17 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 2
ARMENIAPROSECUTOR-GENERAL OFFERS REWARD IN INVESTIGATION OF SLAIN JOURNALIST... The Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office offered a reward of $250,000 on 8 January for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators of the shooting of Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, Arminfo reported. The investigation of Naghdalian's 28 December killing is being conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office, the National Police, and the National Security Service. After a flurry of interrogations in the 24 hours following the killing, all detainees have been released and there has been no recent progress reported in the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January)
...AS LAWYER CLAIMS KILLING LINKED TO PARLIAMENT KILLINGS. Russian lawyer Oleg Yunoshev, who represents the family of former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, told a press conference in Yerevan on 14 January that Naghdalian might have known who masterminded the October 1999 parliament shootings, in which Sargsian and seven other Senior officials were killed, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yunoshev pointed out that shortly before Naghdalian's 28 December killing, he had claimed that the video footage of the five gunmen bursting into the parliament chamber was edited before being handed over to investigators and that a crucial 11-minute segment was cut. On 13 January, Armenia's chief military prosecutor, Gagik Djahangirian, who headed the investigation into the parliament shootings, said experts are examining the video footage to establish whether anyone tampered with the tape. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
STATE MEDIA ANNOUNCES TARIFFS FOR ELECTION-CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING. The governing board of state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio made public on 13 January the fees it will charge candidates in next month's presidential election for campaign advertising, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Each candidate is entitled to 60 minutes of airtime free of charge. In addition, candidates may purchase a maximum of 120 minutes TV airtime and 180 minutes radio airtime at a cost of 70,800 drams ($120) and 17,700 drams per minute, respectively. In 1996, candidates were entitled to 120 minutes of free airtime on television and 180 minutes of paid airtime at a cost of $20 per minute. In 1998, free television airtime was set at 90 minutes, with the option of purchasing 180 additional minutes at $20 per minute. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)
BELARUSRE-REGISTRATION OF ALL BROADCAST MEDIA ORDERED. On 10 January, all Belarusian broadcast outlets were ordered to re-register before 1 June 2003. The Information Ministry has been put in charge of distribution of frequencies and issuance of licenses, rather than the Communications Ministry, which the Association of Journalists believes will result in a reduction in the number of independent electronic media outlets. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
AUTHORITIES BAN TV CAMPAIGNING AHEAD OF LOCAL VOTES. The Central Election Commission has decided to give five minutes of airtime on regional and local radio to each candidate running for a seat on local soviets in the 2 March elections, Belapan reported on 14 January. Candidates will have no chance to appear on television, although they reportedly will have equal rights for campaigning through the local press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
MEDIA FREEDOM OUTSIDE OSCE MISSION MANDATE? The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's special rapporteur on Belarus, Wolfgang Behrendt, on 9 January told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that one should not be optimistic about the new Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Belarus as long as its real functions remain unclear. Behrendt expressed concern that the monitoring of human rights and media freedom was left out of an agreement on the new OSCE office in Belarus. Regarding freedom of the media, Behrendt said he receives only negative signals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January)
CZECH REPUBLICSENATE COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS LIFTING MEDIA MOGUL'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. The Senate Mandate and Immunity Committee on 14 December recommended that the plenum lift the parliamentary immunity of controversial television director and newly elected Senator Vladimir Zelezny, CTK and Reuters reported. Seven of the committee's 12 members voted in favor of the move. Five deputies from the Civic Democratic Party -- with which Zelezny has long enjoyed cozy relations -- and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia opposed the recommendation. Zelezny, who is director of the commercial TV Nova, has been charged with tax evasion and defrauding creditors, and is locked in litigation with foreign investors over control of the broadcaster. He gained parliamentary immunity after his election as an independent in late October. The plenum is expected to vote on the recommendation next week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
IRANMORE MOVES AGAINST THE PRESS. The Tehran Public Court on 11 January banned the "Bahar" daily, IRNA reported The court's letter to Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei stated: "The daily 'Bahar,' despite earlier suspension and conviction on several charges, has been persisting in propagating against the [Islamic] system and publishing lies in order to instigate public opinion.... Please require that the daily is prevented from printing and publishing until further notice," the letter continued. "Qom-i Imruz" newspaper closed on 26 December in response to what publisher Alireza Fuladi termed "diverse pressures" and a campaign of threats ahead of the municipal elections, IRNA reported. "Shams-i Tabriz" newspaper was closed on the judiciary's orders for stirring up "ethnic divisions," ISNA reported on 26 December. Owner Ali Hamed Iman was sentenced to 74 lashes and a suspended two-year prison sentence. In total, the Iranian government has closed at least 76 publications since April 2000 (some of them have since reopened). According to the 3 January Ruydad website (http://www.saadabadpalace.org/nfa/main/ruydad/), 87 publications have been closed since May 1997. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January)
