Accessibility links

Breaking News

Media Matters: January 24, 2005

24 January 2005, Volume 5, Number 3
By Kathleen Ridolfo

The Iraqi media has served as the single most important venue for election-coalition lists in a campaign that is virtually absent of campaigning. The security situation is so dire in some areas of the country during the lead-up to the 30 January national and provincial elections that the names of candidates on most lists have not been released to the public.

Some Iraqi citizens complain that they know virtually nothing of the 112 lists on the ballot, according to newspaper reports. However, the political parties and coalitions are making use of print and broadcast media to present their platforms, and media outlets in turn are promoting messages encouraging voter participation in the elections.

The coalition lists comprise the major political parties -- the majority of which belonged to the former Iraqi opposition that returned with U.S. financial support after the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. The parties on the lists all have their own newspapers; many have radio and local-access television programs, which they use to promote their platforms. Some independent newspapers have made efforts to devote space to covering smaller party lists, but it is unknown how much effect that will have on the election.

The United Iraqi Alliance has the candidate list expected to win a majority of votes in the election, and rival parties and coalitions have accused it of attempting to sway voters by placing pictures of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on their list posters and campaign material. That way, detractors claim, the alliance sends the message to Shi'ites that al-Sistani has endorsed the list. The ayatollah has stopped short of giving official endorsement to any list, although he is given credit for assembling the United Iraqi Alliance list. In reality, it was his representatives that played a role in negotiating the composition of the list among the Shi'a parties.

Sunni groups opposed to participating in the election regularly espouse their views in supporting newspapers and are often quoted in what would be considered the popular press, owned by independent or pro-election party newspapers. Sunni groups that will participate in the elections despite some hesitancy over the issue have also made their platforms known.

Reports and commentaries in print media have devoted much attention to debating topics such as the efficacy of postponing elections, the role that Islam will play in a future Iraqi state presumably led by a Shi'ite majority, the possible withdrawal of multinational forces, the Kurdish issue and the Kirkuk election, the coming constitution that will be drafted by the elected parliament, and the need to support democracy and transparent elections. Newspapers have also covered official statements from the Iraqi Independent Election Commission concerning the elections. At least three dailies claim to have their own research institutes that regularly carry out public-opinion polls on the election, which they routinely publish. Coverage of the local governorate elections has been sparse outside the areas of Kirkuk and Baghdad.

As for television, Prime Minister Allawi has received the bulk of airtime, giving interviews and participating in discussions about the election on Iraqi terrestrial and satellite broadcasting channels. Other candidates have also participated in roundtable discussions broadcast on various channels, but Allawi -- whether by virtue of being prime minister or by intention -- has dominated the airwaves. Kurdish television channels have devoted much airtime to discussions and debates on both national and local elections.

As far as advertising, Allawi's Iraqi List with its sleek ads that appear as if they were produced by a Manhattan advertising firm, again dominate television -- some media outlets have reported the ads were made in London. The United Iraqi Alliance is also advertising on television. But again, the majority of the candidate lists do not have the means to produce such ads, let alone pay for television advertising space. Some reports indicate that at least one television channel, Al-Iraqiyah, has offered free airtime for lists wishing to advertise, but that claim has not been confirmed.

Iraqi television channels have done a thorough job of promoting voter participation, and have frequently carried public-information advertisements urging Iraqis to vote. However, the ads give little information about where and how to vote. Iraqi radio has also devoted much time to election coverage, particularly stations that support a radio call-in format.

Generally speaking, the media overwhelmingly supports elections at this time, and takes great pains to stress that it is the duty of Iraqis to take part in the election. Some stress a historical duty, while others stress a religious duty; still others claim that nonparticipation will only strengthen terrorist elements trying to destabilize the country.

By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia has long suffered from the reputation of being among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. The perception has been built over time by various international press-freedom monitors who, year after year, find Russia overrepresented among the world's developed nations and even among the Community of Democracies in terms of murdered reporters. Their colleagues in Russia have even longer lists of reporters allegedly killed for journalism.

Killings of journalists are widely used by analysts to measure the level of press freedom in a country. To be sure, if few or no media workers are killed, it can mean that there is so little freedom that no reporter ever sticks his neck out far enough to be killed. If many reporters are killed, it can be explained by a war zone or rampant crime and settling of scores. Still, regardless of these sliding parameters, when year after year a country produces a death list of journalists, it is a highly troubling indicator of an absence of press freedom.

