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Media Matters: February 3, 2003

3 February 2003, Volume 3, Number 4
IFJ CALLS ON EBRD TO MAKE INFORMATION PUBLIC. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which has been calling on international financial institutions to open their doors to greater public scrutiny, on 29 January called on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to improve its disclosure policies. In a letter to the bank's president, Jean Lemierre, the IFJ says the EBRD should release draft reports on country strategies to provide people in the affected countries information about bank programs. Each year, the EBRD prepares multimillion-euro country programs after discussions with governments, but the public is often kept in the dark about details. The IFJ says that the bank's current information policy on its programs will hinder public debate and that administrative costs of delay to allow fuller public discussion are outweighed by the "benefits of stimulating a healthier public dialogue." The IFJ's intervention comes as the bank is reviewing its public-disclosure policy. The IFJ also notes that failure to translate materials into national languages in countries such as Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan are discriminatory. Finally, the IFJ called on Lemierre to authorize the drawing up of more-meaningful reforms. For the entire IFJ press release, see

LAWMAKER CRITICIZES MEDIA OVER COVERAGE OF NEEDED REFORMS. In an interview with the national news agency ATA on 28 January, the head of the parliament's media commission urged the media to adopt European standards, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Musa Ulqini said the media are ill-prepared to inform the public about the reforms society must undergo on the road to NATO and EU membership. He added that many Albanians are still unclear about the benefits of the integration process and harbor serious misconceptions. He demanded the creation of a professional class of journalists "who should be maximally objective in the information they offer to the public." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)

COMMISSION FORMED TO REVIEW CABLE-TV BAN... The cabinet on 27 January formed a special commission headed by Vice President and Constitutional Drafting Commission Chairman Nematullah Shahrani to review the Supreme Court's recent ban on cable-television networks in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 24 January 2003), Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad on 28 January. According to presidential spokesman Sayyed Fazel Akbar, the new commission will consult with religious scholars to formulate regulations for cable television that would allow such broadcasting "within the framework of Afghanistan's high national interests and take into consideration respect for the holy religion of Islam and the customs and cultural values" of Afghanistan, the Iranian state-radio network reported. ("RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January)

...AS KANDAHAR REFUSES TO FOLLOW THE PROHIBITION. A spokesman for Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai told Radio Free Afghanistan on 28 January that the province will not implement the Supreme Court's ban on cable television. Spokesman Khaled Pashtun stressed the province's loyalty to Kabul, but he said that the world is moving forward and that cable television can help advance Afghan society. He added that the province's citizens will thus be allowed access to cable television. Pashtun added that only films and programs deemed potentially harmful to children and society -- namely, those showing sexually explicit scenes -- will be banned in the province. He noted that most of those programs are available not on cable but via satellite television. Pashtun further said that cable programs, videos showing women singing, and Indian movies will not be banned. It is noteworthy that Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has chosen not to ban cable, while the political environment in Kabul has given the strict Islamists the upper hand in deciding the fate of media and entertainment in Afghanistan. ("RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January)

COURT IMPOSES NEW FINE ON EMBATTLED OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER... Baku's Sabail District Court has ruled in favor of the Azersun Holding in its libel suit against the opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" and ordered the paper to pay a fine of some $100,000, Turan reported on 28 January. Azersun was seeking damages of $100 million in connection with three articles the newspaper published in November-December 2002 alleging that the company has links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Also on 28 January, several Azerbaijani editors and heads of nongovernmental organizations staged a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with "Yeni Musavat" journalists, who began a similar protest action last week against a series of such libel suits that threaten to bankrupt the publication (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002 and 23 January 2003). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)

...AND RSF CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO STOP HARASSING INDEPENDENT MEDIA. The Paris-based media-rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 30 January denounced the Azerbaijani government's harassment of independent media and appealed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe to get the authorities to stop violating international press-freedom standards. "More than 30 formal complaints were made against the independent media last year, mostly by government employees," said RSF secretary-general Robert Menard. In addition to the problems faced by "Yeni Musavat," the authorities also shut down on 28 January a newsstand outside Baku University that sold opposition magazines not available from state-owned newsstands. For the entire RSF press release, see

NONSPECIALISTS NAMED TO NATIONAL TV AND RADIO COUNCIL. Azerbaijani media specialists on 23 January criticized the selection of members of the newly created National Council for State Television and Radio, Turan reported. On 22 January, President Heidar Aliyev named six of the nine members of the council. Only two have worked as journalists, one is a former member of the presidential administration, and another served in the financial department of the former Committee for State Television and Radio. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)

GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION BATTLE FOR MEDIA ATTENTION. The opposition FIDESZ party will hold press briefings twice a day if necessary, and even call in party specialists from the countryside on holidays to Budapest to ensure that the party is not left out of major evening newscasts, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 29 January. Alleged efforts by governing Socialist Party politicians to disrupt FIDESZ media events prompted the party to issue a statement condemning such actions. On 27 January, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs telephoned a television program on which FIDESZ politician Istvan Simicsko was a guest, while on 28 January two Socialist politicians sought to grab journalists' attention at a joint FIDESZ-Democratic Forum press briefing. Socialist parliamentary group leader Ildiko Lendvai accused the FIDESZ communication policy of being aimed more at frequent appearances than at substantive ones. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)

COUNTRY'S LARGEST-CIRCULATION DAILY, OTHER PUBLICATIONS SUSPENDED... On 24 January, RSF protested the suspension of "Hamshahri," Iran's highest-circulation daily newspaper, and noted that the regime's hard-liners have closed five reformist papers over the past three weeks. "Hamshahri" was suspended for 10 days after refusing to print a right-of-reply article from Alireza Mahjub, secretary of the government-controlled trade union, the Labor House, and other officials. According to "RFE/RL's Iran Report," on 27 January, the editor of "Hamshahri," Zahra Ebrahimi, said on 22 January that an article in the newspaper last summer suggested that Mahjub and the Labor House played a secret part in choosing the leaders of the Islamic Labor Party. She added that "Hamshahri" published Mahjub's response two months ago and intends to publish another reply from him. RSF reported that the paper is also not allowed to be distributed outside the capital on the grounds that it is owned by the city of Tehran. "Taban," a newspaper in the northern province of Gazvin, has also been suspended. Since the beginning of 2003, three other papers -- the dailies "Hayat-i No," "Bahar," and "Noruz" -- have also been suspended by the Iranian authorities. For RSF's complete press release, see ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January)

...AND IS LINKED TO FEAR OF U.S. PROPAGANDA... The recent closing of several newspapers by Iranian courts appears to be a reaction to fear about U.S. propaganda. As the anniversary of the 1979 revolution -- known as the Ten-Day Dawn -- approaches, Iranian complaints about the United States are likely to increase as officials seek to avoid taking responsibility for the theocratic system's failings. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a 22 January meeting of officials responsible for the celebrations of the revolution's anniversary that the United States is promoting a secular system in Iran, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said this is a mistake and reflects U.S. leaders' attention to the propaganda of the opposition; namely, "ex-revolutionaries, liberals, Marxists, and monarchists." In a seeming reference to the commencement of Radio Farda broadcasts in December 2002, Rafsanjani said that the United States has started a new Persian-language radio to propagandize against Iran. The Iranian people's participation in anniversary celebrations would discourage Iran's enemies, he said. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said during the 17 January Tehran Friday prayer sermon that was broadcast by state radio that the United States is trying to dismember Iran in the same way that it dismembered the Soviet Union. The United States will not resort to military action, he said; instead, it will use a "propaganda and political bombardment." Jannati warned that newspapers and the media as a whole are important in this vein. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January)

...WHILE OTHER PUBLICATIONS CLOSED FOR OFFENDING HIGH-LEVEL OFFICIALS. This fear of perceived U.S. propaganda efforts against Iran may be behind the continuous press closures, although in some cases publications are closed for revealing corruption and other malfeasance by powerful individuals. Qazvin Judge Fereidun Parvinian said on 21 January that the weekly "Taban-i Qazvin" has been closed down for libel, and the court had summoned managing editor Mohammad Alikhani to answer for the charge, IRNA reported. Parvinian told IRNA on 25 January that the ban was lifted after Alikhani signed a pledge that he would not publish such materials again. The temporary ban on the "Noruz" daily newspaper was due to expire soon, but IRNA reported on 20 January that Judge Said Mortazavi has extended it indefinitely. Mortazavi cited complaints from the Basij and the police when he announced the closure's continuation on 19 January. The Islamic Iran Participation Party criticized the ban in a public statement. The newspaper was to resume publication under the new name of "Ruz-i No" with IIPP founder and parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami as its editor. The IIPP's statement also criticized the "temporary" ban on the "Mosharekat" daily that was imposed 30 months ago, ISNA reported on 20 January. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January)

