek to prevent his slated successor, Bank of France President Jean-Claude Trichet, from assuming the presidency of the European Central Bank. [Trichet] currently is being investigated for allegedly covering up the falsification of documents at Credit Lyonnais when he served as head of the French Treasury." Until he is either cleared or formal charges are filed against him, Trichet's candidacy is on hold.

Krauss continues: "While the choice of Mr. Trichet as Mr. Duisenberg's successor is popular inside Europe's central bank, Mr. Trichet is much less popular among politicians, [because] Trichet is a respected central banker who, like Mr. Duisenberg, takes the ECB's inflation-fighting mandate seriously, and is tough enough to stand up to outside political pressures to enforce it. Those who want politicians to have a greater say in ECB policy decisions cannot be happy with the prospect of yet another strong central banker at the helm for a four-year term. So they want to get their [own candidate] in while Mr. Trichet is on the ropes."

He concludes: "This explains the unrelenting pressure on Mr. Duisenberg to resign while Mr. Trichet is incapacitated by a [money] scandal."


Russian journalist Masha Lipman writes in "The Washington Post" that "one of the most revealing changes now underway" in Russia is the Kremlin's intention to pare down the authority of the Russian Pardons Commission.

She says: "With Russia's judicial and law enforcement systems notoriously corrupt, inefficient and highly dependent on local political bosses, the Pardons Commission was to serve as a humanizing tool. The members of the commission were to examine the cases of unfairly convicted people and submit them to the president, who would show his mercy and make up for the flaws of the system. The commission included liberal writers and scholars who worked day and night, so as to save as many victims of faulty trials as possible."

Lipman goes on: "Putin's advisers intend to reduce the operation of the Pardons Commission and change its status, so that it will be a bureaucratic institution, not a body made up of liberal writers and journalists. The government says it plans to reform the judicial system, but for the time being it remains as before -- corrupt, inefficient and manipulated by political bosses. This makes the Pardons Commission an appropriate and indispensable body, even if it is not a very modern one."

Lipman remarks that the commission was formed during the liberal reforms of former President Boris Yeltsin. Should the Kremlin succeed in its endeavor to limit its authority, she says, "one more achievement of the Yeltsin era that served to soften the legacy of the communist police state will have proven itself sadly reversible."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at this week's meeting between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The paper writes: "It is in the West's interest that these two nuclear powers with long common frontiers cooperate. [Mr. Putin] and Mr. Jiang have been brought together partly by their fears about the U.S. [Their] concerns have been magnified by signs that [U.S.] President George W. Bush's administration may pay even less attention to the concept of multi-polarity than did [former U.S.] President Bill Clinton's team."

The editorial adds that the two presidents "condemned Washington's plans for a missile shield and scrapping the [1972] Anti-Ballistic Missile pact. The two leaders warned of the risk of a new arms race. The West should treat these concerns seriously," the paper says. "While the U.S. is not wrong to develop new defense technologies, it should avoid doing so in ways that provoke other nuclear powers to increase their arsenals."


In the French daily "Liberation," correspondent Stone Prakash analyzes the weekend meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf. He writes: "Expectations were immense for this summit between India and Pakistan, and [thus] the disappointment is only stronger. The two capitals did not manage to reduce their deep differences on [the territorial dispute over] Kashmir, the main source of conflict between the countries for more than half a century."

Prakash says the two sides initially evoked optimism by announcing the signature of a joint declaration of nine points, to form the basis of a bilateral dialogue which had been suspended for more than two years. But after eight hours of intense discussions, their views remained irreconcilable on the question of Kashmir. In fact, Prakash writes, the two leaders "parted without even being able to sign a joint statement."

He concludes: "In spite of the hope aroused by the resumption of dialogue between both men, [the] optimism was manifestly premature. [They both] know what they risk, in political terms, in making concessions on Kashmir. It was certainly utopian to want to settle in a weekend [what has been] a problem for 54 years."


This week's two summits -- between the Russian and Chinese presidents as well as between the leaders of India and Pakistan -- are the subject of a commentary by Torsten Krauel in Germany's "Die Welt." He writes that Pakistan's atomic potential is a "nightmare," from Moscow, through New Delhi to Beijing. India and Pakistan are attempting to defuse their permanent crises over issues such as Kashmir. Likewise, Russia and China want to demonstrate that they can respond politically to U.S. plans for a defense missile shield -- yet both are primarily interested in maintaining good relations with the United States.

Krauel raises the question as to whether there are enough grounds in recent developments to fear another cold war, and says that he thinks that such fears are probably unfounded. He remarks that the rumblings of another arms race are not loud enough to drown out the positive sounds that have been diffused since 1989.


Another German newspaper comments on EU assistance to Yugoslavia. The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" questions whether the Belgrade "revolutionists" read the small print carefully, since as a reward for turning over Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague war crimes tribunal they are not receiving the promised funds from the EU fast enough. Moreover, the funds are flowing into different channels: the money is being used to pay off debts. Little is left to finance much-needed economic reforms.

The paper concludes: "Only fast financial help and [the] speedy improvement of people's living standards can safeguard the survival of the Belgrade democrats."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)