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Media Matters: January 31, 2006

31 January 2006, Volume 6, Number 2
By Paul Goble

Moscow's "Yezhednevny zhurnal" published on 19 January what it described as a document providing the Kremlin's guidance on how its officials who work with the media and political parties should seek to structure public debate in the Russian Federation in the wake on the attack on the Moscow synagogue last week.

In a commentary accompanying the full text of this document, Aleksandr Rykhlin stresses that the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin has been remarkably successful in keeping secrets, making the leak of this glimpse into the way in which his operation proceeds especially valuable.

Rykhlin insists that "even a superficial analysis of the text, its format, rubrics, stylistics, and general political direction testifies to its undoubted authenticity." Indeed, he adds, "it is difficult to imagine how it would be possible to prepare a fabrication of such quality." And he suggests that this document is not a onetime thing but rather part of a series.

According to the "Yezhednevny zhurnal" writer, the document shows the ways in which the Kremlin hoped to structure public debate in order to achieve a number of political goals "which do not have a direct tie" to the attack on the synagogue: to blacken the reputation of the opposition, to increase pressure on the media and place limits on the Internet, and to destroy "any thought of a possible change" of those in power.

In order words, the journalist continues, the document is fully consistent not only with the directions Putin has pursued in the past but with what he and his regime have in fact done in recent times: "First, we create fascism in Russian society, then we declare it the main threat to the country, and then we begin actively to struggle with it."

"And when a struggle with such a universal evil as fascism is going on, the most important thing is that there be stability and agreement in society." Anyone who disagrees and thus threatens this stability "ought to be subject to martial law." Unfortunately, just what that might look like, Rykhlin suggests, would be "the subject" of a later document of the same type, one which "more likely than not, we will never see."

The 1,300-word document as published by the Moscow paper is headlined "Themes for Media Reaction" for the period 11 January through 15 January. It begins with a description of what happened at the Moscow synagogue, the victims of the attack, and the perpetrator.

After that, the document )available at says that this case must become "the main theme in all the mass media, in the first instance on television and the leading print publications." "Proposals as to the forms of materials will be worked out separately," it reads, but "it is useful twice a day to give oral instructions to [these] channels on the further treatment of the theme."

The goals of this handling of the media, the document specifies, are "the preparation of public opinion for the adoption of a law directed against anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the use of the events for showing the danger of the legalization of fascism and the reality of the nationalist threat, the maximum linking of Rodina [Motherland] to nationalist ideology and the laying of responsibility on it for what has happened...and the introduction into the information space of demands from representatives of the public for taking severe measures against Rodina as the most dangerous bearer of nationalist ideology."

"By the end of the week," it continues, "the necessity of decisive actions by the authorities against the nationalist threat ought to become obvious."

The document then describes how the Kremlin would like to see specific aspects of this story treated in order to advance these ends. Koptsev, the man who carried out the attack, is to be portrayed as typical in order to lead people to conclude that "fascists are among us, and we cannot always recognize them."

The document also specifies what should be the "basic themes" for commentaries about the event, again all subordinated to the general political goals outlined above of promoting support for a toughening of Russian legislation regarding national and religious extremism.

It even suggests dividing those who will promote this message into "three groups." The first, consisting of journalists, social activists and the creative intelligentsia, and religious figures, should be encouraged to stress their concerns about the appearance of nationalism and to call for prohibiting organizations disseminating extremist ideas.

The second group includes parliamentary figures -- and the document provides a list of special names -- who should be calling for punishing those responsible for disseminating nationalist messages and who should seek to discredit the Union of Rightist Forces, Yabloko, and the Communist Party by portraying them as "secret allies of the fascists" through their connections with the National Bolshevik Party's Eduard Limonov.

And the third includes Aleksandr Zhirinovsky and other leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia who should be guided to demand that the registration of all parties that do cooperate with extremists should be lifted.

At its end, the document lists the five specific Kremlin staffers -- all of whom are real people, according to the "Yezhdnevny zhurnal" writer -- who are responsible for carrying out various tasks, ranging from the selection of information to the provision of guidance to the specific groups listed above.

Because the evil of fascism against which this document is at least in part directed is so abhorrent, many both in the Russian Federation and abroad may be inclined to ignore the broader implications of the existence of such an effort by the Kremlin to provide "guidance" not only to the media but to the country's political elite in this way.

