24 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 3
INTERNATIONALIFJ: FREE PRESS AND OPEN GOVERNMENT 'VITAL FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT.' In a press release posted on its website on 21 January, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 500,000 journalists in 100 countries, called on world business leaders and campaigners for social justice to put press freedom, open government, and editorial independence on their agendas. According to the IFJ: "Informed debate is the lifeblood of democracies. Without it, citizens and decision makers are powerless, lacking the basic tools for informed participation and representation." The IFJ also warned that media standards are falling and said that action is needed to build information networks that command public confidence. The social conditions of media staff and journalists are also highlighted in an appeal for international rules to limit the private concentration of media ownership. The IFJ seeks a global commitment to building diverse and pluralistic media "so that people everywhere have access to accurate and unbiased information sources." According to the IFJ, if globalization is to succeed, global media conglomerates must lead the way. "International corporations, in particular the leaders of the global media economy, must respect human rights in all trade agreements and promote social rights and dialogue within their companies." For the complete press release, see http://www.ifj.org/publications/press/pr/030121globalisation.html
OSCE OFFICIAL CRITICAL OF U.S. PATRIOT ACT... In a press release posted on the website of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 23 January, Freimut Duve, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, criticized the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for investigating library records, newspaper subscriptions, and bookstore receipts of customers under the U. S. Patriot Act. These activities may "intimidate citizens from exercising their right to freedom of expression," he told the OSCE Permanent Council on 23 January. Duve has asked for clarifications from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. In his comments to the Permanent Council, Duve said it might well be that the FBI and the INS "have not recognized the significance of their steps for freedom of ideas," adding that, "I trust that the freedom of expression will not be allowed to be jeopardized in the country we consider the cradle of that freedom." Duve is also looking into possibly similar situations in Western Europe. For the complete press release, see http://www.osce.org/news/generate.php3?news_id=3017
...AND U.S. RESPONDS. Responding to Duve's remarks at the OSCE Permanent Council on 23 January, the deputy chief of the U.S. OSCE mission, Douglas Davidson, said: "My government [the United States] has always valued the important role of the [OSCE] media representative, and we consider seriously any questions posed to us by Mr. Duve's office. The legislation to which Mr. Duve refers is a response to the new situation in which we all find ourselves. This war on terrorism requires our best efforts to preserve the liberties we all value and to respect the commitments we have entered into here at the OSCE. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' The goal of the antiterrorism legislation in the United States is to give investigators means to uncover threats to the rule of law without intruding on the civil liberties Americans highly value. The law gives authorized officials access to specific information only under the condition that the persons to whom the records related were the subject of an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence. Judicial safeguards and oversight remain in place to prevent the abuse of this authority. This legislation has a very narrow focus and can only be implemented in specific and narrow cases after judicial review. Even government access to public business records is limited unless the proper authorities can show that the subject under investigation is the subject of an authorized investigation into international terrorism or into clandestine intelligence activities. Congress will oversee the implementation of these procedures to ensure adherence to our constitutional protections. Mr. Chairman, nothing in the ordinance or the way it is enforced would allow the Government to limit access to materials protected under the First Amendment. Nor would an investigation be authorized solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment rights of libraries, and bookstores and their patrons, are protected under these ordinances and will not be abridged. Mr. Duve knows my country well.... My government recognizes fully the value of the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees to all Americans. We will always be cognizant of our duty to our citizens and to our posterity to preserve these values above all things."
