10 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 1
INTERNATIONALWORLDWIDE ARRESTS, ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS SOAR IN 2002. Arrests and attacks against journalists soared in 2002, and more journalists were jailed, as global tensions eroded press freedom, concludes a 6 January Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual report. More than half the arrests and attacks occurred in Asia. Last year, 692 journalists were detained, up 40 percent from 2001, according to RSF, and attacks and threats against journalists soared to 1,420 cases. As for imprisoned journalists, 118 remained in jail as of 1 January, compared to the 110 recorded in 2001, RSF notes. In 2002, however, fewer journalists died for their work (25), compared to 2001 (31), RSF says. RSF is investigating 30 more cases of murdered journalists. See http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4691
IFJ COUNTS 67 DEATHS, CALLS FOR NEW SAFETY CULTURE. In its annual report released on 20 December, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) counted 67 journalists and media staff killed in 2002. According to the report, "investigative reporters on three continents died in separate assassinations for pursuing stories that expose terrorism, corruption or criminal activity." The tally includes 19 cases still under investigation. The total was lower than the 100 deaths the IFJ counted in 2001. The IFJ and the International Press Institute recently formed a coalition of more than 80 media outlets, journalists' unions, press-freedom groups and international organizations, which will launch an International News Safety Institute. The new institute (http://www.ifj.org/hrights/insi/index.html) has adopted a draft action plan to set international standards for safety training and equipment, to expand access to risk-awareness training, to maintaining a clearing house, and to increase lobbying efforts to improve safety initiatives. See http://www.ifj.org/hrights/killlist/Killreport2002.pdf
CJFE REPORT DOCUMENTS 46 DEATHS. In its annual report titled "Casualties of Truth," which was issued on 30 December, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) counted 46 journalists and other media workers killed last year. The CJFE report ranks Russia second with seven violent deaths. See http://www.cjfe.org/specials/attacks02/attacks02.doc
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR MORE MONITORING OF FREE EXPRESSION. Serious problems hamper freedom of expression in Europe, including growing media concentration, attacks against journalists, and legal harassment of the press, according to the Council of Europe's annual report on freedom of expression in European media, which was released on 13 December. The report was written by the Council of Europe's general rapporteur on the media, Finnish parliamentarian Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa, who was appointed in 2001 to survey free expression in 24 European countries. In some Central and Eastern European countries, the report says, "a very small number of companies now predominantly own the printed press," many television and radio outlets are owned by the same company, and "access to digital television also tends to be highly concentrated." Violence against journalists in Armenia, Georgia, and Ukraine "continues to be a way of intimidating journalists or of settling scores between rival political and economic groups," the report continues. And in most countries of the former USSR, the press is often harassed through massive court-imposed fines. The report urges the council to "continue to monitor and make public its findings on freedom of expression and to put all its weight behind the active defense of its basic standards and principles." The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will consider the report on 28 January. See http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=http%3A%2F%2Fassembly.coe.int%2FDocuments%2FWorkingDocs%2FDoc02%2FEDOC9640.htm (IFEX Communique, 1-7 January)
ALL NEWS MEDIA INC.? Writing in "The New York Times" on 7 January, media analysts Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel noted that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently "moving toward the most sweeping change ever in the rules that govern ownership of the American news media." The FCC has proposed dropping rules that prevent companies from "buying a newspaper or television station in the same city or from owning more than one television station in the same market." In proposing these changes, the FCC claims that the Internet now gives Americans access to more information than before, but the authors believe that this claim ignores the fact that most Americans get news from several sources. The new rules proposed by the FCC "largely ignore the public's interest in a diverse and independent press," according to Kovach and Rosenstiel, and ignore the example of radio. "Since the rules on ownership of radio were last relaxed in 1966, the two biggest companies went from owning 130 stations to more than 1,400," the report says. Public comment on the proposed new law ends in January. CC
AFGHANISTANUNION OF JOURNALISTS FORMED IN KABUL... During a seminar held in Kabul from 14 to 17 December to review Afghanistan's press law, an 11-member commission was established to form a free union of Afghan journalists, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 19 December. The members of this commission include Chairman Ahmad Zia Rafat, Mohammad Ali Alizada, Ahmad Zia Siamak, Latifa Saidi Popal, Sher Aqa Shayan, Soraya Parlika, Mohammad Yosuf Siamak, Mohammad Shuayb Safi, Najibullah Achikzai, Abdullah Watandar, and Mohammad Ali Qayum, according to "Anis." The seminar assigned the commission to prepare a plan for the formation of the free union of journalists and to submit it to a gathering of the representatives of journalists and civil-society advocates, "Anis" reported. ("RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January)