Indeed, the existence of such a document and the mind-set behind it clearly represent a disturbing revival of one of the worst features of the Soviet past -- and not the past of glasnost but of a much earlier and itself more evil one.

By Valentinas Mite

Publishing an independent newspaper isn't easy these days in Belarus.

Anatoly Lebedko, the head of the opposition Belarusian United Civic Party, on 12 January helped journalists from "Narodnaya volya" get back thousands of copies of the newspaper, which were detained by police at the Russian-Belarusian border.

"I have a feeling of solidarity and understand how important the press is for us," Lebedko said. "Together with the editor in chief of 'Narodnaya volya' I went to a little Belarusian town at the border with Russia and we negotiated with police officials for eight hours in order to rescue 30,000 issues of 'Narodnaya volya.'"

Lebedko said the police officers demanded an array of documents, asked hundreds of questions, and called Minsk for instructions every half-hour. The demands, he said, were ridiculous and annoying -- ironic, he added, as formally the border between Belarus and Russia is open and no documents for goods are needed.

Media Clampdowns

Such state interference is nothing new. For years, domestic and foreign rights activists have accused the authorities of attempting to gag independent media in Belarus.

In September 2005, the state-run monopoly that runs a nationwide network of kiosks and newsstands stopped distributing "Narodnaya volya" after a court froze the newspaper's assets, demanding payment for damages in a pending libel case.

And then in November 2005, Belarus's state postal service excluded three periodicals from its 2006 subscription catalogue. One of those publications was "Narodnaya volya."

"Narodnaya volya" has been published in Smolensk since October. "Belaruskaya delovaya gazeta," considered by many to be the most influential independent daily in the country, is also published in Smolensk.

New Networks

Now, Lebedko said, independent newspapers have to rely on others if they want their publications to be read. "Activists from political parties and active citizens are doing this job," he said. "When the newspaper gets to Minsk it is distributed to the regions, where there are people who subscribe to 'Narodnaya volya' or buy it directly from the newspaper office. [The activists] bring the paper to the places where people live."

And Lebedko said there is another way to distribute the newspaper -- selling it directly to people on the street. This tactic works, he said, and is a good opportunity for activists to speak with people during the campaign for the 19 March presidential election. Lebedko said he himself distributes the newspaper on the street and enjoys it.

Svyatlana Kalinkina, the editor in chief of "Narodnaya volya," said life is more difficult for the newspaper now. But she agreed with Lebedko that pressure from the authorities has in some ways benefited the paper.

"I can say with certainty that the newspaper has found new readers. Such people who earlier knew nothing or even were not interested [in reading the newspaper,]" Kalinkina said. "The newspaper is now being read by different groups of people. Now we have seen that not only the [Belarusian] national-orientated part of society reads it, but that the readership has become much broader."

Election Campaign

The independent media plays an important role in Belarus's upcoming presidential election, which incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is widely expected to win. There is little or no mention of the election in Belarus's state-run media.

The united opposition candidate, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, told RFE/RL that every independent newspaper "is precious" and their survival is crucial. "There is a huge hunger for information. Even if a newspaper reaches readers a week after it is published, under the current conditions people read it regardless," Milinkevich said. "We, with the help of our initiative group, are helping to create an alternative distribution network for 'Narodnaya volya' and also for other newspapers."

So could this be the rebirth of samizdat in Belarus? Lebedko seems to think so. "Currently, there is more and more underground media [in the country.] It includes leaflets, and everything that is published illegally," he said. "I think the authorities have begun to understand that, if they continue fighting with 'Narodnaya volya' considering it to be the main opponent, something else will be born. And to fight with that will be even more difficult."

But for now, perhaps there won't even be the need for samizdat. Editor Kalinkina said that since the incident earlier this month, there have been no more problems at the border. The biggest problem, she said, is the atmosphere of uncertainty it creates with the paper's journalists not knowing if their stories will even be read.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) correspondent Shamal Ramadan reported on 27 January from Irbil that Kurdish intellectual and Austrian citizen Kamal Sayyid Qadir would be retried because of procedural issues in his first trial. Qadir was convicted last month of defaming the Kurdish cause and the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in articles that he wrote while in Austria. According to Qadir, his initial trial lasted only 15 minutes. In his report, Ramadan interviewed Muhammad Umar, member of the Irbil Court of Cassation.