KURT SCHORK JOURNALISM AWARDS. Journalists are encouraged to apply for the 2003 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, which recognize independent and professional reporting that sheds new light on controversial issues. Two $10,000 prizes are to be awarded. Established in 2002, the awards are to honor Kurt Schork, an American journalist killed in Sierra Leone in 2000 while reporting for the Reuters news agency. For more, see http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/events/schork
AFGHANISTANSUPREME COURT ISSUES BAN ON CABLE TV. The chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court, Mawlavi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, banned five fledgling cable television networks in Kabul this week on grounds that some of the foreign programming being shown was un-Islamic. Shinwari has also refused to consider an appeal against an earlier ban he imposed on a cable network in Jalalabad. Shinwari told RFE/RL that there is no political reason behind his recent decrees and that he is not being pressured by any political or religious factions. He denied that he is trying to return Afghanistan to an era of restrictive interpretations of Islamic law such as those that existed under the Taliban regime. The chief justice said he is ready to resign if the Afghan people reject his decrees on what constitutes a violation of Islamic law. And he insisted that the partial nudity in foreign programs shown by Afghan cable do, indeed, violate Islamic law and traditional Afghan values. Shinwari said he is not concerned that his support for the decree could lead to cutbacks in Western aid disbursements, adding that he would resign if the edicts are rejected. The edicts may face just such a test in the near future, as Afghanistan's deputy chief justice, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, said Islamic scholars of Afghanistan should decide whether the ban is valid or not. ("Afghanistan: Ban On Cable TV Seen As Symptom Of Power Struggle," rferl.org, 24 January)
ARMENIAOPPOSITION ACCUSES STATE MEDIA OF 'GLORIFYING' PRESIDENT. In three separate statements released in Yerevan on 16 January, the 16 Armenian opposition parties that aligned in late August 2002 to coordinate tactics in the run-up to the February presidential poll accused President Robert Kocharian of resorting to illegal means to ensure his re-election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In addition, the opposition parties charged that state-controlled media are "glorifying" the president before the official start of the election campaign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)
PRESIDENT LAMBASTS ATTORNEY WHO SUGGESTED TV HEAD'S KILLING LINKED TO PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS. Speaking in Yerevan on 21 January, President Kocharian implicitly accused rival presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian of trying to make political capital from the ongoing trial of the five men accused of murdering eight senior officials, including Sargsian's brother and predecessor as premier Vazgen Sargsian, in 1999, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian described Russian attorney Oleg Yunoshev, who is representing Aram Sargsian at the trial, as "a tramp." Yunoshev recently suggested that Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian might have been killed because he knew who masterminded the shootings. Yunoshev told journalists in Yerevan on 17 January that his summons to the Military Prosecutor's Office in connection with that statement was "illegal," Noyan Tapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January)
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION JOURNALISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE. "Yeni Musavat" editor Rauf Arifoglu began a hunger strike on 22 January to protest the 12 lawsuits brought against the paper by representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities in recent months, Turan and Interfax reported. He said that, if his health permits, he will fast for one week and that other members of the paper's staff will join the protest on 23 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)
BELARUSJOURNALISTS SACKED FROM TRADE-UNION NEWSPAPER. The leadership of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) has sacked six journalists from its "Belaruski Chas" publication in a move condemned as politically motivated by the Belarusian PEN Center, Belapan reported on 15 January. The dismissal came five months after FPB Chairman Leanid Kozik sacked "Belaruski Chas" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich, saying he can only work with a newspaper that shares his views. "The dismissal of the six journalists has eliminated the independent trade-union press in Belarus," Mikhail Pastukhou of the Belarusian Association of Journalists said. Meanwhile, "Belaruski Chas" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Balashova told "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" of 16 January that her decision to lay off the six journalists was motivated by the need to trim expenses. "We had an excessively large staff for a weekly. Having correspondents in every region, it was inexpedient to keep so many journalists in Minsk," Balashova added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)
BOSNIAOSCE AND ICG REJECT IRRESPONSIBLE REPORTING OF BOSNIAN WEEKLY. On 21 January, the OSCE and the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a statement "strongly rejecting" the weekly "Slobodna Bosna's" assertion in its 16 January issue that the international community has "given up" on the return of refugees. The OSCE mission in Bosnia and the ICG are "fully committed" to the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, which "provides for a just and durable solution for more than 400,000 remaining internally displaced persons and refugees in" Bosnia. The paper's portrayal of the OSCE as "scandalously supporting ethnic cleansing" is absent from the ICG report, has no basis in fact, and represents "a shocking and offensive distortion of the truth," the statement read. For the entire press release, see http://www.osce.org/news/generate.php3?news_id=3006