PARLIAMENT BEGINS AMENDING HARSH PRESS LAW... Iran's parliament introduced its first amendment on 1 January to the harsh press law that allows the closure of newspapers. The amendment would eliminate Part 2 of Paragraph B of Article 9 of the press law, removing the current geographic restrictions on distribution of a publication, and subject matter would not be limited to a specific topic. The amendment awaits approval by the Guardians Council. Parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani, who dealt with press matters when he was with the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance and who is a founder of the Iranian Journalists Union, hinted that the parliament would not back down if the Guardians Council were to reject the press-law amendment. "If the Guardians Council does not approve this act, we will begin finding fault with the countrywide distribution of 'Entekhab' and 'Qods' dailies," he said. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January)
...REOPENING PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE... During the 1 January session of parliament, Isfahan parliamentary representative Rajab Ali Mazrui, who is also the chairman of the Iranian Journalists Union, complained about the situation faced by many publications. Mazrui asked, according to the 2 January "Hayat-i No," "Why should we divest other provinces and deprived areas from having access to the press that can be distributed nationwide?" He said that the restriction on distributing "Hamshahri," which is associated with Tehran municipality, had resulted in some 1,500 lost jobs. Damghan representative Hassan Sobhani, "Hayat-i No" reported on 2 January, expressed concern that publications would be misused by political factions. Sobhani said that he favored national distribution, because "Entekhab," which belongs to the Islamic Propaganda Office of Qom, and "Qods," which is published by Astan-i Qods Razavi (the Imam Reza shrine foundation in Mashhad), have messages for everybody. He suggested that the publications be limited to specific subjects. Parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani dismissed the idea of limiting the distribution or subject matter of a publication. Burqani said that such an idea is impractical, "Hayat-i No" reported on 2 January: "Based on this proposal, a daily like 'Jam-i Jam' must publish materials in connection with radio and television programs, or 'Qods' must limit its materials to reports on Astan-i Qods Razavi, but how many events occur in the Voice and Vision [state radio and television] or Astan-i Qods Razavi to serve as subjects for writing articles and commentaries and filling pages of these dailies?" ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January)
...IN RENEWAL OF PAST STRUGGLE WITH SUPREME LEADER. The legislative move to amend the press law is significant because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quashed its earlier attempt to do so. In a 6 August 2000 letter read aloud to the parliament, Khamenei warned, "Should the enemies of Islam, the revolution, and the Islamic system take over or infiltrate the press, a great danger would threaten the security, unity, and the faith of the people and, therefore, I cannot allow myself and other officials to keep quiet in respect of this crucial issue." In response, legislators engaged in scuffles, and some walked out of the chamber. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January)
KAZAKHSTANDEFENDER DETAILS PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS IN JOURNALIST'S TRIAL. In a 14 January statement addressed to the Almaty Raion court hearing the case of journalist Sergei Duvanov, Duvanov's public defender Yevgenii Zhovtis detailed police interference with the investigation into Duvanov's case and police intimidation of witnesses. Duvanov faces charges, which are widely believed to be politically motivated, of raping an underage girl. Zhovtis called on the court to declare the case annulled and to inform the prosecutor-general of evidence pointing to criminal obstruction of justice. Zhovtis's statement was carried by the website forumkz.org. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
INTERNET PAPER UNDER THREAT OF CLOSURE. Lawyers representing Rakhat Aliyev, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, have demanded that the website "Navigator" pay a fine of 5 million tenges ($32,000). On 9 January, the paper's editorial board was told that if the fine is not paid, Aliyev intends to take over the paper. The court case began after the website reprinted an article from another website. "Navigator" printed a retraction of the article as Aliyev's lawyers demanded, "Navigator's" Director Yurii Mizinov said, but Aliyev sued the website anyway. "Navigator" has faced such pressure on three previous occasions and the site has been blocked twice. Mizinov says that purpose of the most recent lawsuit is the website's closure. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
KYRGYZSTANONE PAPER FACES AVALANCHE OF LAWSUITS... The embattled independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa," which has reported extensively on alleged corruption within the Bishkek government, and is already facing over a dozen lawsuits for its critical articles, lost another case on 8 January when a Bishkek court found it guilty of publishing false information about a ski lodge in the Semyonov Gorge in eastern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The offending article, published on 22 November 2002 and titled, "The Family has Gone Into the Mountains, the Family has Found Money," alleged that the ski center was owned by members of President Askar Akaev's family. The plaintiffs -- the Issyk-Kul district administration and the Semyonov local government -- sued on the grounds that their dignity and business reputation had been impugned, and that their region had suffered economically because unidentified foreign companies refused to invest in the ski center following the article's publication. Kabar news agency reported