Each year, the lists of journalists killed released by groups like Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute, and Reporters Without Borders are carefully studied by the news media and policy institutes to see how Russia's mixed record on democracy is faring. And this year, with just two cases on Russia's record, there is still no inclination to drop concerns about media rights in Russia because both cases symbolize as well as actualize what are the worst features of Russia's record: failure to safeguard investigative journalism and failure to protect journalists in war zones.

Adlan Khasanov, 33, a cameraman working for Reuters' Moscow bureau, was killed in the bombing of Grozny's Victory Day parade celebrating the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany. While terrorists apparently did not target Khasanov, because he was a reporter risking harm by proximity to Chechen President Akhmad Kadirov, who was targeted in the blast, Khasanov's case goes on the monitors' lists. Even if not individually targeted, reporters killed in terrorist acts or wars are included because their professional duties put them in harm's way.

The slaying of Paul Khlebinov, 41, editor in chief of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, shocked the world and frightened the immediate community of expatriate journalists and other foreigners in Moscow. Khlebnikov was stabbed repeatedly after leaving his office in Moscow. An American of Russian descent, Khlebnikov spoke fluent Russia and had reported about crime and politics. Khlebnikov's family has lobbied for a thorough investigation of the killing. Authorities have put together a "Chechen hypothesis" which some local monitors reject as scapegoating.

Meanwhile, the Vienna-based International Press Institute chronicled three cases, including those of Adlan Khasanov and Paul Khlebnikov but also of Payl Peloyan, editor in chief of the Russian-language "Armyanski pereulok," who was found stabbed to death on the outskirts of Moscow. Local monitors believe his death was not likely related to any journalism, because the magazine was an artistic and literary publication read by the Armenian community in Moscow and did not appear so frequently or have such a high visibility that it could explain a motive for murder. Peloyan did not appear involved in any kind of controversial writing or investigation. His higher profile as editor of a journal associated with the Armenian community might have made it easier for him to become the target of a hate crime -- violence against non-ethnic-Russians is rampant in Moscow. In that sense, his profession could have set him up for what was a hate crime. Or it might have been merely a criminal manner related to business, but nothing is known for certain. Knowing of their own country's reputation for dangerous journalism, the police often announce, as they did in this case that "they cannot rule out that his murder was related to his profession."

Where Russia's statistics really begin to be troubling is when they are viewed over a span of time. Mikhail Komissar, the head of Russia's Interfax news agency, told "The Guardian" on 12 January that 10 of his journalists have been killed in 15 years and that they had to perform their jobs with bodyguards present. Komissar himself said he has 24-hour-protection, has changed his will and sent his daughter to study overseas to avoid a potential kidnapping, and has revised the structure of ownership of his company to prevent rivals from seizing assets. Komissar's account of his increasingly profitable company and proximity to Russia's leaders in covering the top political stories in part explain the high risk of working for his agency. "Interfax is very attractive to powerful oligarchs because it is influential and profitable. It could be a good instrument for their vanity," he told "The Guardian," explaining that one oligarch delivered a map of his daughter's route to school to show his family's vulnerability. Interfax is now also in the credit- and business-rating agency, increasing their company's potential targeting by rivals. The intertwining of business and media make the job of monitors of deaths related to press freedom particularly hard. It is often impossible to determine whether a death is really related to what someone wrote or to his media company's business dealings in the shark-infested waters of Russian commerce.

The Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), a Russian nongovernmental media-monitoring group in Moscow, takes issue with the very short lists of its Western colleagues. GDF had 13 journalists in its list of those killed in 2004 and another missing and presumed dead. In addition to Khlebnikov, Khasanov, and Peloyan, GDF presents a full list of all slain journalists to increase public awareness of the issue of journalists' safety, which is admittedly about the safety of any public figure in Russia, given the propensity for politicians, bankers, priests, and human rights activists also to wind up dead.