...WHILE EDITOR IS SENTENCED FOR PUBLISHING CARTOON OF KARZAI... Abdul Gafur Itiqad, the editor in chief of the Kabul weekly "Farda," has been sentenced to an unspecified prison term for publishing a cartoon of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hindukosh news agency reported on 19 December. Hindukosh expressed regret that Gafur's sentencing came on the heels of seminars on human rights and press freedom that took place in Kabul on 14-17 December. The report added that Karzai is one of the most prominent advocates of press freedom in Afghanistan. The 2001 Bonn Agreement validated the 1964 Afghan Constitution as the basis for the country's legal framework until new laws and regulations can be adopted. Article 49 of the 1964 constitution affords Afghan citizens the "right of freedom of thought and expression...in speech and writing" and states that "censorship of the press is not allowed." Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghan authorities have not announced specific new media laws. ("RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January)
...AND PUBLICATIONS FACE DIFFICULTIES. Several publications in Kabul are being warned for their reporting. The chief editor of the government-owned paper "Anis" and the independent weekly "Mashal-e-Democracy" told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) that they have received anonymous telephone threats after publishing articles critical of the government. Outside Kabul, the situation seems to be much worse. Even government-owned publications have said that local commanders have threatened them for their reporting, while others are subject to heavy censorship by local authorities, notes the IWPR. Some large provinces, such as Kandahar and Herat, are run by powerful warlords outside the control of the Kabul central government. Najibullah, an independent journalist who works in three southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, and Zabol, told the IWPR that there were almost no independent publications in these regions. He said that the editor of the government-owned publication "Tolu-e-Afghan" had received death threats after running an anonymous article accusing senior officials in the customs department of corruption. Another journalist from Herat Province, Yahya Abdullah, said that the status of press freedom had in fact gotten worse since the departure of the Taliban. The paper "Aurang Hashtum," published during the Taliban period, was closed down by the local authorities because it continued to report on everyday social and economic problems. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting's "Afghan Recovery Report," 20 December)
SAUDIS LEND ASSISTANCE TO REVIVE BROADCASTING. The head of Afghanistan radio and television, Mohammad Ishaq, met on 4 January with the Saudi Arabian charge d'affaires in Kabul, Abdallah Fahd al-Qahtani, and was told that Riyadh is ready to cooperate with, and provide assistance to, Afghan broadcast media, Radio Afghanistan reported on 4 January. Al-Qahtani asked Ishaq to submit any specific proposals for cooperation or assistance to the Saudi government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
ARMENIASENIOR ARMENIAN MEDIA OFFICIAL KILLED... Tigran Naghdalian, chairman of the board of Armenian Public Television, was shot in the head late on 28 December while leaving his parents' home in Yerevan and died in the hospital two hours later, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. President Robert Kocharian, whose policies Naghdalian supported, and the Prosecutor-General's Office condemned the killing as an act of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the country, according to Armenian Public Television, as cited by Groong. Opposition politicians Vazgen Manukian and Arshak Sadoyan both said they doubt the killing was politically motivated. Two similar high-profile killings of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian in 1998 and of Gagik Poghosian, an aide to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, in 2001 remain unsolved. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)
...AS INVESTIGATION APPEARS STALLED... Armenian investigators have not yet identified any suspects in the 28 December shooting, officials told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 4 January. Police declined either to confirm or deny reports that more than a dozen people were taken into custody for questioning immediately after the shooting, including eight members of the Tigran Mets paramilitary group and three members of the nationalist opposition Committee to Support the Occupied Lands. Grisha Sargsian and Azat Arshakian of the Socialist Armenia bloc, who were among those taken into custody, were sentenced on 31 December to 10 days' administrative arrest for allegedly calling for the violent overthrow of the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January)
...AND OPPOSITION QUESTIONS GOVERNMENT'S HANDLING OF INVESTIGATION... The leaders of 16 opposition parties met in Yerevan on 7 January to prepare a formal statement condemning arrests of opposition politicians on suspicion of involvement in the killing of Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenian Communist Party leader Vladimir Darpinian accused the authorities of using the murder for political gain. Also on 7 January, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian urged investigators to focus on possible connections between Naghdalian's killing and the October 1999 parliament shootings in which several senior officials were killed. Naghdalian was scheduled to testify at the ongoing trial of the five gunmen who are charged with murder in this case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