CONSERVATIVE PROPOSES SATELLITE REBROADCASTS. Hamid Reza Taraqi of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association proposed on 22 January that the state broadcasting network launch its own channel to broadcast selected satellite-television programs, the "Iran Daily" reported on 23 January. Taraqi said such a move would be appropriate because the Guardians Council recently rejected legislation that would end the ban on private ownership of satellite receiving equipment. The Guardians Council cited discrepancies with the constitution and with Islamic law, IRNA reported on 22 January. The Guardians Council feared that the legislation might open the way to unauthorized use of satellite dishes. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January)

KAZAKH JOURNALIST SENTENCED... An Almaty Oblast court handed down a 3 1/2-year prison sentence on 28 January to opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, Reuters and Interfax reported. Duvanov was found guilty of the statutory rape last October of a girl who he knew to be under the age of consent (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 30 January 2003). Observers in Kazakhstan and abroad consider the charge politically motivated. President Nursultan Nazarbaev said before Duvanov's trial began on 24 December that scientific testing had established his guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002). In a 28 January statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized Duvanov's trial as "seriously flawed" and called on the Appeals Court "to review carefully the accusations against Mr. Duvanov as well as all allegations of procedural violations during the pretrial investigation and the trial." The International League for Human Rights addressed a letter to Nazarbaev on 28 January demanding "that the case of Sergei Duvanov be reviewed in an impartial and thorough manner, in full compliance with international standards of justice." The letter also urged Nazarbaev and the Kazakh government "to stop persecuting independent journalists and all persons who express disagreement with official policies." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)

...AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR CONTINUED SUPPORT. Speaking at RFE/RL's Washington bureau on 28 January, Amirzhan Qosanov, the chairman of the executive committee of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, said that he views the Duvanov case as the "litmus test" for the country's future prospects for democracy. He also said that, although many in the West do not believe that protests make a difference, the Kazakh ruling elite "pays attention to every word." Qosanov, who is also the head of the Duvanov Defense Committee, urged Duvanov's supporters to continue the campaign for his release. He said that because the journalist was sentenced on the scandalous charge of statutory rape, Duvanov likely faces particularly brutal treatment from fellow prisoners. CC

INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHING HOUSE REGISTERED. U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan John O'Keefe informed journalists on 28 January that an international publishing house had been registered by the Kyrgyz Justice Ministry. Kyrgyz opposition and independent media outlets welcomed this step, as they claim that they face obstacles from state-funded printing houses. Deputy Justice Minister Erkinbek Mamyrov confirmed that the international publishing house was registered on 30 December. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 28 January)

OPPOSITION WEBSITE CLOSED BY SERVER. A new opposition website set up to monitor the 2 February referendum on constitutional amendments has been shut down without explanation by its Internet service provider, according to Djypar Djeksheev, leader of the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement Party. The site published materials critical of the Kyrgyz government, including shortcomings in the official draft version of the constitution. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 24 January)

EDITOR SUBJECTED TO ASSAULT. On 22 January, Sergiu Afanasiu, director and editor in chief of the weekly "Accente" newspaper, was allegedly attacked by three unknown assailants. The assailants allegedly ran off when neighbors rushed to the scene. Afanasiu said that nothing was stolen. Prior to the attack, Afanasiu said that he had been followed and had received telephoned threats. On 9 October, Afanasiu and two other reporters from his paper were detained by police on charges of taking bribes (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 22 November 2002). Later that day, police searched the weekly's office and confiscated equipment, thus delaying an issue of the paper that contained critical reports and findings of several journalistic investigations. An investigation on charges of bribe taking is under way, but Afanasiu was set free after human rights organizations protested the charges. A trial was set to begin on 30 January at which Afanasiu was to face charges of extortion and taking bribes. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 January)

PACE RESOLUTION SLAPS AUTHORITIES OVER TELERADIO MOLDOVA. A resolution approved on 28 January by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) criticized the Moldovan authorities for "regrettably continuing to disregard" the Council of Europe's recommendations over ending political interference in Teleradio Moldova's operations, Flux reported. In the resolution, which deals with general aspects of media freedom in different countries, PACE said the legislation passed by parliament on the transformation of the former state company into a public company did not bring about the end of political interference in the company's functioning. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)

PRESIDENT BANS MEDIA ACCESS TO MEETING ON CORRUPTION. On 24 January, President Vladimir Voronin ordered journalists to leave the room where a the session of the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption was being held. According to Voronin, who was chairing the session, the meeting was to examine "working issues" and journalists had nothing to "investigate" there. (Moldova Media News, 27 January)

PROMINENT WRITERS PROTEST DECORATION OF FORMER COMMUNIST LEADER. Eight prominent Moldovan writers on 24 January returned their highest state orders to President Voronin to protest his decoration of former Moldovan Communist Party First Secretary Ivan Bodiul on 3 January, on the occasion of Bodiul's 85th birthday, Infotag reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January)