CZECH REPUBLICFORMER TELEVISION DIRECTOR FIGHTS DISMISSAL. Former Czech Television Director Jiri Balvin on 21 January launched legal proceedings against his dismissal from the post in November, CTK reported. Balvin was dismissed by the Czech Television Council, but since that body cannot be sued under Czech law, the complaint was launched against state-owned Czech Television. Balvin told CTK that during his tenure he observed the law and said he feels "framed." He said none of the grounds cited by the council for his dismissal, which included a failure to curb financial losses, can be proven. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January)
IRANNEWSPAPER CLOSED OVER CARTOON CRISIS... Tehran's Special Court for the Clergy on 11 January ordered the suspension of "Hayat-i No" daily after it published a cartoon deemed insulting to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian state radio reported. Publication of the cartoon led to demonstrations on 10 January in the cities of Birjand, Isfahan, Qom, Shahrud, and Tehran, according to IRNA. Grand Ayatollahs Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, and Hussein Nuri-Hamedani criticized the cartoon, as did Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli, the Qom Theological Seminary Lecturers Association, and the Supreme Council of the Qom Theological Seminary, according to state television. All the country's seminaries closed in protest on 12 January, as did the Qom bazaar. The "Hayat-i No" office in Khorramabad suffered an arson attack on 13 January, "Toseh" reported the next day. The "Hayat-i No" daily apologized, voluntarily suspended publication for two days, and explained that the cartoon could be found on the Internet. But the paper was ordered closed. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January)
...AND PAPER'S PUBLISHERS ARRESTED... On 12 January, Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi announced the arrest of the individuals responsible for publishing the cartoon, state television reported. They were identified as Alireza Eshraqi, Hamid Qazvini, and Rahman Ahmadi. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January)
...AS PART OF A POLITICAL MAELSTROM... The firestorm of complaint over the cartoon, which was published in 1937 (http://www.ssa.gov/history/court.html), was likely drummed up for political reasons and was led by former judiciary chief and current Guardians Council member Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. Evidence for a political calculus can be found in Qom seminarian Mohammad Reza Faker's comments to one of the protest gatherings that President Mohammad Khatami's supporters are insulting people's beliefs by publishing such items, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 January. According to that report, Faker added that U.S. forces are in the region to defend the reformists. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January)
...LEADING TO FURTHER PROTESTS. Some observers were disturbed by the politicized nature of the cartoon crisis. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Rahmat, who heads the Shahid Motahari seminary in Tonekabon, Mazandaran Province, told a gathering there that the cartoon itself was the only thing that was not mentioned in some of the recent protests, "Toseh" daily newspaper reported on 14 January. "The publication of a cartoon must not be used as a pretext for insulting the president's reform process and the president himself," he added. President Khatami also spoke out against the politicized uproar. He said during a 15 January news conference that he did not approve of the cartoon, but he also criticized exploiting the issue to arouse public sentiment, Iranian state radio reported. Khatami added that the "Hayat-i No" newspaper's voluntary closure demonstrated its regret for causing any offense, according to Radio Farda on 16 January. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January)
COURT SUMMONS RASHT JOURNALIST. Mohammad Kazem Shokuhi-Rad, the managing director of "Gilan-i Imruz" newspaper, said on 13 January that the Gilan Province judiciary summoned him to face a complaint by Rasht Friday-prayer leader Ayatollah Zeinolabidin Qorbani, IRNA reported on 14 January. Qorbani told IRNA, "I filed a complaint against Mr. Shokuhi-Rad for baseless accusations made against certain individuals in his daily, as well as [for] spreading a phony rumor in one of last week's issues of his paper." Qorbani said that it is a Friday-prayer leader's duty to bring the people's problems to officials' attention, and he also said that "Gilan-i Imruz" "raised some other accusations against me." ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January)
KAZAKHSTANJOURNALIST IN RAPE TRIAL DISMISSES LAWYERS. On 23 January, leading Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov, who is accused of raping an underage girl, dismissed his lawyers, saying he no longer wishes to participate in the "farcical" trial against him. Lawyer and human rights defender Yevgenii Zhovtis said Duvanov dismissed his lawyers yesterday after a court turned down a petition to drop the charges due to lack of evidence. Duvanov's supporters say the trial against him is an example of media harassment in Kazakhstan. Police arrested Duvanov in October as he was preparing to travel to the United States to discuss corruption and media freedom in Kazakhstan. He was already under investigation for allegedly insulting "the honor and dignity" of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev after writing a series of articles critical of the president. ("Kazakhstan: Journalist In Rape Trial Dismisses Lawyers," rferl.org, 24 January).