...AND ANTICIPATES 'WITCH-HUNT.' In a statement issued on 9 January, the 16 opposition parties that aligned last fall to coordinate tactics in the run-up to this year's presidential and parliamentary elections expressed condolences to Naghdalian's family, Noyan Tapan reported. They said the series of still-unsolved killings of senior officials and politicians reflects the "atmosphere of impunity" reigning in Armenia. They also expressed concern that the arrests of several opposition figures on suspicion of involvement in Naghdalian's killing might herald "a witch-hunt [against], and repression of, the political opposition." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NAMED TO HEAD PUBLIC TV AND RADIO. The five-member governing board of Armenian Public Television and Radio on 8 January named presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian to succeed Naghdalian as head of that body, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On 7 January, President Kocharian had named Harutiunian and Vartan Kopian, a member of the presidential staff and the state and legal department, as members of the governing board. Kopian replaces Ashot Manukian, who resigned his post earlier that day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
BELARUSWRITER SAYS HIS DECISION TO LIVE IN CZECH CAPITAL NOT POLITICAL. Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau on 27 December denied Russian media reports that his decision to move to Prague is politically motivated, Belapan reported. Bykau has been highly critical of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and since 1998 has lived in exile in Finland and Germany. Bykau told Czech media that he has never asked the Czech government or President Vaclav Havel for political asylum but requested "a more or less lasting residence permit," which he needs for literary work and treatment for his chronic lung illness. Such a permit was granted to him with the assistance of the Czech president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)
RETRANSMISSION OF RUSSIAN UHF RADIO STATIONS HALTED. Belarus on 1 January stopped retransmitting programming from Russia's Mayak, Golos Rossii, and Yunost radio stations in its UHF band, Belapan reported on 4 January, quoting a statement from Belarusian State Television and Radio. The company said its decision was prompted by shortages of funds for retransmission. "As economic entities, the Russian radio stations...can take measures of their own to ensure the broadcasting of their programs on the territory of the Republic of Belarus by entering into contractual relations with the Ministry of Communications of the Republic of Belarus," the statement said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January)
BOSNIANATO TROOPS SEARCH BOSNIAN SERB RADIO STATION. SFOR soldiers carried out a search on 2 January of the Pale-based (Serbian) Orthodox Radio Sveti Jovan, which is owned by Radovan Karadzic's daughter, Sonja, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Sarajevo that the investigation took place in line with SFOR's mandate to monitor communications facilities and had nothing to do with the elder Karadzic. Dpa reported that "SFOR...had been trying to determine if the facilities were being used by other organizations for military communications, planting listening devices on communications equipment, or illicit monitoring of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)
BULGARIAINTERIOR MINISTER WARNS MEDIA. Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov told the private television station bTV on 4 January that those accusing Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev of involvement in the killing of Supreme Administrative Court Prosecutor Nikolay Kolev should face defamation charges, BTA reported. Asked whether Filchev should resign, Petkanov answered that slander and libel "are being committed against Filchev. In a democratic and civilized country, [those who make such accusations] should be held legally liable -- this is the way [to do this], and not the handing in of resignations." Kolev was shot dead near his home in downtown Sofia on 28 December. Immediately after the killing, family members and opposition politician Edvin Sugarev of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) alleged that Filchev was involved. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January)
RFE/RL'S BULGARIAN SERVICE AND PRIVATE TV STATION LAUNCH JOINT PROGRAM. RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and bTV launched their joint daily news program "Blitz" on 6 January. The 20-minute program features interviews and news reports and will be broadcast simultaneously by the radio and the television station every morning Monday through Friday. With "Blitz," the Bulgarian Service becomes the third RFE/RL language service to develop a regularly scheduled television program in its target country, following successful television ventures by the South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (which is involved in TV Liberty, originating in Sarajevo) and the Russian Service (which is participating in a joint venture with Peterburg state television in St. Petersburg). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)
IRANIRAN CALLED BIGGEST JAIL FOR JOURNALISTS IN MIDDLE EAST... Reporters Without Borders said in its annual press-freedom survey on 6 January that, "with 18 journalists behind bars, Iran is the biggest jail for journalists in the Middle East." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
...AS JOURNALIST IS ARRESTED... On 8 January, RSF called on the Iranian authorities to disclose the whereabouts of journalist Ali-Reza Jabari, who was arrested in late December. RSF said Jabari's case is of particular concern due to his heart condition and possible mistreatment in jail. Jabari, a translator and freelance contributor to several independent newspapers, was arrested at his Tehran office on 28 December by individuals dressed in civilian clothes. An interview with Jabari was published on 25 December in a Persian-language paper in Canada, "Charvand," in which he said the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wanted the crisis in Iran to worsen. Jabari's home was searched, and various materials were confiscated. The police have refused to provide his wife with any information about his whereabouts. (Reporters Without Borders, 8 January)