on 10 January that both the plaintiffs had demanded 1 million soms (about $21,500). The court awarded them a total of about 79,000 soms and ordered the newspaper to print an apology within one month. On 4 January, the same court ruled against the paper in favor of the Karabalta spirit factory and fined it 50,000 soms. Four days later, a Bishkek resident filed a new lawsuit against the newspaper for an article that he said affronted Kyrgyz national pride, and demanded a fine of 1 million soms, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Yet another case against the paper is due to open on 21 January. The paper's editor, Aleksandr Kim, told RFE/RL on 9 January that the series of lawsuits against "Moya stolitsa" were politically motivated and orchestrated by the government. In December, 13 lawsuits were filed against the paper, with the plaintiffs including the prime minister, the interior minister, other top government officials, lawmakers, and prominent businessmen. State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov vowed in December to launch a "crusade" against the newspaper through the courts. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 January)
...ANOTHER LOSES STATE PRINTER... The state-owned Uchkun printing house suspended publication of the opposition newspaper "Kyrgyz ordo" on 13 January after a senior customs official, Aidarbek Duishaliev, sued it for libel, requesting 350,000 soms in damages and demanding that the paper be shut down, akipress.org reported. A district court in Bishkek is due to give its verdict on 17 January. The chief editor of "Kyrgyz ordo," Beken Nazaraliev, told RFE/RL on 13 January that court representatives had already visited the editorial offices and taken a full inventory of the paper's property. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 January)
...AS CALL ISSUED TO PROTECT MEDIA FREEDOM. On 13 January, 30 human rights activists, parliamentary and political party representatives, newspaper editors, and other public figures signed a "Statement on the Protection of the Freedom of Speech in Kyrgyzstan," AKIpress reported. They expressed "serious anxiety about the increasingly frequent incidents of persecution of independent media and journalists." Singling out the flood of lawsuits against "Moya stolitsa," they said the authorities, acting on political motives, "are not giving journalists an opportunity to speak freely and to cover problems in society in an honest and principled manner." They accused the authorities of trying to "kill off the media" in an attempt to limit freedom of speech, and said that efforts to build a civilized state based on the rule of law were being badly undermined. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 January)
MOLDOVAANTIGOVERNMENT DAILY SUSPENDS PUBLICATION. The daily "Tara" ("The Country") on 13 January suspended publication for an indefinite period, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Editor in Chief Petru Bogatu said the decision was made for financial reasons. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev late last week ordered government offices to cancel all subscriptions to publications that are critical of the cabinet. The daily "Tara" began publication in 1990 as the newspaper of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic and later became an independent publication promoting reunion with Romania. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)
GOVERNMENT APPROVES MECHANISM FOR RESUMPTION OF ROMANIAN TV BROADCASTS. The cabinet on 15 January approved the payment of $3 million from a $14.4 million long-term credit extended by Romania to finance Romanian television broadcasts in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The payment will finance the operation of a Moldovan state company that will broadcast Romania's TV-1 channel on Moldovan territory. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the decision will make it possible for the broadcasts to be resumed "within five days" and that the $3 million will cover retransmission costs for one year. The Romanian stations' broadcasts were stopped in August of last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January)
OPPOSITION PARTIES PROTEST FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH EUROPEAN COUNCIL RECOMMENDATIONS ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA. Opposition parties and NGO representatives on 15 January signed a declaration calling on parliament to modify the legislation on the functioning of Teleradio Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They said the changes enacted in the law pertaining to Teleradio Moldova do not follow the 24 April and 26 September 2002 recommendations of the European Council and that the company remains under heavy governmental supervision and influence, despite claims that it has been transformed from a state-owned company into a public one. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January)
POLANDPARLIAMENT STARTS INQUIRY INTO 'RYWINGATE.' Deputy Sejm Speaker Tomasz Nalecz (Labor Union) was elected head of a special parliamentary commission set up to investigate corruption charges against film producer Lew Rywin, who reportedly solicited a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza." Reports have suggested Rywin was claiming to be acting on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance. Nalecz said he expects to hold the commission's first sitting on 25 or 27 January. The commission's meetings are to be open. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
'GAZETA WYBORCZA' EDITOR REGRETS DELAYED REPORTING ON 'RYWINGATE.' "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik told journalists on 15 January that, had he known that the bribery scandal involving Rywin and Premier Miller would affect such wide circles in Poland, he would have written about it earlier, PAP reported. The newspaper revealed the scandal, dubbed "Rywingate," on 27 December, more than five months after it reportedly originated. Michnik said he also regrets that he did not notify prosecutors about Rywin's alleged solicitation of a bribe. Michnik said his daily delayed reporting the story in order to gather as much information as possible. "If Rywin came to me and said he would sort something out for me [for a bribe], without referring to the prime minister's name, I would have simply shown him the door. [But] I was terrified by the fact that here, for the first time, the prime minister's name appeared," Polish Radio quoted Michnik as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January)