KYRGYZSTANOPPOSITION JOURNALIST ASSAULTED. On 17 January, Aleksandra Chernykh, a journalist working for the opposition daily "Moya stolitsa," was attacked by two unidentified assailants, the Paris-based media organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported. Her mother, Rina Prizhivoit, editor of the politics section of the same paper, is known for her investigations into political corruption. Chernykh was attacked in the center of Bishkek while on her way home and was accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter. She was allegedly hit violently on the head by her assailants, though her life is not in danger. Prizhivoit told RSF that she believed the two attackers had actually intended to attack her rather than her daughter. RSF noted that the "Moya stolitsa" has been under systematic government pressure for a number of years. (Reporters Without Borders, 24 January)
RUSSIAECO-JOURNALIST FREED... Jailed military journalist and ecologist Grigorii Pasko was released from prison on 22 January after an Ussuriisk court reduced his four-year sentence on the grounds of "good behavior," Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to Reuters, prison officials had been opposed to the journalist's release because he had refused to take part in prison activities and had made negative comments about the staff in letters to his wife. Pasko, who was convicted by a military court in December 2001 of passing classified information about the Russian Pacific Fleet to Japanese journalists, served two years and eight months of his sentence, including his time in pretrial detention. In 2002, he refused an offer of a state pardon, saying that accepting it would be tantamount to admitting his guilt. RFE/RL reported on 22 January that one of Pasko's lawyers, Ivan Pavlov, said the authorities have been pressuring Pasko for the last month to admit his guilt in exchange for an early release. "We will continue to fight to clear Grigorii's name," Pavlov said. "We have submitted an appeal to the chairman of the Supreme Court, who has not yet ruled on the case." A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office criticized the Ussuriisk ruling, dpa reported on 22 January, saying that only prisoners who accept the legitimacy of their sentences are eligible for early release. The Bellona Foundation reported that Pavlov ascribed the reporter's release to the fact that the parole hearing was held in a civilian court, "which was able to see the truth," as opposed to the military courts that have twice convicted Pasko and subsequently dismissed his appeals. CC
...AND PASKO DESCRIBES FUTURE PLANS... In a telephone interview with Bellona on 22 January after leaving the prison colony, Pasko expressed delight simply to be going home. Pasko also expressed appreciation to those who wrote to him in prison, saying he had received more than 500 letters. "My plans for tonight are to see my children, whom I haven't seen for such a long time," he said. Later in the week, Pasko plans to go to Moscow to meet his wife, Galina Morozova, who will arrive from Germany. Pasko is editor in chief of Bellona's Russian-language version of its magazine "Ecology and Rights." He plans to move to European Russia and to continue his work in a full-time capacity. For the full story, see http://www.bellona.org/en/international/russia/envirorights/pasko/28028.html
...AND BELLONA CLAIMS CASE 'SETS LEGAL PRECEDENT.' Fredric Hauge, president of Bellona, said on 22 January: "I think that what Bellona is doing in Russia with this case is creating a legal precedent. And this is the second time [following Aleksandr Nikitin's full acquittal in 2000] that the FSB doesn't get what it wants," said Hauge. "This should be a clear message to the FSB, and we will continue to fight." For more about the Pasko case, see bellona.org
GAZPROM-MEDIA HEAD SHOWN THE DOOR. The board of directors of Gazprom-Media on 17 January dismissed its chairman, U.S. citizen Boris Jordan, who took over the holding after the state-controlled gas monopoly took over NTV and other media properties owned by magnate Vladimir Gusinskii in 2000, Russian news agencies reported. Although the dismissal was officially attributed to management differences, newsru.com speculated that it was prompted by President Vladimir Putin's irritation over NTV's coverage of the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow. "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 January said the decision to fire Jordan might have been made following the airing of a show called "Kazakhstan Transit" on 26 December. That program sharply criticized the oil-export policies of Kazakhstan. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 January reported that Gazprom's management believes the film damaged Russia's interests in the region and torpedoed some major Gazprom projects. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow met in Moscow on 20 January with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov and expressed U.S. concern that Jordan's dismissal might have a negative impact on Russia's independent media, nns.ru reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January)
...AND ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION AS NTV HEAD... Jordan announced on 21 January that he will resign as the general director of NTV television, which is the key asset of Gazprom-Media, "Izvestiya" and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 January. Jordan emphasized that his removal has nothing to do with politics but that his silence is a condition of his settlement package. Jordan refused to divulge further details of that settlement, but "Izvestiya" estimated that it is worth from $10 million to $15 million. According to Jordan, NTV made a $15 million profit last year, before deducting the cost of servicing its debt to Gazprom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January)