...AS POLLING-INSTITUTE HEARINGS CONTINUE. The second session in the trial relating to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls was held on 6 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003), state television and IRNA reported. Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, who is the attorney for institute Director Behruz Geranpayeh, rejected charges that Geranpayeh had contacts with foreign nationals, saying his client received approval from the Foreign Ministry beforehand. Haji-Mashhadi also said Geranpayeh was not responsible for hiring members of the terrorist opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Another defendant, current parliamentarian and former Deputy Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Burqani, said he received approval from Ataollah Mohajerani, his boss at the ministry, to provide funds to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
TWO JOURNALISTS IN IRAN'S AZERBAIJANI PROVINCES UNDER THREAT. According to the Azerbaijani Union of Journalists, two journalists from "Shams-i Tabriz" daily are being threatened with possible imprisonment. On 8 January, the Ardabil Revolutionary Court began hearing the charges against "Shams-i Tabriz" journalist and Tabriz Writers Union member Ali Suleymani. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security arrested him in November 2003; confiscated his writings, documents, and some of his personal belongings; and allegedly subjected him to torture during his 28-day imprisonment. Also under threat, according to the Azerbaijani Union of Journalists, is Ali Hamid Iman, editor in chief of "Shams-i Tabriz," whose publication has been banned and who has been imprisoned previously. For more, see http://www.cascfen.org
PARLIAMENT ATTEMPTS TO AMEND PRESS LAW. Iran's parliament approved its first proposed amendment to the harsh press law on 1 January, according to the 2 January "Hayat-i No." The amendment would remove limitations on the geographical distribution of a publication, and it would also eliminate restrictions on subjects that could be covered by a publication. This is the legislature's first attempt to change the press law since late 2000. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an August 2000 letter forbade amending the press law because it prevents infiltration of the press by Iran's enemies. The Guardians Council must approve the current amendment's compatibility with Islam and the constitution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
VOICE OF SOUTH AZERBAIJAN BEGINS BROADCASTS. The Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, which presumably is linked to the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, has announced that the Voice of South Azerbaijan will commence radio broadcasts to Iran on 8 January, Turan news agency reported on 6 January, and Radio Netherlands' "Media Network" website on 31 December quoted "Baku Today" newspaper as reporting. There will be two broadcasts a week initially, at 9570 megahertz at 8 p.m. Tabriz time on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and daily broadcasts will begin in February. A Voice of Southern Azerbaijan was previously operated by the National and Independent Front of Southern Azerbaijan and transmitted shortwave broadcasts from 1996 to 1998, according to Radio Netherlands. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
MORE TRANSMITTERS GO UP. An opening ceremony for six new television transmitters and four new radio transmitters was held in central Iran on 2 January, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The broadcasts will reach residents of the towns of Golpayegan and Khonsar and will enable them to watch provincial programming and the national news network on the UHF and VHF bands. On FM, they will receive Radio Maaref, Radio Farhang, Radio Payam, and Radio Javan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)
GOVERNMENT TO MONITOR WEBSITES... The Ministry of Intelligence and Security has been placed in charge of a special committee tasked with identifying "illicit" websites, the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 4 January. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution created the special committee, which also includes representatives of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry and the state broadcasting organization. Once the committee identifies the problematic websites, it will inform the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone, and it will, in turn, take action -- presumably blocking access to the website. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
...AS INTELLIGENCE MINISTER DENOUNCES 'UNDECLARED (WEB) WAR.' According to RSF, "regime conservatives have been targeting the Internet for nearly three years." On 2 January, Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi denounced what he called the "undeclared war" waged through websites generating "rumors and disinformation about the regime's officials and organizations." After the dozens of reformist papers were closed by the government in 2000, "reformists set up websites such as emrooz.org, rouydad.com, and alliran.net, while conservatives have set up their own websites, such as daricheh.org, jebhe.com, and bionvan.com," according RSF. (Reporters Without Borders, 6 January)