For example, Efim Sukhanov, ATK-Media journalist in Arkhangelsk, was said to have been killed for reasons other than his journalism, and his murderer has been convicted. The death of Farit Urazbaev, a cameraman for Vladivostok TRK, was also not related to his profession. Yevgenii Matveyev, an NTV producer, died in a car accident in Tula. It is unclear why the organization even publicizes these lists when they are not related to journalism per se, but it is partly out of a different perception of journalism as a unionized activity in Russia, where the union's members feel some sense of kinship or solidarity to other members suffering an untimely death. Zoya Ivanova, an anchor for Buryat television, who was found dead on 20 June, but it is unknown whether her high profile cost her life.

But using the same kind of criteria for the inclusion of Khasanov, GDF included the case of Oleg Belozerov, director general of the RIA-Novosti news bureau and editor in chief of Nizhnee Povolzhe's edition of "Argumenty i fakty." He was killed in the terrorist attack on the Moscow-Volgograd plane on 24 August. His case might fall into a gray area in that while he was on a business trip related to media, he was unlikely to have been covering a news event per se at the time of death. Still, Russians include him in their list of those whose deaths are related to their profession.

Other such included cases are of Vladimir Pritchin, editor in chief of Severobaykal television station, killed in Buryatia on 18 September; Yan Travinskii, a St. Petersburg journalist who was killed on 27 October in Irkutsk; Aleksander Klimenko, a photo journalist for "Amurskaya pravda" who died in a car accident on 20 October in Blagoveshchensk. Two of the latter three cases might be tangentially related to journalism; it is unclear whether the circumstances of the car accident were suspicious. Maksim Maksimov of St. Peterburg disappeared on 12 June and was believed kidnapped and killed, possibly related to his investigative work into the murder of parliamentarian Galina Starovoitova. His last published article was on the Starovoitova case. His case appears to be one that Western monitors ought to have included.

Aleksei Simonov, director of GDF, said he believes his organization must present the media and the public at large with a full list of killed journalists each year because they have to err on the side of caution. In Russia, car accidents can sometimes occur on purpose.

The seeming trend of deaths has not been reassuring. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which often takes its information from local groups and wire services and is not always able to investigate every death independently, said 90 journalists have been killed in Russia related to their profession in the last 10 years. In 2000, eight were killed; in 2002, seven; in 2003, 12, just two of which were premeditated killings.

Simonov suggested that IFJ's figures are not entirely correct. "They [IFJ] only include cases where they can absolutely clearly prove that the death of the journalist was related to his professional activity," Simonov told "Kommersant" on 19 January. "We believe that every case of the death of a journalist is related to his professional activity until proven otherwise." Simonov conceded that of the list of 13 journalists who died in 2004, just two were related to their professional activities -- i.e. he excluded Peloyan's case. He blamed the crackdown on the media for the reduction of numbers, not any improvement in safety. "Journalists have become more obedient, there are fewer cases related with obvious criminal elements because the criminal elements have intertwined with the law-enforcement agencies, and journalists experience pressure from both sides."

Western groups work on the opposing principle -- they exclude all cases of journalists killed until they can prove that a journalist was indeed killed for reasons related to his or her profession. Because of the difficulties of research and documentation from afar, cases tend to be left out unless they appear very solid.

Another indicator of the dangers of journalism is the existence of long lists of unsolved cases. Monitoring groups do not present their lists of unsolved cases year after year as any kind of indicator, possibly because they simply cannot gather more facts on cold trails. But where Russia is concerned, suspicion mounts that a case is related to a person's profession when it remains unsolved.

For example, in the aftermath of the Beslan school hostage taking and the abrogation of the right to vote for governor and other changes arguably reversing democratic progress in Russia, the case of Dmitrii Kholodov was quietly dropped. Kholodov died when his briefcase blew up after he received documents from a contact. He had been reporting on corruption within the armed forces and was said to have angered Russian military authorities with his articles on the Russia Army's preparations for military operations in Chechnya.

While retired military officer Pavel Popovskikh was initially charged in the death, he later said he was pressured into confession while in detention, due to poor health. Later, a Russian court acquitted six men charged with Kholodov's murder, "Moscow News" reported on 6 October 2004. The journalists' parents have said they intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Regardless of their differing methodologies, both Russian and Western press freedom watchdogs agree that President Vladimir Putin and other government officials bear responsibility for the lack of safety that their journalistic colleagues enjoy. CPJ went so far as to include Putin on its list of "Enemies of the Press" in 2004. The claim is not related to any allegations that the Russian government itself plans and executes targeted assassinations of journalists. Rather, the charge is that the government has tolerated a climate of impunity by neither following through cases to prosecution nor defending journalists' right to investigative reporting.