...BUT WAS JORDAN SEEN AS 'FOREIGN BODY'?... Aleksandr Dybal, chairman of Gazprom-Media's board, told "Vedomosti" on 20 January that Jordan was fired over "differing views on corporate governance and the holding's development strategy." Jordan told "The Washington Post" on 18 January, "This came as a bit of a surprise." Many observers saw a political subtext in the dismissal. In November, President Vladimir Putin lambasted NTV's round-the-clock coverage of the October hostage crisis in Moscow, caustically referring to "making money on the blood of [their] fellow citizens...if, that is, they consider them their fellow citizens." "The Moscow Times" quoted RFE/RL media analyst Anna Kachkaeva on 20 January as saying that Jordan remained a "foreign body" in the heavily politicized Russian business world and that "the hostage drama expedited this process." One of NTV's leading personalities, Leonid Perfenov, described the atmosphere at the network in a 20 January interview with "Kommersant" as "tired and irritated." ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 21 January)
...OR MAYBE RULES DON'T 'AD' UP... Under Jordan's management of NTV, it was the only major national television channel that "did not sell advertising directly or indirectly" via Video International, a highly profitable company founded by Russian Communications Minister Mikhail Lesin, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 21 January, citing the Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" of the previous day. The paper reports that NTV did not pay millions of dollars in ad commissions, resulting in huge revenue losses for Video International and "giving NTV a solid business advantage over rival networks." Manana Aslamazyan, director of Internews Russia, a nongovernmental organization that works to foster independence in Russia's broadcast media, told the "Los Angeles Times" that "a decision to be independent in advertising is also a political decision, and clearly he [Jordan] made enemies in the advertising sector." And Video International has friends in high places. CC
...AS GAZPROM OFFICIAL GETS PROMOTION. The board of directors of NTV television on 22 January selected Nikolai Senkevich as the company's new general director, Ekho Moskvy reported. Senkevich was previously deputy head of Gazprom's information-policy department. Senkevich promised to maintain the station's current editorial policies. Senkevich is also the son of the well-known travel journalist and TV host Yurii Senkevich, according to Interfax. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)
TURKISH JOURNALIST ATTACKED IN MOSCOW. On 23 January, the IFJ called on Russian authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for a brutal attack on Turkish journalist Remzi Ozkan, the Moscow correspondent for the Anatolian News Agency. The journalist was allegedly kidnapped and badly beaten on 21 January in Moscow by unidentified assailants. He said that he was forced out of his car, handcuffed, and taken out of Moscow. He claims to have been threatened, beaten, interrogated, filmed inside a storeroom, handcuffed, and blindfolded, before being left near a highway outside Moscow. Ozkan said that he was interrogated about his reporting on Chechnya and that his kidnappers repeatedly demanded to know why he referred to Chechens as terrorists in his stories. Though the circumstances surrounding the case remain unclear, the IFJ repeated its call on all parties in the Chechen conflict to allow journalists to work in safety and not to interfere with reporting on the ongoing conflict. For the IFJ's complete press release, see http://www.ifj.org/publications/press/pr/030123russia.html
PERM AUTHORITIES STAND ALONE. Union of Journalists head Vsevolod Bogdanov reconfirmed on 16 January that the local authorities in Perm Oblast do not own any mass-media outlets, making it the only region in Russia where this is true, regions.ru reported on 16 January, citing Region-Inform-Perm. When the governor does not have his own newspaper, this is a luxury, Bogdanov said. "This means that the governor is sure of himself and does not need the artificial support of administered media," he added. Earlier, Perm Oblast was named the most democratic region of Russia based on a variety of different measures in a multiyear study carried out by Nikolai Petrov, formerly of the Carnegie Moscow Center. In November, local agents of the Federal Security Service in Perm searched the offices of the independent regional newspaper "Zvezda" and confiscated documents and computers. At the time, the head of the local branch of the Union of Journalists said the search was most likely prompted by the newspaper's investigations of local criminal groups. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)