KAZAKHSTANJOURNALIST'S TRIAL RESUMES. Following a two-week break, the trial of Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov resumed in Almaty on 6 January, Reuters reported. Duvanov is accused of raping an underage girl at his dacha in early October. He denies the charge, which human rights organizations have slammed as fabricated in retaliation for articles Duvanov published criticizing President Nursultan Nazarbaev. The 9 January "RFE/RL Kazakh News" reported that Duvanov refused to answer any questions during that day's court session. According to a representative of the opposition Democratic Choice Movement who was present at the session, Duvanov's lawyers allegedly managed to prove that the Almaty department of the Interior Ministry was involved in the journalist's beating last summer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January and "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 9 January)
POSSIBLE BAN ON TOBACCO, ALCOHOL ADS. The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 8 January adopted a new law banning television and radio advertisements for tobacco products and alcoholic beverages, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The law also stipulates that all media advertising must be run in two languages, Kazakh and Russian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
MACEDONIAA SAD TALE OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF A STATE PUBLISHING HOUSE. The privatization of Macedonia's largest state-owned publishing house has led to unfulfilled promises, unpaid workers, a strike, lawsuits, investigations, and the possible rescinding of the privatization plan. In late August, the Slovenian consortium Jug-Uslugi purchased the state-operated Nova Makedonija publishing house (NIP), promising to take over 70 percent of the NIP's shares, a transaction amounting to $2.25 million, and to pay the house's debts of $10.3 million. In addition, Jug-Uslugi pledged to make available more than 1,400 stable jobs, while acknowledging that the NIP could function optimally with fewer than 600 workers. Unable to fulfill its promises, Jug-Uslugi failed to pay the wages of NIP workers for months. After the September 2002 Macedonian parliamentary elections, workers went on strike, fearing they would never receive their salaries. The strike committee questioned the legitimacy of the NIP's privatization and demanded a review of its documents, RFE/RL reported on 3 December. After the NIP workers' strike, the new Social Democratic government announced on 2 December that it might annul the contract due to irregularities in the privatization process, RFE/RL reported. The Macedonian Interior Ministry announced on 7 December that five people had been accused of manipulating the deal. Lawsuits were filed against the NIP's former director, Nikola Tasev; the administrator of Nova Makedonija Press, Gjorgji Boskov; and the former deputy director of the state Privatization Agency, Dusko Avramovski, according to the 13 December "RFE/RL Balkan Report." Investigations showed that $2.1 million, assigned by the state for the payment of NIP employees, allegedly went to Jug-Uslugi bank accounts and was later used by Jug-Uslugi for its "purchase" of 70 percent of NIP shares. After the Interior Ministry's announcement, Tasev surrendered to Macedonian authorities on 10 December. The other four suspects are forbidden to leave Macedonia while the investigation continues. ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002)
POLANDSEJM SPEAKER ANNOUNCES REVISION OF MEDIA BILL... Lower-house speaker Marek Borowski announced on 30 December that the Sejm will review a new media bill for legal errors following recent reports of bribery attempts in connection with its content. "I have decided to ask the Sejm's Expertise Bureau, the head of the prime minister's Legislative Council, and the chairman of the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council to go over the bill with a legislative fine-tooth comb," Borowski said. He noted that the draft was "controversial" from the beginning and added that the bribery affair has "further worsened the atmosphere" around it. "It would be a very bad thing if we let out a legislative monster," Borowski said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)
...AS RADICAL FARM LEADER CITES MEDIA CORRUPTION... PAP quoted Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper in Lodz on 30 December as saying that 2002 was characterized by corruption. "Just look at the most recent affair with bribe offers for media-law amendments. The case was uncovered by ["Gazeta Wyborcza"], and [Prime Minister Leszek] Miller's name came up in it," Lepper noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)
...AND RULING PARTY WANTS INQUIRY INTO ALLEGED MEDIA-BILL BRIBERY. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) caucus in the Sejm on 7 January called for an inquiry committee to probe reports of bribery in connection with a planned bill on radio and television broadcasting and implying improprieties by media mogul Lew Rywin, PAP reported. "The committee will be investigating attempts at securing bribe money in exchange for guarantees that the briber's interests will be favorably represented in a new radio and television law. It will have to find out who initiated the whole affair and how it was done," the SLD parliamentary caucus said in a statement. Motions for launching probes into the Rywin affair have already been filed by the Law and Justice and the Civic Platform caucuses. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)
ROMANIALEADING JOURNALIST DIES IN AUTO ACCIDENT. Dumitru Tinu, director of the daily "Adevarul," died on 1 January in a car accident, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tinu apparently lost control of his automobile while driving from Bucharest to his vacation house in Breaza, in the Carpathian Mountains. The accident occurred in the village of Romanesti, some 50 kilometers north of Bucharest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)