ROMANIAJUSTICE MINISTER DISCUSSES POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS FOR JOURNALISTS OF PROPOSED PENAL CODE. Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu told journalists on 14 January that the proposed bill on amending the Penal Code is by no means aimed at curtailing the freedom of the press or introducing harsher punishments for journalists, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. She said she is very satisfied that the bill is being debated with representatives of the media, as has never been done before. Stanoiu said many critical statements regarding the bill stem from misunderstandings, but acknowledged that the formulations used in some of the bill's articles are ambiguous, leaving room for several possible interpretations. These articles, Stanoiu said, should be reformulated. She said an additional meeting with journalists will take place in March, after the government approves the new version of articles that require reformulation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
NEW FREEDOM-OF-EXPRESSION GROUP LAUNCHED. Twenty-six media groups and journalist associations in Romania have formed a new group to strengthen the promotion and protection of freedom of expression in the country, the Center for Independent Journalism reported. The Convention of the Media Organizations in Romania plans to intervene in freedom-of-expression issues, adopt and enforce a journalists' code of ethics, and monitor international journalism standards and the media environment. (IFEX, 14 January)
RUSSIAALMOST 150 REPORTERS HAVE DIED OF UNNATURAL CAUSES IN LAST DECADE. Nineteen journalists died of unnatural causes in Russia in 2002, the Glasnost Defense Foundation's Boris Timoshenko told Interfax on 14 January. Although he did not say that these killings were premeditated, but "in many cases the circumstances surrounding the journalists' deaths look very strange, and in some cases their deaths were preceded by threats and pressure." In 2001, another six people were killed, who were not journalists but were directly involved in the media. There were also 99 attacks on journalists and editor's offices. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation website, 148 journalists have died of unnatural causes in Russia since 1992. (Interfax, 14 January)
POLICE OFFICERS ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN KILLING OF INTERNET JOURNALIST... Vladimir Sukhomlin, a 23-year-old software developer and Internet journalist, was abducted and brutally killed in Moscow on 4 January, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian news agencies reported on 13 January. According to the reports, Sukhomlin was on his way to meet a potential client when his car was stopped by two police officers and he was forced into a waiting Lada passenger car. Two police officers from the Moscow Oblast town of Balashikha, who were identified only as Goncharov and Vorotnikov, were arrested on 9 January, according to "Izvestiya" on 13 January, and they reportedly told police they had been paid $1,150 to kill Sukhomlin. On 10 January, police arrested Dmitrii Ivanchev, the director of the St. Petersburg-based company Plastorg, lenta.ru reported on 13 January. According to "Izvestiya," the police officers named Ivanchev as the man who hired them. According to "The Moscow Times," both of the arrested police officers "came from families of security officials -- one from the [Federal Security Service] and another from the Federal [Border Guard] Service." In addition to his software-development work, Sukhomlin in 1999 created the anti-NATO website serbia.ru, which was attacked by Western hackers. He also created the website chechnya.ru, which was designed to counter the pro-separatist site kavkaz.org. According to a colleague quoted in "The Moscow Times," Sukhomlin was also developing software for the Defense Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January)
...AS PETERSBURG INTERNET JOURNALISTS BEATEN. Dmitrii and Lada Motrich, two journalists with the St. Petersburg website kandidat.ru, which monitors local elections, were hospitalized on 11 January after being severely beaten by unknown assailants, RosBalt reported on 13 January. The two were attacked by three youths late in the evening of 10 January, and their bags, mobile phones, and documents were stolen. The editor in chief of kandidat.ru is Ruslan Linkov, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of Democratic Russia and a former assistant to murdered State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova. "There have been pressure and threats against kandidat.ru practically since the first day of its existence," Linkov was quoted as saying. "Now that the elections and the coverage of them are no longer in the center of everyone's attention, the bandits have decided that they can deal with journalists with impunity." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January)
MOSCOW SPORTS COMMENTATOR KILLED. The well-known sports commentator and former Moscow Dinamo soccer player Yurii Tishkov was killed in Moscow on 9 January. Last year, Tishkov was awarded the Professional Soccer League prize for his live television coverage of soccer. He was also the head of the Media Union's Sports Press Guild. His killing may have been related to his business activities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
CHELYABINSK JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED. Two staffers of the paper "Vechernii Chelyabinsk" -- Marina Smolina, editor of the investigation section, and Natalya Martynenko, deputy editor for news reports -- were beaten and robbed on 4 January. A few days later, police detained the alleged assailants; two of the three have police records. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