TAKES DIFFER ON MEANING OF NEW LEADERSHIP AT NTV... In an article on on 23 January, analyst Oleg Chursin argued that newly appointed NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich is a member of the so-called St. Petersburg clan. Chursin noted that while many people have pointed out how little television experience the new NTV head has, Senkevich did host a program on the Moskoviya channel, which is owned by Mezprombank head and Petersburg insider Sergei Pugachev. Meanwhile, ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman told "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 January he believes that "television needs qualified management" and that "Senkevich is a just a temporary figure." He added that many people are now equating former NTV General Director Boris Jordan's departure with the end of independent television in Russia, but "the fact of the matter is that Jordan was dismissed not because he managed the station in his own way, but because he didn't manage it in general." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)

...AND SENIOR STAFF PROTESTS. On 30 January, the 11-member NTV executive board -- comprised of senior journalists -- issued a unanimous no-confidence vote in Senkevich and his deputy, Aleksei Zemskii, and Interfax reported the same day. Their vote was later announced on the air by NTV anchor Kirill Pozdnyakov. According to Interfax, it was the appointment of Zemskii, who is seen as an inexperienced journalist, as NTV's first deputy general director that turned the tide, since he now outranks respected veteran journalist Tatyana Mitkova, the station's editor in chief. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Dybal, the general director of Gazprom-Media, which controls NTV, said that "since the NTV charter does not call for an executive board," the vote has no legal standing. CC

ANOTHER MEDIA-MANAGEMENT CHANGE. All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev on 24 January appointed Svetlana Mironyuk as chairwoman of the board of the RIA-Novosti news agency, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 January. The former chairman, Aleksei Zhidakov, has been transferred to an unspecified post in the Media Ministry. From 1992 to 2000, Mironyuk worked as deputy head of information, analysis, and public and media relations for the Most Group. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January)

SEPARATED AT BIRTH? The first Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," is currently the top seller in Russia's video market, Ekho Moskvy reported on 29 January. Meanwhile, the producers of the second film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," could face litigation for allegedly creating the elf character Dobby in the likeness of President Vladimir Putin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 January. A group of Russian lawyers, who have not identified themselves publicly, are considering filing the lawsuit. Viktor Dolgishev, head of public relations for the Guild of Russian Lawyers, told the bureau that it is possible some firm with a dubious reputation wants to raise its profile. However, he did not reckon that the case would be an easy one to win. So far, the presidential administration has not commented on the controversy, RosBalt reported on 27 January. For side-by-side photos of Dobby and Putin, see ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)

GOVERNMENT PONDERS NEED FOR SUNSHINE LAW. On 28 January, the government held a session devoted to discussing a project designed to increase the informational openness of federal organs, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January. Explaining the need for the project, Higher Economics School First Rector Lev Yakobson commented, "Russian power as always remains within a black box." "Ministries report about themselves only what they consider necessary and not what civil society and business demands," he said. "Vremya MN" reported on 22 January that some federal officials are panicking because of President Putin's order in his annual address last April that the government prepare legislation to require executive-branch departments to post information on the Internet for public access. According to the daily, more than 30 departments have attached comments to a draft of the bill currently being circulated. One objection was that publicizing the names of members of tender commissions would expose the commission members and their families to threats. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)

MASKED MEN FIRE AT SARATOV TV STATION. Late on the evening of 22 January, a group of masked men armed with hunting rifles fired at the building housing the television station Svobodnoe TV in the Saratov Oblast city of Balakovo, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported the next day. No one was hurt in the incident, but some equipment was damaged. In the opinion of station management, the attack was connected to its coverage of violations during local elections. At the same time, Aleksandr Naumov, director of the firm Virma, which founded the station, said the attack might be related to the station's support for Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin, reported. Volodin, according to several unidentified sources, may run in the December Duma election from Balakovskii Raion. In the last election, Volodin entered the Duma on OVR's party list. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)

TWO ARRESTED FOR KILLING KAZAN EDITOR. Two male residents of Kazan, aged 19 and 24, have been arrested on suspicion of killing Dmitrii Shalaev, the editor in chief of the newspaper "Molodezh Tatarstana," who was beaten to death on 21 December last year. Police officials said the men have prior convictions and are also registered as drug addicts. Police have also interviewed three girls who were allegedly with the men when the killing took place. They said that the two men asked Shalaev for a light and proceeded to beat and rob him when he refused their request. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 20-26 January)