RUSSIAGERMAN JOURNALIST DENIED ENTRY TO RUSSIA. RSF has launched a protest against Russia's expulsion of a prominent German freelance journalist, Guenter Wallraff, who on 7 January was denied entry to Russia upon his arrival in Moscow. Accompanying Wallraff were Norbert Bluem, a former German labor minister, and Rupert Neudeck, the head of the German relief organization Cap Anamur, both of whom voluntarily returned to Germany, Interfax reported on 8 January. According to RSF, Wallraff had planned to meet in Moscow with the head of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen administration, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, before going to Ingushetia to investigate the situation of Chechen refugees, as well as trying to enter Chechnya. Upon his arrival in Moscow, Wallraff was taken to a Foreign Ministry representative at the airport, who cancelled his tourist visa. He was then sent back to Germany on the same plane without being allowed to contact the German Embassy in Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry told the German Embassy that it was concerned for the "security of people planning to enter Chechnya illegally," Interfax reported on 8 January. RSF added that the ministry had concluded from a 2 January interview with Wallraff in "Stern" magazine that the reporter planned to investigate human rights violations in Chechnya and launch "a new campaign against Russia in the German news media." Wallraff told RSF that he had not hidden his intention to go to Chechnya. Wallraff also said that: "Journalists are more and more often forced to use unofficial and indirect means to investigate human rights abuses. The Russian authorities are very good at hiding information about violations and know how to ensure that only their viewpoint gets out in the news media." CC
THE COSTS OF WHITEWASHING THE CHECHEN WAR. Writing in "The Wall Street Journal" on 8 January, Cynthia Scharf observes that the "truth about the blood-stained catastrophe that is Chechnya remains one of the last things the Russian public is likely to hear from its leaders -- or its media." According to the author, "three years of hideous carnage have been publicly whitewashed by Russian authorities." In the aftermath of the two recent terrorist acts in Moscow and Chechnya, the Russian government has stepped up efforts to control reporting on the war. These efforts include the arrest, kidnapping, or death threats against those Russian journalists, such as Anna Politkovskaya and Andrei Babitskii, who have covered the Chechen war in depth. Journalists who manage to get into Chechnya are subjected to rigorous military control over their movements, while reporters whose coverage is seen as too critical by the Russian government are simply denied entry. "Journalists, including foreign reporters, have been detained, interrogated, physically threatened and expelled from [Chechnya] by security forces for refusing to comply with the Russian authorities' "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" guidelines," the author writes. As a result, "Chechnya -- and now its neighbor Ingushetia -- [have become] walled-off ghettos," and the Russian people are left with "a whitewashed portrayal of the Chechen conflict with little sense of the war's true costs." Since a perceived Russian victory in Chechnya is the key to "Putin's political future, coverage of the war is a matter of vital concern to the Russian president." Putin is well aware that accountability depends on information. "In perpetuating the mixture of denials and lies that feed this war...[Putin] is jeopardizing the security of all [Russia's] citizens...he is compromising not only his country's security, but also its conscience." CC
DUMA VOTES TO EXTEND TAX BREAKS FOR PRINT MEDIA. The Duma on 25 December approved a bill to extend until 1 January 2005 a discounted value-added-tax rate of 10 percent for the production and distribution of books, newspapers, and periodicals, "Versty" and other Russian news agencies reported the next day. That tax break was scheduled to expire on 1 January, but charging the standard 20 percent VAT on such goods and services would likely mean sharp price increases for books and publications. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 26 December that government representatives have agreed to maintain a lower VAT rate for the media only if advertising-related services are declared ineligible for that discount. However, that compromise would have hurt regional newspapers, which Duma deputies will presumably need on their side during next year's election campaign. Even if the Federation Council approves extending the media's VAT discount, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" predicted a presidential veto is "practically inevitable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December)
ECO-JOURNALIST TO HAVE ANOTHER DAY IN COURT. Later this month, a city court in Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai will take up the issue of early release from prison of former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was sentenced last year to four years in prison for illegally passing state secrets to Japanese journalists, grani.ru reported on 8 January. According to one of his attorneys, Ivan Pavlov, Pasko has already served two years and eight months of his sentence, including his time spent in pretrial detention. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
MEDIA-MOST CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER CONVICTED, AMNESTIED. A Moscow raion court on 24 December convicted former Media-MOST Chief Financial Officer Anton Titov of embezzlement and sentenced him to three years in prison and then immediately amnestied him, TVS reported. The court did not find him guilty of money laundering or using forged documents. Titov spent nearly two years in pretrial detention since his arrest in January 2001. At that time, the struggle between Gazprom, a major Media-MOST creditor, and oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's allies for control over the media holding was escalating. Titov was the most senior Media-MOST executive who had not moved abroad. Court hearings in Titov's case were repeatedly postponed over the past year. According to the 25 December edition of "Gazeta," Gazprom filed a civil lawsuit against Titov as well but dropped it around the time Gusinskii agreed to sell his remaining shares in Russian media companies to the gas monopoly. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December)