PRESIDENT PUTIN CONGRATULATES MEDIA ON PRESS DAY... On 13 January, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Russian journalists on Russian Press Day, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. He said that "during the past three centuries Russian journalism...[at] crucial turning points in history Russian journalists more than once demonstrated examples of civil courage and loyalty to their work." Putin added: "Not a single state can exist without publicity and openness which are ensured above all by the mass media, following the strict norms of professional ethics. They maintain a constructive dialogue with the authorities and in many respects exert a decisive influence on public opinion." CC
...LESIN: DO NOT MIX FREEDOM WITH PERMISSIVENESS... Russian Media Minister Mikhail Lesin invited Russian journalists "not to mix freedom with permissiveness," RIA-Novosti reported on 13 January. "After long years of total control," Russia is passing the "test of freedom," which requires greater responsibility before society and, in the first place, before oneself, he said. According to Lesin, "journalism cannot be merely taught: journalists also have to be educated." CC
...EDITOR: AUTHORITIES TO FURTHER 'FOIST SYSTEM OF CONTROL.' In an interview on Radio Rossiya on 12 January, "Novye Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Igor Golembiovskii said that "glasnost disappeared in the regions a long time ago...while in Moscow the situation still looks favorable." This is merely an impression, according to Golembiovskii, because "the authorities will be trying more and more to foist on [the Moscow print as well as broadcast media] their own system of control." CC
OFFICIAL: MEDIA MUST BEAR LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ELECTORAL VIOLATIONS. In an interview on gazeta.ru on 13 January, Central Election Commission Deputy Chairman Sergei Bolshakov stated that current media law, as well as the amendments currently under consideration, does not address the issue of press conduct during election periods. Bolshakov called for the law to be amended to hold journalists and media outlets liable if a court has found them guilty of accepting bribes for (un)favorable coverage of candidates for public office. CC
COMMERCIAL INTERESTS MORE A THREAT TO MEDIA THAN THE STATE. In a 13 January editorial, "Transitions Online," concludes that "the main danger to life and limb [of Russian journalists] is not the state, but commercial interests." Killings of media workers have, according to the editorial, "more to do with crony capitalism and disputes between shady local businessmen than an overbearing state." Indeed, the editorial believes that the "model [of journalism] in Russia is perhaps more Western than the West would like to acknowledge" since journalists all now face greater commercial competition and are willing to take greater risks to get stories. To highlight the fact that Russian journalists face the greatest dangers outside Moscow, the editorial points to two killings in Russia in 2002: reporter Natasha Skryl, who was investigating a struggle for control of a local metallurgical plant, and editor Valerii Ivanov, whose Togliatti paper covered local crime and corruption. The editorial observes that Russia's media displays limited pluralism, due to its dependence on business interests and political control by the state. "Transitions Online" concludes by noting that some Russian media display pluralism, "some independence," and a "willingness to speak out." (Tol.cz, 13 January)
FOUR STATE-FUNDED PAPERS FOR CHECHNYA. Rather than 11 raion papers, Chechnya will have four inter-raion papers in 2003. The Argun-based paper "Orga" will now include the Argun, Shali and Vedeno raions, and the Gudermes Raion paper "Gums" will now be distributed in the Gudermes, Kurchaloi, and Nozhai-Yurt raions. The new papers will each have a print run of 15,000 to 20,000 copies and will be published three times a week rather than once a week. The Russian state-funded papers will still be distributed free of charge. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
NEWSPAPER EDITOR ON TRIAL FOR INCITING ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS HATRED. A preliminary hearing in the trial of the former editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper "Pravoslavnyi Simbirsk," Sergei Seryubinym, opened on 8 January in Ulyanovsk, RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent reported. Seryubinym is accused of inciting national and religious enmity. In an issue of the newspaper on 24 April 2002, Seryubinym cautioned Russian Orthodox parents to be aware that Jews are continuing the ancient ritual of murdering of Christian youths. The newspaper has a print run of about 2,000 copies and is financed jointly by the eparchy of Ulyanovsk and the oblast administration. After the 24 April issue, Seryubinym was fired and the eparchy issued an official apology to the local Jewish community. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January)
FIVE FACTORS OF ALIENATION... Although President Putin cannot be tied directly to many methods routinely used to intimidate Russian journalists (or to exert pressure on those who remain defiant), presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii revealed in October 2002 how pleased Kremlin officials are with the current state of media affairs. Speaking at a seminar in Yekaterinburg, Yastrzhembskii noted with satisfaction the demise of an "orgy of free speech," which allegedly prevailed before Putin came to power. Relations between the authorities and the media have vastly improved since Putin took office, Yastrzhembskii asserted, in part because state officials "started to show some political will." With a new parliamentary and presidential election cycle set to begin later this year, that political will is likely to remain in place during 2003. Five major factors (see below) helped perpetuate relatively timid Russian news coverage throughout 2002. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
...CONTROLLED ACCESS... News gathering in and around Chechnya remained difficult in 2002 for journalists who sought to avoid constant supervision in military press pools. On another front, politicians' access to the television networks that reach the largest audience also remains tightly (if informally) controlled. Critics of Putin's administration who often disagree with each other -- such as Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov -- all complained during 2002 that the Kremlin controls editorial decisions at state-owned television networks and uses that power to shut out opposition voices on news and analysis programs. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
...CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS... Criminal probes became an important part of state media policy in 2000 and 2001, affecting little-known journalists as well as the high-profile efforts to crush the media empires of Boris Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii. In fact, Oleg Panfilov, who heads the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told the 3 January "Financial Times," "There have been more legal cases opened against journalists in the 2 1/2 years of Mr Putin's rule than throughout the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin." Though it is hard to measure the chilling effect a criminal investigation has on news reporting, it reminds journalists that they are being watched closely, even when journalists under investigation are never formally charged or prosecuted. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
...THE COURT SYSTEM... Many courts handed down rulings against journalists or media outlets during 2002. In January, as the LUKoil-Garant pension fund was trying to force TV-6 into liquidation, the Supreme Arbitration Court ruled in favor of the pension fund (a minority shareholder in the television network). Media Minister Lesin then cited that court ruling as justification for shutting down TV-6 broadcasts. In February, "Novaya gazeta" was hit with two huge libel judgments totaling $1.5 million, which threatened to put the biweekly out of business. The military collegium of the Supreme Court in June 2002 confirmed a four-year prison sentence for journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was convicted of treason in December 2001. No smoking gun tied Kremlin or government officials to any of those court rulings. However, the losing parties were all out of favor with the authorities, and many political observers and legal experts argued that the cases were influenced by the political climate. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
...MEDIA OWNERS AND SHAREHOLDERS... At the level of rhetoric, Kremlin and government officials abhor the limitations on press freedom imposed by wealthy financial backers. For instance, Media Minister Lesin acknowledged in February 2002 that threats to media freedom exist in Russia, but claimed that private owners are the main culprits. Similarly, Putin told journalists in April that the media "should not directly depend on" wealthy owners, who provide only "false independence." In reality, business interests helped dispatch media outlets that were critical of the authorities in 2002. St. Petersburg businessman Vyacheslav Leibman purchased the weekly "Obshchaya gazeta" in May 2002 for $3 million and promptly fired the entire staff and suspended publication. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
...AND SELF-CENSORSHIP. "The "internal censor" never disappeared from Russian journalism during the 1990s, but the phenomenon became much more widespread in 2000, 2001, and 2002. In fact, the day after the Media-Sotsium consortium won the tender for Channel 6, the consortium's main political patron, former Foreign Minister and Premier Yevgenii Primakov, openly endorsed "internal censorship" at the network. There were some signs of institutionalized self-censorship in 2002. For instance, a group of prominent managers who work for state-controlled media or are sympathetic to Putin's administration formed a Media Industrial Committee, which is drafting a new media law as well as self-regulatory guidelines for journalists covering crises such as terrorist actions. The committee is working with state security officials on those guidelines. Editors of some privately owned media also attend regular meetings in the Kremlin. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 January)
SERBIAMEDIA GROUPS CLAIM PARLIAMENT 'BLOCKING' BROADCAST ACT. On 14 January the heads of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, the Association of Independent Electronic Media, and the Association for Development of Private Broadcasters accused the Serbian parliament of "blocking implementation" of the Public Broadcast Act adopted six months ago. Unlike the Serbian government, the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, NGOs, and others, the Serbian parliament has still not nominated its candidates for the Broadcast Council, thereby stalling the formation of the council and the Regulatory Broadcasting Agency for six months. The council and its Regulatory Broadcasting Agency are key to "the badly needed transformation of Radio Television Serbia and the introduction of subscription fees," according to the three media groups. (mediawatch@lists,opennet.org, 14 January)
ROMANY PUBLISHING HOUSE FOUNDED. During its 28 December session, the local legislature in Vojvodina passed a resolution forming a Romany news publishing company. ("ANEM Media Update," 21-28 December)
TURKMENISTANRFE/RL: CONCERN OVER POSSIBLE EXTRADITION OF JOURNALIST. On 16 January, RFE/RL President Thomas Dine expressed his concern about the safety and welfare of Orazmuhammet Yklymov, a freelance journalist with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service in Moscow, who faces the imminent threat of forcible extradition from Russia to Turkmenistan. If extradited, Yklymov faces the possibility of mistreatment by the Turkmen government, which has already arrested and confiscated the homes of nearly 30 members of Yklymov's family in a wave of repression that has followed an alleged opposition attack on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Turkmen authorities have accused Yklymov -- who holds both Russian and Turkmen citizenship -- of involvement in procuring weapons and ammunition in connection with the alleged 25 November 2002 opposition attack on Niyazov. Yklymov -- the uncle of accused attack planner and former Turkmen Deputy Agriculture Minister Saparmurat Yklymov -- categorically denies these accusations. His sons, Esenaman and Ayly Yklymov, were arrested in Turkmenistan after the 25 November incident and reportedly have been beaten and tortured by law-enforcement officers while in detention. The fate of Yklymov and his family has been the subject of appeals by Amnesty International and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. (RFE/RL, 16 January)