DUMA DEPUTY EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER INDEPENDENT U.S. MEDIA. State Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Konstantin Vetrov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), in an obvious allusion to earlier statements from the U.S. State Department responding to Boris Jordan's ouster, has released a statement expressing his concern about "the fate of the independent mass media in the United States following the recent retirement of CNN News Group Chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson," nns.ru reported on 21 January. Isaacson announced on 13 January that he has accepted an offer to become president of the Washington-based Aspen Institute. Vetrov's statement alleges that Isaacson was removed, despite improving ratings for CNN during his tenure, because the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush wants to tighten its control over the media in the run-up to a possible military intervention against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January)
ANOTHER RUSSIAN TV EXECUTIVE GETS SACKED. TVS General Director Ruslan Terekbaev has decided to fire effective 31 January the channel's producer, Aleksandr Levin, who is the former general director of TV-6, Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 January. The reason for Levin's dismissal has not been reported, according to lenta.ru. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January)
IS THERE A 'VIRTUAL BOYCOTT' OF LABOR COVERAGE BY U.S. MEDIA? Writing in the 17-23 January "Russia Journal," Matt Taibbi claims that "American press indifference to labor issues is at least partly to blame" for the fact that Russian authorities denied Irene Stevenson, an activist for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, entry to Russia on 30 December, despite her valid visa. The author believes that Stevenson's 10 years of effort on behalf of Russian workers has "gotten no support" from the American media and therefore the Kremlin thinks it can "push [her] around." According to Taibbi, there is "organized media bias" in the "virtual boycott of labor issues in mainstream press outlets." The writer, who has been reporting from Moscow for years, says that "Russian workers have been all but ignored by the American media" except for the massive protests by miners in 1998. Important labor issues, says Taibbi, such as nonpayment of wages, anti-trade-union provisions in the new Russian Labor Code, and the takeover of national trade unions by private interests have received scant notice by the "expat press." CC
TAJIKISTANTAJIK SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF MEDIA HEAD. The Dushanbe City Court sentenced 27-year-old Rakhim Qalandarov to death following his conviction on charges of the May 2000 murder of the chairman of Tajik State Committee for TV and Radio, Saifullo Rakhimov, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. Qalandarov was arrested several days after the killing but was subsequently convicted only of illegal weapons possession, for which he served an 18-month prison term. He was rearrested after his release, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 17 January. Qalandarov pleaded not guilty to murder charges, claiming that he initially confessed only under police pressure in order to ensure that "he stayed alive until the trial," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)
UKRAINEPROMINENT JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD... Well-known Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Naboka was found dead in a hotel room in Vinnytsya, in western Ukraine, on 18 January, UNIAN and Interfax reported. Naboka, 47, a veteran journalist for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was in Vinnytsya with a group of journalists to prepare a series of reports on the living conditions of prisoners. Preliminary reports indicated that Naboka's death was caused by a blood clot. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January)
...AS PRESIDENT EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES... In a letter posted on the official website of the Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma expressed his condolences to Naboka's family, relatives, friends, and colleagues. "I was deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and premature death of Serhiy Naboka, well-known Ukrainian human rights defender and journalist. Serhiy Naboka was part of that special generation in Ukrainian journalism and publicism [sic], that you couldn't help respecting, whether you agreed with what he said or not. Serhiy Naboka never favored me in his materials. And this made everything Mr. Naboka said even more valuable: It came from his ardent heart; from his lips, which never remained indifferent; and from his skillful pen. He had the Lord's gift for journalism: He could see the most important and throw away secondary issues. The authorities who looked into Serhiy Naboka's mirror knew his images should be taken into consideration, because those were objective and impartial images," read Kuchma's letter, which also noted that Ukraine suffered an immense loss, because it lost a person who "hoped against hope," who fought for independent and democratic Ukraine at times when few people even thought about it. For the full text of the letter, see http://www.president.gov.ua/eng/news/129522303.html
...AS DOES HEAD OF RFE/RL. On 22 January, Thomas A. Dine, president of RFE/RL, wrote the following letter to Inna Naboka, the widow of RFE/RL's "dear departed colleague" Serhiy Naboka: "On behalf of the entire Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty family and the U.S. international broadcasting community, I express my most heartfelt condolences to you and your two children on the passing of Serhiy. He was our respected colleague; he was the consummate journalist; he was the embodiment of what we at RFE/RL strive to accomplish: fighting tyranny, helping the helpless, telling the truth, promoting freedom. In this trying time of bereavement, we stand side by side with you, now and in the future."