RFI: Please describe the state of Kamal Qadir's case.

Muhammad Umar: Dr. Kamal Qadir has been sentenced by the Criminal Court in Irbil to two 15-year terms on two separate indictments. But as the case was passed to the Court of Cassation, the Penal Board at the Court of Cassation reviewed the case and stated that the act of the defendant does not fall under Article 156 of the Penal Code as amended by Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003. The amended Article 156 of the Penal Code covers acts of external attack against the independence of the country, which has not been the case of the defendant. The Court of Cassation has stated that the act of the defendant falls under Article 433 of the Penal Code. Based on this, the [Court of Cassation] has abolished the sentences issued by the Criminal Court in Irbil and returned the case to the Court of Investigations, which should pass the case on to another court, with the defendant [facing charges] under Article 433.

RFI: You have mentioned that the man has been sentenced to two 15-year terms. Why were there two indictments? What outcome do you expect from his retrial at the Court of Cassation?

Umar: He was sentenced twice because there were two separate allegations, filed by two different parties. There were two complaints against him and the sentences were issued against him independently of one another. Concerning my expectations of his upcoming trial, the investigations judge will pass the case to a court of misdemeanors, not a criminal court. [Qadir] will be tried by the Court of Misdemeanors in Irbil on charges based on Article 433 of the Penal Code, and the sentence can be either imprisonment or fine.

RFI: What are the minimum and maximum sentences possible in this case?

Umar: As for imprisonment, in misdemeanor cases it varies from three months to five years. This depends on the decision of the court, which we cannot interfere in. It is fully within the rights and competence of the court.

RFI: It has been reported that the prime minister of the [Kurdistan Regional] Government has demanded that many of the plaintiffs withdraw their suits. Is this true?

Umar: I have no information on that. But I guess that the case is on its way to its final resolution, and it will come to an end within a few days.

RFI: Has the defendant been given special treatment -- I mean the overturning of the sentences and the expected retrial?

Umar: I can confirm that this case has not enjoyed any exceptional attention, being like any other of the many ordinary cases. The Kurdistan Regional Government respects the independence of the judiciary, and [the case] has remained within the authority of the courts in charge. No interference has violated this freedom, and no there has been no interference in favor of issuing particular sentences. The competence of the courts has not been violated by any outside interference.

Statement From Lawyer Jamal

Below is a statement by lawyer Jamal Qasim, a member of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, that was recorded by RFI on 27 January.

Jamal Qasim: As far as I can see as a lawyer, no one will object to the Court of Cassation decision -- neither those who called for the punishment of Dr. Kamal [Qadir], nor those who have been mentioned in the [allegedly defamatory] texts and publications by him. There is no need to issue an amnesty because there is absolutely no intention to call Dr. Kamal [Qadir] to responsibility. In my opinion, he will be released within a week or, at most, a few days [more than that]. I think there is no justification for keeping him imprisoned, as he has been in jail now for some three months.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek)

By Jeremy Bransten

A simmering controversy exploded into a firestorm of protest across the Middle East on 30 January over a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were printed in two Scandinavian newspapers. From Gaza to Cairo, from Beirut to Baghdad, demonstrators took to the streets as religious leaders and politicians threatened economic boycotts -- and worse -- if the newspapers did not condemn the drawings.

In one of the 12 cartoons, drawn by Danish artists, the Prophet Muhammad is depicted wearing a turban in the form of a bomb.

The cartoons first appeared in September in the Danish regional newspaper "Jyllands Posten." But they were reprinted by a Norwegian publication earlier this month, apparently transforming what had been sporadic criticism into a coordinated wave of fury.

In Egypt, the government suspended trade negotiations with Danish envoys, while in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, shopkeepers took Scandinavian products off their shelves, in response to popular calls for a boycott.

Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, meanwhile, called for the Danish government to take measures against those who blaspheme Islam.

To some commentators, the scale and vehemence of the protests recalled the outrage that followed Salman Rushdie's publication of the novel "Satanic Verses" in 1989. That book earned its author a death sentence from Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and round-the-clock security protection from the British government.