BROADCAST COMPANY RAIDED IN FAR EAST. Armed gunmen stormed the building of the Novaya Volna television and radio company in Vladivostok on 27 December, Ekho Moskvy reported. Yevgeniya Golubeva, the company's deputy managing director, said the gunmen were representatives of the legal departments of Primorskii Krai, as well as people unofficially representing mayoral candidate Vladimir Nikolaev. According to Golubeva, the men said that "you heard what happened to [former Primorskii Krai Deputy Governor Yevgenii] Krasnov" (he was shot dead in Vladivostok on 27 December), and "if you don't vacate the building, the same thing will happen to you." Golubeva speculated that the raid might be linked to a company ownership dispute. The founder of the Novaya Volna media holding, Oleg Sedinko, was killed in Vladivostok last summer. After his death, his shares were purchased by former acting Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein and Sergei Gubich, another founder of Novaya Volna. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)
LIVE TV BROADCAST OF CHRISTMAS MASS. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko, and other Russian leaders participated in the midnight service beginning on 6 January, the eve of Orthodox Christmas, in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. The three-hour service was broadcast live nationally on ORT and RTR. In his Christmas message, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II rejoiced that Christmas is now an official holiday celebrated throughout the country. During the service, television coverage frequently cut away to show President Vladimir Putin praying and lighting a candle at a similar service in the Chelyabinsk Oblast village of Agapovka, not far from the resort where he is currently enjoying a skiing vacation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)
PUTIN YOUTH MOVEMENT FINDS ANOTHER LITERARY TARGET. The pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together has reportedly pasted leaflets in the Moscow metro protesting against the work of Igor Plotnik, newsru.com reported on 31 December. The leaflets urge a ban on the publication and sale of Plotnik's "Kniga schastya" ("The Book of Happiness") and calls on citizens to write to the Media Ministry demanding that Plotnik's book be banned. According to newsru.com, both the office of Walking Together and Plotnik's publisher were closed and therefore no comments from them were available. For a description of Plotnik's book, see http://www.vagrius.com/books/na/plotn_01.shtml. If Walking Together is indeed responsible for the protest against Plotnik, it would be the latest effort in a broad campaign against contemporary writers. Earlier, the movement compiled a list of "pernicious" writers and has interfered with the presentation of new books, in addition to urging criminal pornography cases against writers Kirill Vorobev and Vladimir Sorokin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)
SOLZHENITSYN RECUPERATING IN HOSPITAL. Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been undergoing treatment in a Moscow hospital since late last month, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 8 January. According to most reports, the 84-year-old author of "The Gulag Archipelago" and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is being treated for high blood pressure. Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 January that Solzhenitsyn had suffered a stroke and has lost the use of his left leg. A spokesman for the writer told Interfax that Solzhenitsyn is in good condition and is working on his latest book in the hospital. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
SERBIAJOURNALISTS TO SET UP EMERGENCY FUND FOR COLLEAGUES. The Independent Journalists Association of Serbia is establishing an independent investment fund totaling 250,000 euros ($262,000) to be used for salary compensation for journalists earning less than average pay. At a recent roundtable, association president Milica Lucic Cavic characterized the situation of Serbian journalists as "desperate." Monthly salaries of journalists range from 2,000 to 16,000 dinars ($32-$512), with an average of about 8,000 dinars, and with no health insurance or pensions, Cavic said. Only about 8 percent of journalists have undergone some professional training. Forty-one percent of journalists do not have their own places to live. And the average journalist, she said, receives only two weeks' vacation yearly, which is usually spent at home. (International Journalists Network, January 2003)
TURKMENISTANTURKMEN TV SCREENS FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER'S CONFESSION. Turkmen state television screened footage late on 29 December in which former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov confessed to plotting while in exile in Moscow to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov and seize power, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported. Shikhmuradov also confessed that he financed the planned coup attempt from the 1994 theft and subsequent sale of military aircraft. Turkmen authorities accused Shikhmuradov of that theft shortly after he declared his opposition to Niyazov in November 2001. He has repeatedly denied the charge. Shikhmuradov also admitted that he was abetted by Uzbek Ambassador to Ashgabat Abdurashid Kadyrov. The Turkmen authorities declared Kadyrov persona non grata last week. Interfax on 28 December quoted unidentified Turkmen police sources as saying Shikhmuradov was being treated "correctly" and has not been subjected to violence. But a Reuters correspondent in Ashgabat reported on 29 December that in the television footage Shikhmuradov's speech was slow and almost "robotic." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)