By Julie A. Corwin

On the evening of 7 January, three men attacked RFE/RL correspondent Yelena Rogacheva as she was walking along a street in the capital of the Marii El Republic, Ioshkar-Ola. They struck her several times, including in the face, but did not ask for money or take her purse. Rogacheva told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that her assailants warned her that if she told anyone about the incident, they would kill her.

She told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 10 January that she thinks the attack is linked with either her own or her husband's professional activities. Her husband is the editor of the local opposition newspaper, "Dobrye sosedi." According to Rogacheva, there have been several attacks on journalists in the Marii El Republic over the past three or four years. For example, the deputy editor of "Dobyre sosedi," Aleksandr Babaikin, was killed in November 2001, and his killers have not been found. In 2002, "Dobyre sosedi's" then editor in chief, Vladimir Maltsev, was beaten. And in July 2004, journalist Vitalii Igitov was also beaten, and he told colleagues that he feared for his own life as well as that of his family, according to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Igitov had just written about the public-relations campaign in the republic on the eve of the 19 December republican presidential elections.

In an RFE/RL broadcast on 23 December, Rogacheva quoted local activists who reported that a number of violations of the election law took place during that ballot in which the incumbent, President Leonid Markelov, was elected to a second term. Markelov's style of rule has been characterized as "authoritarian." More than a dozen newspapers that express a point of view different from that of the local government have to be published outside of the republic, according to on 11 January.

In addition to working for RFE/RL, Rogacheva has also written for "Argumenty i fakty v Marii El" and "Moskovskii komsomolets v Marii El." In 2003, she was sued for an article that appeared in the latter publication, which was based on official information from the republican Prosecutor-General's Office, according to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. She discovered a pattern that showed that the introduction of bankruptcy procedure at enterprises with huge unpaid debts in most cases does not lead to an improvement in the enterprises' financial situation; and if only the criterion of nonpayment of debts was applied, then practically every enterprise in the republic could be called bankrupt. Rogacheva won the "Golden Pen" award in 1998, when she headed the news service for Radio-M, and in 2003 she was named one of the best journalists in the republic by the regional branch of the Media Union.

Rogacheva told Interfax that while she can walk unaided in her apartment, she avoids looking in the mirror because of the bruises on her face.

By Ulrich Buechsenschuetz

Representatives of both Bulgarian journalists and publishers -- the Association of Bulgarian Broadcasters, the Bulgarian Media Coalition, the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, and the Association for Regional Media -- signed a new ethical code in Sofia on 25 November.

The code is aimed at increasing the standards of reporting and at improving transparency in the media. Although the code presents a major achievement for the freedom of speech, it will take some time for politicians, government officials, and journalists alike to get used to the new practices.

The new ethical code replaces older codes of separate journalists unions. A report on a seminar of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) held in Sofia in March 2001 concluded, however, that the declarations of the unions "are rarely reported beyond the unions' journals and they lack the capacity to fully involve the Bulgarian journalists community."

Therefore, a commentator for "The Irish Times," Michael Foley, said the new ethical code is a "real achievement" (an English version can be found at "The [new] code itself is remarkable in that along with the usual provisions present in all such codes, such as the exhortations to be accurate, defend sources and respect privacy, this code also includes such provisions as journalists shall refrain from 'glorifying or unnecessarily reporting about crime, violence and brutality'; that publications respect good taste and decency'; that the public has a 'right to know who owns and controls the media outlets' -- an important inclusion in a country where the mafia and corruption are so prevalent. It also says that those who have signed the will 'respect the right of individual journalists to refuse assignments, which would break the letter and spirit of this code'," Foley wrote on 8 January, concluding that if these rules are adhered to, "then Bulgaria's media owners have signed and accepted quite a revolutionary document."

But the problems with the media in Bulgaria stem as much from the publishers and journalists as they stem from the state authorities, who still persecute journalists who engage in investigative journalism. The introduction of the press code coincided with the trial against two journalists of the daily "Trud" and with the investigations against journalists from the BBC for their report about corruption in the Bulgarian Olympic Committee. A third case involved a Romanian journalist who gathered information for a story on corruption on the Romanian-Bulgarian border.