Editors at the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons had to be aware their move would be highly controversial. So why did they do it?

Satire Vs. Self-Censorship

Flemming Rose, the culture editor at "Jyllands Posten, notes by way of background that he spent many years reporting from the former Eastern Bloc under communism. And he says he personally commissioned the drawings to make a point about freedom of expression, in the belief that too many authors and artists were starting to self-censor their work.

"In the middle of September [2005], a Danish children's writer went public, saying that he had big difficulties finding an illustrator for a book about the life of the Prophet Muhammad," Rose says. "Three illustrators turned down his offer to take up the job. And the one who finally took up the job insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship. You do not want to appear under your own name. And that's why I commissioned these cartoons."

Rose says he asked the illustrators to depict how they viewed Muhammad and to sign their names to the drawings. He gave no other guidance. The results were mostly satirical, which is very much in the Danish tradition of popular cartoonists. But the satire, he insists, was aimed at many targets and even-handed.

"None of the cartoons transcends the limits of what we usually say and do in Denmark," Rose says. "We make fun of Jesus Christ, we make fun of the royal family, we make fun of politicians, and so on and so forth. And among those 12 cartoons, in fact, one of them is specifically making fun of me and my newspaper, saying we are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. Another cartoon is making fun of a very famous Danish politician who is critical towards Muslim immigration."

Non-Apology Apology

Many Muslims did not get the joke and saw the cartoons as a calculated provocation.

The Danish government stood by the newspaper editors and refused calls to condemn them. As Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen explained, the right to free expression is paramount in Denmark.

"The newspapers are free and independent and decide for themselves what to publish," Rasmussen said on 30 January. "If you ask for my personal opinion, I can say that I personally respect other people's religious beliefs, that I personally would never portray Muhammad, Jesus, or any other religious figures in any way that could offend other people. But we must insist that we have freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Denmark, which means that the daily 'Jyllands Posten' just as any other media may publish the cartoons and articles they choose within the boundaries of the law."

Despite that endorsement, editors at "Jyllands Posten" on 30 January issued a partial apology on the newspaper's website, acknowledging the anger they provoked. But Rose says the apology must be understood correctly. It is not a repudiation of the cartoons.

"We stand by these cartoons 100 percent. And we will not apologize for publishing the cartoons. They are perfectly within the limits of what we usually do in Denmark," Rose says. "But we admit that some people, especially in the Middle East, some Muslims, do not know about this tradition of satire and the context for all this. And we are saying to them that we feel sorry, we apologize if you have been insulted by these cartoons. That is not to say that we apologize for the cartoons. We will never do that."

'Culture War,' But Whose?

Rose says he believes there is a "culture war" going on between the West and Islam as well as within Islamic societies themselves, which must be discussed. And he believes Europeans should not give in to what he calls "totalitarian impulses" coming from radical Islamists.

"This is a culture war and it's not only a culture war between Western democracies and the Islamic world," Rose says. "I see this first and foremost as a culture war within the Muslim world, between those Muslims who want to live in a modern, secular democracy and the forces who want to turn back the clock and have all the same totalitarian and authoritarian impulses that I saw in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe when I was living there in the 80s and 90s."

Professor Hilal Khashan, an expert on politics and Islam at the American University in Beirut, says he is not surprised by the anger generated by the cartoons. He notes that in almost all majority-Muslim countries the secular and the religious cannot be untangled. This leads to a natural confrontation with the European secularist view.

"The answer [for this anger] is very simple," Khashan says. "Western societies are secular. Muslim societies are heavily religious. Muslim political socialization is extremely deep and religious inculcation is essential in the raising of Muslim kids. Religion in this part of the world remains central to life and belief systems are highly important. Even highly secular political orders in the Arab world never tried to mess with religion. They never contested Islam as a system of beliefs."

In this era of globalization, Khashan continues, newspaper editors can no longer expect to be speaking to just a local audience, in this case Denmark. That can be both an advantage or present problems. "Since we live in a highly interactive world, characterized by rapid communication and access to information, it becomes extremely difficult to talk about targeting a specific audience," he notes.