MEDIA CLAIM U.S. AMBASSADOR APPROVED OF ATTEMPT TO SHIELD FUGITIVE FORMER MINISTER. Turkmenistan's state-controlled newspapers on 8 January published an open letter claiming that U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy spoke three times by telephone with Shikhmuradov while the latter was allegedly hiding at the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat following the failed 25 November attempt to assassinate President Niyazov, Reuters and Turan reported. They implied that Kennedy expressed approval of Kadyrov's alleged efforts to help Shikhmuradov flee Turkmenistan. The letter also accused U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker of bias in his comments on events in Turkmenistan. Reeker has expressed concern over reports that suspects in the assassination case were being tortured. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
UKRAINEJUDGE PROTESTS CANCELLATION OF KUCHMA PROBES. Kyiv Court of Appeals judge Yuriy Vasylenko told journalists on 28 December that a Supreme Court ruling canceling his decision to open criminal investigations against President Leonid Kuchma violates the constitution and criminal-procedure legislation in the country, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 28 December. In October, Vasylenko opened a criminal case against Kuchma in connection with charges by opposition lawmakers that he violated 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December)
NEW WEBSITETECHNICAL SUPPORT FOR MAJOR HUMAN RIGHTS DATA PROJECTS. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Human Rights Data Analysis Group, http://shr.aaas.org/hrdag launched a new website on 10 December. The AAAS Data Analysis Group provides technical support to large-scale human rights data projects. The group assists with networking, backup, and security; with building a database and classification system; and with advanced statistical analysis of mass atrocities. The website explains the group's work and provides descriptions of projects, as well as copies of data and software to download.
END NOTEKREMLIN-STYLE NEWS MANAGEMENT
By Donald Jensen
The Russian media scene today is characterized by continuing government efforts at all levels to centralize and manage -- both directly and indirectly -- news coverage. While there is little outright censorship, the commercial and professional weaknesses of many news organizations provides ample opportunities for official manipulation of the news. The federal government, for example, sometimes tries to influence coverage by claiming that critical media violate tax or other regulations.
Many national media are linked to large corporate interests, which, in turn, are close to the government. The Kremlin's campaign to assert control over Moscow-based national television networks in 2001 -- conducted in the name of business rationalization -- has resulted in a homogenization of news coverage and the avoidance of controversial issues, as journalists increasingly practice self-censorship. Moreover, the close ties between many businesses and leading media have undermined media credibility in the eyes of many Russians. In the regions, the small advertising market means that the media there are almost totally dependent on local politicians or a few businessmen who control access to transmission facilities, printing presses, and even office space.
Official pressure on the media sometimes relies on strong armed methods as well. In November 2002, the Federal Security Service conducted searches of newspaper offices in the Urals city of Perm and in the northern city of Petrozavodsk -- both papers had run major reports on corruption among local bureaucrats. Chechnya is another hot topic for the Russian authorities. Reporters are only permitted to go there on official tours closely supervised by the Russian military. Even refugee camps for those who have fled the ongoing fighting in Chechnya are increasingly off-limits to reporters. In December, reporters from Reuters and RFE/RL were not allowed to film a refugee camp in Ingushetia; police informed them that failure to obtain prior written permission to do so could result in their arrest.
Officials, politicians, and businessmen who do not like what they see or read about themselves in the media can take advantage of Russia's vague libel laws, which they often deploy in the courts to protect themselves against corruption charges. The prominent independent Moscow newspaper "Novaya gazeta" was almost forced to close this year due to repeated heavy court-ordered fines.
The relatively few investigative journalists in the country practice their profession at considerable risk. In the Pacific-coast city of Khabarovsk in December, a husband-and-wife journalist team was beaten by masked men wielding metal rods. Environmental reporter Grigorii Pasko is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for espionage for reporting on massive pollution by the Russian Pacific Fleet. According to media watchdogs in the West, seven journalists were killed in 2002 for their professional activities. None of these murders have been solved, and official investigations are usually perfunctory.
There are indications that further media centralization may be in the offing. On 15 November, the State Duma passed in its first reading media-law amendments that would expand the grounds on which the government could revoke broadcast licenses. According to one provision, for example, media outlets may have their licenses revoked if they do not make full use of their assigned frequencies. Although President Vladimir Putin on 25 November vetoed amendments to a bill meant to regulate coverage of antiterrorism operations, the veto appeared largely to be a public-relations exercise. A reconciliation commission empowered to work on the bill is likely to recommend further press restrictions.
Donald Jensen is the director of RFE/RL's Communications Division.