OFFICIAL DENIES CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST RUSSIAN JOURNALIST. Interfax on 14 January quoted an unidentified Turkmen official as denying earlier reports that criminal charges have been brought against "Vremya novostei" correspondent Arkadii Dubnov on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plan to assassinate President Niyazov and seize power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January)
'STALINIST' PROPAGANDA ON TURKMEN TV. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve blasted the abuse of television in Turkmenistan to humiliate and destroy individuals accused of an alleged attack against President Niyazov. Speaking on 16 January at the OSCE Permanent Council, Duve said state television in Turkmenistan was showing live broadcasts of the accused making confessions and being denounced by people who demanded the death penalty. "These are the same methods that were used during the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s in the Soviet Union," Duve said. (OSCE, 16 January)
UKRAINETWO REPORTERS DIE FROM INJURIES. According to reports on 9 January, Bohdan Povarin, a Kherson Oblast TV cameraman, died of wounds sustained in an attack by thieves on New Year's Eve. Two days later, Oleksiy Tereshchuk, the deputy editor in chief of the paper "Vynnitchyna," died of injuries inflicted by drunken students from the Vynnitsa Medical College in a December 2001 attack. Numerous surgeries performed on him during 2002 were unsuccessful. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
STRICT NEW ACCREDITATION RULES INTRODUCED. On 4 January, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's office introduced new accreditation rules for the media for government news conferences and other events. Media outlets must submit applications on stationery signed by senior managers, listing the names of their founders or publishers, their goals as specified in their charters, their periodicity, the statistics and area of their circulation, all telephone numbers, plus a copy of the state-issued registration certificate. Electronic media must submit a notarized copy of their broadcast license. Foreign media must append a copy of an accreditation card for Ukraine. The Prosecutor-General's Office made it clear that it may reject an application if all the documents are not submitted. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
CITING POLITICAL PRESSURE, TV PROGRAM GOES OFF THE AIR. Zurab Alasaniya, director of a weekly program on Kharkiv's S-TET TV station, said that he had taken his program off the air so as not to harm the station's other programs. His show, which featured leading Ukrainian political figures, had been subject to censorship -- a show hosting Yuliya Tymoshenko was not aired -- as well as pressure from the local authorities about "every word in his programs." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
UZBEKISTANPOLICE SEARCH FOR JOURNALIST'S DAUGHTER. According to the Uzbekistan Freedom of Speech Protection Committee, on 9 January the Ferghana region police entered the house of Mutabar Tadzhibaeva's sister to search for the independent journalist's 18-year-old daughter. The committee believes that the police wanted to take the girl hostage in order to put pressure on her mother. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva has protested against human rights violations and intended to organize a picket of government headquarters. When law-enforcement agencies opened a criminal case against her for having organized an unauthorized rally, Tadzhibaeva went into hiding. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
ACCESS TO TWO WEBSITES BLOCKED. Since early 2003, access to the websites http://www.centralasia.org and http://www.uzland.uz have remained blocked. Journalists attribute this action to their publication of Usman Khaknazarov's articles which are critical of Uzbek authorities: "Resuscitation of the Gray Eminence in Uzbek Politics" and "Two Axes of Uzbekistan's Supreme Executioner." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 1-12 January)
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITESTHE INTERNET AND RUSSIAN SOCIETY. The book "The Internet and Russian Society" represents efforts by researchers from various academic disciplines. See: Russian http://pubs.carnegie.ru/books/2002/08is/, English summary http://pubs.carnegie.ru/books/2002/08is/summary.asp.
REGIONALU.S. CONGRESS SLAMS MEDIA INFRINGEMENTS IN CENTRAL ASIA. A 14 January joint resolution of the U.S. Congress registers concern at human rights violations -- including restrictions on the media -- by governments of the five Central Asian states. It noted that such actions could fuel support for extremist movements and thus undermine the war on terrorism. The resolution calls on the governments of all five states to accelerate democratic reforms, fulfill human rights obligations, release from jail all those imprisoned for the nonviolent expression of political or religious beliefs, and permit the unrestricted functioning of media outlets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January)
RUSSIAN, BULGARIAN NEWS AGENCIES SIGN AGREEMENT. The directors of the news agencies ITAR-TASS, Vitalii Ignatenko, and BTA, Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, signed a cooperation agreement in Moscow on 15 January. Apart from the exchange of information between the two agencies, the document also covers joint activities of BTA and ITAR-TASS in promoting Bulgarian and Russian interests in third countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline." 16 January)
END NOTEPOLISH PARLIAMENT TO PROBE ALLEGATIONS OF BIG-TICKET MEDIA CORRUPTION
By Jan Maksymiuk
The Sejm on 10 January voted 394 to one to set up a 10-member commission to investigate allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that film producer Lew Rywin tried to solicit a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The ruling SLD has five seats on the commission, while the Peasant Party, the Civic Platform, Law and Justice, Self-Defense, and the League of Polish Families have one seat each.