On 29 September, the day when the Union of Publishers adopted the new code of ethics, the IFJ issued a protest letter to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski in connection with the trial of Svetlana Yordanova and Todor Toshev of "Trud." The two journalists refused to reveal the sources for a story about corruption inside the Interior Ministry. Initially, the Sofia City Court acquitted the two journalists, saying their report was the result of "meticulous investigative journalism." But in 2004, a Sofia appellate court changed the verdict and ordered the journalists to pay 5,000 levs ($3,200) each, saying the journalists published "unconfirmed information received by a prosecutor whose identity has proven impossible to discover." For the IFJ, the verdict contradicted decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, "which has consistently ruled against attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources."

In the summer of 2004, Bulgarian authorities charged a journalist from the BBC's Panorama program for using hidden cameras in an investigative report on corruption within the Bulgarian Olympic Committee (see Under Bulgarian law, using such hidden devices is illegal. Breaches of the law can result in prison terms of up three years.

As Foley noted, the Panorama case bears some irony. After all, the BBC Phare Project Office in Sofia helped drafting the new code, which contains provisions on the use of hidden cameras. Such devices can be used "if there is not other means to obtain information exceptionally important to the public interest; we shall indicate such methods in the story," according to the new code of ethnics.

The latest case to stir up dust was the arrest of Romanian television journalist George Buhnici on 16 November. Buhnici, who works for the private Pro TV television channel, had used a hidden camera to film events inside a duty-free shop in the northern Bulgarian border town of Ruse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 November 2004). In response to Buhnici's arrest, Romania's then-Prime Minister Adrian Nastase asked his Bulgarian counterpart Saxecoburggotski to intervene to secure Buhnici's release. Journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders called Buhnici "the victim of an absurd and archaic law that stipulates a punishment of utterly disproportionate severity for the use of a hidden camera, which is nonetheless a practice by investigative journalists." On 3 December, a court in Ruse fined Buhnici 1,000 leva ($683). Buhnici called the verdict "the least of all evils" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004).

By Jan Maksymiuk

The Belarusian Information Ministry recently issued official warnings to three FM stations -- Hit FM, Unistar Radio BDU, and Novoe Radio -- over their alleged failure to execute the government's order that Belarusian musicians be given at least 75 percent of music airtime as of 1 January.

According to the ministry, monitoring showed that the three stations failed to abide by their commitments regarding the broadcasting of local artists in prime time. The FM stations may have their licenses revoked by the National Commission for Television and Radio Broadcasting if they fail to take corrective measures within seven days after receiving the warning.

In 2004, the ratio of foreign and domestic music on Belarusian FM stations was officially decreed to be 50-50, but the authorities were not strict in implementing that decree. Radio stations broadcast mainly foreign music in prime time, while domestic performers were given their chance late in the evening or early in the morning. Now, however, the situation has radically changed.

The new decree on music airtime ostensibly pursues the goal of enlivening the domestic music scene. However, the decree has left many radio stations struggling to fill their schedules, as they are reportedly complaining that there is not a sufficient amount of domestically produced music suitable for airing in terms of artistic value or quality of recording. Additionally, a number of Belarus's most popular bands -- including Palats, Drum Ecstasy, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M., ZET, and Pomidor/OFF -- have been unofficially blacklisted for performing at an opposition-sponsored concert in 2004 to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 10 years of rule.

According to some independent Belarusian journalists, the new threshold put on foreign music played on the airwaves will not contribute to the development of the indigenous musical culture. They argue that the bulk of Belarusian-made pop songs are local, Russian-language copies of the Russian-made "popsa," a derogatory term used for a melodiously sugary and lyrically silly song. Additionally, most serious Belarusian composers and musicians are on the aforementioned blacklist, and radio stations will hardly risk their broadcasting licenses by giving airtime to politically disfavored performers.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 17 January that the Minsk-based Radio Roks, which was known for its "classic rock" format, has recently switched to a new format in order to obey the new directive of the distribution of music airtime. Radio Roks now reportedly airs 75 percent Belarusian-made and 25 percent Russian-made "popsa" songs (sung exclusively in Russian). "We have been forced to follow this line," Radio Roks Director Dzmitry Ausyannikau told RFE/RL. "We are expecting that our audience will not shrink in number but will change in quality." Ausyannikau did not elaborate on the anticipated "quality" change of his audience.