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OSCE: Duve Discusses Media Developments In Central Asia And The Caucusus

By Farangiz Najibullah/Jean-Christophe Peuch

Prague, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Freimut Duve, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, has been observing media trends in OSCE member states for the past five years. In former communist countries, where journalists and independent media outlets continue to face persecution, his work is especially important. Duve, himself a former journalist, spoke with RFE/RL correspondents Farangiz Najibullah and Jean-Christophe Peuch about recent media developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

RFE/RL: If you were a Central Asian or a South Caucasus journalist who receives a salary of just $20 a month and who could face possible intimidation for criticizing the regime, would you opt for self-censorship?

DUVE: No, I would not opt for self-censorship. But as a former journalist and the father of three children, I would know that such a situation creates a situation where one has to be very careful. You have two things [here]: money -- a very low salary -- [and], more importantly, danger. My office has created a warning against what we call "censorship by killing." And "censorship by killing," whether they earn $20 or $200 a month, means that if a journalist who has looked into corruption -- especially state corruption or presidential corruption -- and writes about it is killed, the main effect is that other [journalists] are silent. I think that from a moral point of view, I have to understand that. Yet, we still have courageous journalists, who in spite of these dangers -- [low salary] and being pushed aside, or even being killed -- dare to smuggle information or even openly say things. We have to admire these people.

RFE/RL: Those courageous journalists you're talking about are committed to democracy. They take risks to criticize totalitarian governments, human rights conditions, and unfair elections. But the situation for journalists has changed since the terror attacks in the U.S. on September 11. Suddenly leaders in the most repressive Central Asian states became allied with the U.S. and the West. How has this affected independent journalists and opposition activists who had been taking the risks you just mentioned?

DUVE: "[On 12 September 2001] I had a staff meeting about 11 September with my people, and I said my office would never use the word "global terrorism." [We would speak] instead of "criminal terror acts" [to describe] what was going on, or "criminals" who [commit] individual or global acts. Why? Just because [of what you just said]. I don't want all of the countries [suddenly to jump on the bandwagon of antiterrorism], thus allowing for a lot of ways to bypass the question of dictatorship. Anticommunism allowed for a lot of terrible things, for example in Chile. Those who were anticommunists were even able to kill [people] who [were] social democrats or whatever. Anticapitalism allowed the Eastern bloc to be brutal to [simple] men who [were doing] market business or whatever. So the possibility of having a global enemy within your own country or of having an enemy and making him global makes it easy to fight him or harm him. This is what has happened. Now those who are in this antiterrorism league now can say that journalists are potential terrorists if they are critical [toward their regime], the weapon and heraldic symbol of [the] common fight against terrorism. I have said that in Washington several times and I stick to the position [adopted] by my office. We have some cases that apply [to] Russia and Chechnya. Of course a lot of [crimes] and brutal acts are committed against civilians by the Chechen side. But on the other hand there has been -- and there still is, probably -- the brutality of the Russian troops, especially against journalists who might write about it. Therefore, I do not [believe that it is acceptable] to say, "No, we are [engaged in a] fight against terrorism so human rights and especially the media rights dimension has to be put aside."

RFE/RL: In all three South Caucasus countries, elections are being scheduled this year. What steps are the OSCE, and your office in particular, considering to avoid a repetition of what happened in the lead-up to the last presidential poll in Armenia?

DUVE: I must admit that because of the size of the region and because of the size of our office, we have been reluctant to really go to Armenia. We have been criticized several times but we are [too] small to [look] into this [kind of] pre-election situation. But the Armenian government knows -- and we keep saying it -- that [we will continue to monitor what's happening in the country]. We also have observers from other offices, especially the ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] in Warsaw. In Azerbaijan, [the authorities] have changed completely their opinion and attitude toward my office. During the last year and a half, they have been asking me again and again -- and we did it -- to give legal advice on how to protect journalists. So they have come up with a [charm] offensive. It is very difficult for me to deal with that [kind of] offensive because I am not nice. So I continue my criticism. In Georgia, we had [a] good situation for some time. But from what I hear from Georgia and from the United Nations mission, there are still a lot of problems that continue to affect journalism and we should be very careful. But in terms of direct intervention we are limited.