Rywin, 57, is a well-known film producer and media entrepreneur, who co-produced the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" by director Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. He owns the Heritage Films company and until last week was the supervisory board chief of Canal+ Polska, a television station and a digital platform.
According to a report in "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 27 December, Rywin approached Wanda Rapaczynska, president of Agora SA, the newspaper's publisher, in July 2002 with an offer to lobby the government for a favorable media law that would allow Agora to buy the private Polsat television. Rywin reportedly told Rapaczynska that for $17.5 million (5 percent of the estimated value of Polsat) he would be able to persuade unidentified people responsible for drafting and passing the media bill to delete a clause that would make it impossible for Agora (the owner not only of Poland's top daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" but also of 20 local radio stations and 11 magazines) to "monopolize" the media market in the country by buying Polsat. (The draft media law proposed by the government in early 2002 forbade issuing more than one license for nationwide broadcasting to one broadcaster. It also banned the owner of a nationwide daily from obtaining a license for nationwide broadcasting. Private media, including "Gazeta Wyborcza," vociferously protested the draft media bill saying it would strengthen the monopoly of state television and expose Polish media to foreign takeovers. The government withdrew some restrictions from the draft media bill in mid-2002. Now the draft is in the Sejm.) Moreover, Rywin reportedly suggested to Agora that he acted in coordination with Premier Leszek Miller and that part of the bribe would be transferred to the SLD. Rywin also said he expected a leading post in Polsat "to look after the left's interests" in the station after it was bought by Agora.
"Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik reportedly told Miller about Rywin's offer on 18 July. Miller flatly denied that he had empowered Rywin to enter any talks with Agora, let alone about soliciting a bribe. Four days later, Michnik arranged a meeting in his office with Rywin and secretly taped their conversation in which Rywin repeated his offer of a bribe. "[They] want to use me to strike [a deal], to make it very kosher and clean," Rywin reportedly told Michnik during the conversation. "Because this group has power in its hands and is interested in obtaining [financial] means. Their power guarantees that it [the favorable media law] will be passed. If [you do not agree to the deal], you will sort of run a risk that there will be struggles [over the bill] in the Sejm and the Senate."
Following the "Gazeta Wyborcza" publication on 27 December, Poland's prosecutor-general, Justice Minister Grzegorz Kurczuk, ordered an investigation in the case that is now being called "Rywingate" by Polish media. There are many obscure points in this case, including the questions why Miller, after he was told by Michnik about Rywin's bribery attempt, did not ask the prosecutor-general to launch an investigation (as a state servant, Miller is obliged by law to do so). It is also unclear why Michnik decided to publish details of Rywingate only in late December, five months after the bribery scandal originated. According to reports in other Polish media, including the respected weekly "Polityka," Rywin's offer to Michnik was "unofficially" known to journalists and politicians in Warsaw long before it was publicized on 27 December.
Jerzy Urban, the editor in chief of the notorious tabloid "Nie" and a man widely believed to be well informed about Poland's backstage political life, opined that initially Miller, Rywin, and Michnik agreed not to disclose the scandal to the public. Urban suggested that Michnik broke the agreement in an attempt to overturn Miller's government.
"Rzeczpospolita" on 9 January suggested in an opinion piece by Piotr Semka that Rywingate indicates that there is a conflict within the SLD regarding the political future of Poland's left wing. Some SLD activists are purportedly afraid of Michnik's influence on President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Some Polish media reported last year that Michnik has ingrained Kwasniewski with the idea to form and lead a center party after his presidential term ends in 2005. Such a party, "Rzeczpospolita" opined, could be joined en masse by younger-generation SLD activists who are now politically overshadowed by activists with roots in the communist-era Polish United Workers Party. Therefore, the "old guard" of the SLD allegedly opposes Michnik's takeover of Polsat, because such a move could give Michnik a powerful tool to influence the "plebeian" part of the electorate, which is believed to be the SLD's domain. According to "Rzeczpospolita," some powerful SLD officials now distrust Kwasniewski, not knowing whether they can still treat him as an ally. The newspaper does not say on which side of this purported front line in the SLD Miller stands.
Miller, who was questioned by prosecutors last week in connection with Rywingate, denies any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, in a letter to Miller last week, Rywin said the press presented his contacts with Agora "mendaciously" and apologized to Miller for the fact that the premier's name has been exposed to "unfounded attacks" in the media in connection with the allegations. Rywin has so far refused to comment publicly on the scandal.
Jan Maksymiuk is the editor of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report."