But nevertheless, Khashan says this uproar may have a silver lining if it encourages what he believes is desperately needed in the Muslim world: discussion about religious reform and Islam's role in society.

"Now there's an opportunity for Muslims to start a debate among themselves, and to be honest with you, no matter what the West tries to do to get Muslims to reform Islam, it won’t work. Muslims have to think about religion and they have to revisit it [themselves] and they have to come to terms with it. Muslims must take a stand and they must begin the process of their religious reform," Khashan says.

In the meantime, European satirists and their editors may have to tread more carefully.

By Jan Jun

Is the freedom the media enjoy in the world's democracies being exploited by terrorist organizations? Some people say we should stop reporting on atrocities and the terrorists would be defeated by being starved of the oxygen of publicity.

Others do not agree. They say freedom of speech is too important to be stifled, even in the interest of fighting against terrorism.

Some people have argued the media should not report every suicide-bomb attack, hostage taking, or terrorist leader's statement. They stress such exposure gives terrorists the publicity they crave. Others, however, maintain that in democratic countries freedom of speech comes first.

'A More Critical Debate'

"For democracies to try to shut down media reporting of political violence and terrorism would be, in my view, a great mistake," says Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "If the media are able to report factually and objectively, they can inform discussion and help to develop a more critical debate, which we hope would improve policy in the future. So, there are great advantages having free media."

Wilkinson agrees that terrorists seek publicity, but he stresses that the public has a right to be comprehensively informed about major international developments.

Still, there is mounting evidence that terrorist groups can benefit from access to the media and even by media reports of terrorist violence.

Negotiating With Hostage Takers

"The European Journal of Social Psychology," a respected medical journal, recently published a report claiming that 16 percent of people are inclined to negotiate with terrorists after seeing images of distressed hostages on television.

Wilkinson argues, however, that most mainstream media avoid particularly horrific images and reports, and that this is the correct way to handle things.

But some experts warn it is easy inadvertently to cross the line from reporting events to airing propaganda for a terrorist group.

Trying To Destroy Freedom Of Expression

Ali Reza Nourizadeh is director of the Arab-Iranian Studies Center in London. He says that "reporting an atrocity is a must," but media should not air messages from the terrorists themselves.

"I don't understand why some American and some European networks are giving such importance to [Al-Qaeda leader Osama] Bin Laden's messages, [Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-]Zawahri's latest statement -- which is broadcast by the Al-Jazeera network day and night -- what they want to achieve," Nourizadeh says. "At the end of the day, it is a statement by a terrorist who doesn't give a damn about thousands of people who are killed in [the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States], in Afghanistan, in Iraq."

Nourizadeh adds that terrorists abuse freedom of speech for their own goals, which often include destroying democracy and freedom of expression.

Analyzing Terrorists' Statements

Still, Wilkinson maintains that it is actually an advantage to be able to get all sorts of useful information about terrorists through the media. This includes statements from their leaders, which experts can use to evaluate the leaders' health or to speculate on their whereabouts, for example. And this may outweigh the fact that the message could persuade some people to support the terrorists' goals.

Wilkinson adds that the Al-Jazeera television station -- which is often criticized by Western leaders -- verifies statements by terrorist leaders and their judgment rarely differs from that of CIA voice-recognition experts. And he concludes that media reporting of terrorist attacks against civilians has helped to turn public opinion against them.

"I don't get the impression that, despite all their propaganda, Al-Qaeda has been suddenly winning over the opinion of the Muslim world," Wilkinson says. "On the contrary, I think there has been a very strong reaction in the recent past, particularly as a result of these dreadful atrocities in Iraq, where they are engaged in massacring the Shi'ites."

Judge Each Case Individually

As for the media, most journalists react cautiously. Lord William Rees-Mogg is the former editor in chief of London's "The Times" newspaper. He says that media need to behave responsibly. He argues that it is not always right to give publicity to those who seek it, and each case has to be judged on its merits.

"I think it's common sense," Rees-Mogg says. "Is this likely to lead to people being put at risk and lives being lost? That's a question that needs to be considered. Is this genuinely important public information, even if unpalatable? There isn't an answer which fits all cases. Newspapers have to show judgment. Sometimes it is right to publish, and sometimes it's wrong to publish."

Rees-Mogg concludes that the public is better off, however, when it is properly informed.