UZBEKISTANACCESS BLOCKED TO INTERNET SITE. Access in Uzbekistan to the website centrasia.ru has been blocked, although the government has disclaimed responsibility for doing so, according to "The Washington Post" and centrasia.ru on 21 January. On 13 January, the site posted a lengthy article by political scientist Usman Khaknazarov (the name is believed to be a pseudonym) giving details of how President Islam Karimov engineered his election to the post of first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in the late 1980s and of his relations with Afghan Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum and the various Uzbek "clans" engaged in drug trafficking. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January)
NUMBER OF INTERNET USERS DOUBLES. The number of Internet users in Uzbekistan rose in 2002 to 275,000, compared with 137,000 the previous year, according to uza.uz on 20 January. Some 73 percent of those users, however, are in Tashkent and make use of Internet cafes, of which there are more than 100 in the Uzbek capital, compared with only one each in Karakalpakistan and the Surkhandarya Oblast. The country's population is 25 million. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January)
REGIONALOPPOSITION GROUP COMPLAINS TO RUSSIA OF ABUSES. The United Civic Party (AHP) has filed two appeals with the Russian Embassy in Minsk aimed at drawing Russian attention to human rights abuses in neighboring Belarus, Belapan reported on 16 January. The group is seeking to draw Russian President Vladimir Putin's attention to the Belarusian government's suppression of free speech and to disappearances of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents. "Belarus is the only European country in which political censorship, information blockade, and purges in the information sector are part of the state policy," the AHP said in one of the statements. The AHP also urged Russian President Putin to "make an effort to prevent the ousting of Russian media outlets from the Belarusian information sector as sources of alternative information." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)
OFFICIAL DENIES RUSSIAN JOURNALIST CHARGED IN TURKMEN ASSASSINATION CASE. In Moscow, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin denied in an interview published on 22 January in "Vremya novostei" that Arkadii Dubnov, that newspaper's correspondent in Ashgabat, has been charged in connection with the alleged 25 November attack on Turkmen President Niyazov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITESNEW BOOK ON GONGADZE CASE. A new book by J.V. Koshiw titled "Beheaded: the Killing of a Journalist" investigates the possible involvement of Ukrainian President Kuchma in the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. For more, see http://www.artemiapress.co.uk
END NOTESTRUGGLING FOR NEWS IN TURKMENISTAN
By Michael Clarke
Over the past four years, the Turkmen government has undertaken a systematic campaign to cripple the educational system and prevent any information from the outside world from reaching the people of Turkmenistan. But my personal experience in Turkmenistan -- I lived and worked there as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998 until 2001 -- has convinced me that these efforts are bound to fail.
Three months into my service with the Peace Corps, I began to understand just how hard it is to get real news on the radio. One evening, as a Turkmen friend and I sat watching the national television station, I naively inquired if he ever heard news from outside Turkmenistan. He mentioned ORT, the Russian state-owned television station that is broadcast throughout Turkmenistan (with a tape delay to allow the censors time to cut anything deemed inappropriate). Murat added that if you wanted factual news you had to listen to shortwave radio broadcasts from Prague.
Cautiously, Murat fetched his weathered, battery-powered shortwave radio. He made sure all of his family was asleep, and he quietly turned on the radio. He warned me not to tell anyone about this, not even at school or in the Peace Corps. This was our secret, since if word got out that "the foreigner" was listening to underground radio with a local, there could be big problems for both of us. Nearly every night we listened to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, as my friend translated Turkmen to help me follow the broadcast. Via those broadcasts, Murat heard news about the outside world that certainly would never pass the Turkmen censors. We listened to reports that included news of the opening of a new OSCE office in Ashgabat and Murat's favorite, the sports scores.
There are only two radio stations widely available in Turkmenistan: the state-controlled channel and Radio Mayak from Russia. Most of the people I knew listened to Radio Mayak, broadcast out of Moscow, which can loosely be described as a Russian version of the U.S. National Public Radio. Mayak broadcasts every day throughout the former Soviet Union, offering music, news, and human-interest programs. Although, in theory, one can listen to Mayak safely, most people would turn off the radio if a neighbor stopped by.
On paper, the Turkmen Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press. In practice, those who express views that differ from those of the state are subject to a range of reprisals: having their utilities cut off, losing their jobs, being exiled domestically, or ever being imprisoned.
Throughout the time I worked in Turkmenistan, the government-controlled media intensified their focus on President Saparmurat Niyazov. There was not a public building, car, bus, train, airplane, newspaper, television program, magazine, book, or public event on which the president's photo was not prominently displayed. His portrait is literally everywhere.
Toward the end of my time in Turkmenistan, underground cable operators began setting up illegal networks of satellite dishes able to receive a variety of uncensored news. Recently, Niyazov ordered more stringent controls on the broadcasting of Russian cable television, saying that these channels "are designed against Turkmenistan and are slanderous." Actually, these channels aired U.S. movies, Brazilian soap operas, and Russian variety shows.
Newspapers are another way in which the media serve the state, particularly the president. Each day, a prayer appears on the front page of every newspaper praising Niyazov the Great and asking that terrible punishment come unto those who betray or disappoint him and/or the motherland. Every newspaper must display a front-page picture of Niyazov and cover his daily activities. Such "news" is so predominant that important world affairs are often not even mentioned or appear only on the back pages, as was the case with Turkmenistan's humanitarian involvement in the antiterrorism struggle.
Newspapers and magazines from Russia used to provide embassies, Turkmen citizens, and companies with reliable information and a needed distraction from the perpetual onslaught of Turkmen propaganda. These periodicals were available at the bazaar for roughly half the average Turkmen monthly salary. But on 16 July 2002, the Turkmen Communications Ministry officially halted the delivery of all Russian print media into the country.
Turkmen, the official state language, limits the range of information available to the people of Turkmenistan. Recent policies discourage children from learning foreign languages in another effort to isolate the country's population. The Turkmen government has also instituted the obligatory teaching of President Niyazov's "Rukhnama," a work Niyazov compares to the Koran or Bible. There are also state prizes for citizens who follow the "Rukhnama's" code. All high-level officials, teachers, and doctors are required to own the book if not to memorize it.
The Internet poses a major headache for the Turkmen government. In May 2000, the government withdrew the licenses of all private Internet providers, leaving only state-owned Turkmen Telecom, which has set access fees so high that now the average citizen cannot afford to use the Internet. A few bustling Internet cafes did spring up around the capital city, Ashgabat, and several opposition websites were launched. Unfortunately, in June 2001 the government revoked all the Internet cafes' licenses and forced them to shut down Internet operations. Today, as far as I know, the only public-access Internet sites are funded by the U.S. State Department. Its Internet Access and Training Program provides academics, professionals, and other Turkmen citizens much-needed access to the world of Internet information.
On 25 November, President Niyazov survived an alleged assassination attempt that left at least one bodyguard seriously wounded. Turkmen media, particularly state television, were deployed to show a series of Stalinist-style public confessions of the alleged would-be assassins.
My experience in Turkmenistan clearly showed me that its people -- and its growing diaspora -- want to be part of the global information community and will persist in finding uncensored news. One personal example will suffice. On 9 September, I took part in an RFE/RL briefing in which three Americans discussed living and working in Turkmenistan. After that briefing was aired, Murat contacted me and let me know that he had been listening to RFE/RL that night and heard my familiar voice. Murat told me that he was proud to be a part of its message: that the people of Turkmenistan represent the country's best hope for the future.
Michael Clarke is a development coordinator for the International Research Exchanges Board, a U.S. nonprofit organization.