CELLULAR OPERATOR'S DATABASE STOLEN, PIRATED. The database of cellular-telephone operator MTS, which contains the telephone numbers of more than 5.5 million cell-phone users, is being sold illegally on CD-ROM at Moscow markets, and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 January. The database, which is selling for about $150, contains the names, home addresses, and telephone numbers of all MTS clients. The pirated CD-ROM also contains a search function that links clients to their bank accounts. An MTS spokesman said that an investigation into the apparent theft is under way but emphasized that the accounts of MTS clients have not been compromised. Under Russian law, security agencies have access to such databases, leading to speculation that corrupt security agents may be responsible, reported on 23 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)

POST OFFICES GET WIRED. There are currently some 6,600 public-access Internet outlets in post offices across Russia, Prime-TASS reported on 28 January, citing Ilya Genkin of the postal-services department of the Communications Ministry. According to Genkin, this number represents a more than sixfold increase from the beginning of 2002, when there were just over 1,000 such outlets. Under a project launched in August 2001, Internet access is to be set up at all of Russia's 40,000 post offices, the agency reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)

CHECHEN WEBSITE CLOSED DOWN. On 21 January, the Russian Internet provider decided that it would close down, the website of the Council of Nongovernmental Organizations, effective 24 January. representative Galina Borisova said that, "Our company has always tried to keep outside political questions, and your site [] has an anti-Russian bias, which creates serious difficulties for our work." The site in question provided news on the humanitarian and political situation in the republic and campaigned against the war in Chechnya. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 20-26 January)

IPI AFFILIATE CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY ACTION ON BROADCAST LAW. In a 24 January letter to acting Serbian President Natasa Micic, the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists in Southeastern Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), expressed its "deep concern" about the failure to implement the Public Broadcast Act in Serbia, although the act was adopted six months ago. In SEEMO's view, the Serbian parliament's failure to meet the deadline is problematic in light of "the worrying state of public broadcasting in Serbia." SEEMO also expressed concern over the "undefined position" of the electronic media, which blocks "further development of radio and TV stations in terms of programming and technical facilities." SEEMO called for the "urgent formation" of the council and its regulatory broadcasting agency and the needed reform of Radio Television Serbia from a state-controlled broadcaster into a true public-service broadcaster." (International Press Institute, 27 January)

FORMER CULTURE MINISTER TO HEAD PRIVATE TV STATION. Former Culture Minister Milan Knazko on 24 January told the daily "Sme" that he has accepted an offer to become the director of private broadcaster TV Joj, CTK reported. He replaces Richard Rybnicek, who was appointed earlier this month as director of state-owned Slovak television. TV Joj continues to broadcast many programs beamed by Czech TV Nova, although the Slovak station is no longer owned by MEF Holding, which is controlled by embattled Czech television magnate and Senator Vladimir Zelezny. It is the least popular of Slovakia's three private television stations, behind TV Markiza and the newly established TA3. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January)

BOMBING DEVICE FOUND ON RADIO STATION'S ROOF. On 21 January, a bombing device was found on the roof of the building where the Melodiya radio station has an office. At the time, there were 30 staffers in the building. Police officials say that the bomb could not go off because the device did not have a battery. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 January)

'POPULAR' PAPER CLAIMS AUTHORITIES TRYING TO SHUT IT DOWN. The Dnipropetrovsk paper "Populyarnaya gazeta," which has been in print for six years, reported on 22 January that the Ukrainian authorities are trying to shut down the paper. The paper's staff signed a statement saying that the office of the president has signed an order to that effect. During parliamentary elections in March 2002, the paper favored opposition candidates, and since that time, the paper's journalists say, the paper has been under continuous pressure, including denial of accreditation to cover official functions. According to the paper's editor, Serhiy Lebid, the paper's computers were recently infected with a virus from a governmental portal. The paper's printer, which suddenly changed the paper's print schedule, has also refused to print issues containing articles critical of the president and his office. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 January)

JOURNALIST FACING PRESSURE FROM AUTHORITIES. Freelance journalist and human rights activist Olim Toshev was summoned to the office of the Kashkadarin Oblast prosecutor on 20 January and informed that he will be charged with abuse of office, according to the regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. Toshev believes that he is facing charges in return for giving interviews to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and Voice of America. On 23 November of last year, Toshev was detained in the town of Karshi. He claimed that he was taken to a police station, injected with an unknown substance, and later awoke in a drug-treatment center. Toshev managed to alert his relatives four days later, and a representative of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan was able to secure his release. Toshev attributed this incident to reports he had written alleging that law-enforcement agencies were involved in illegal activities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 25 November-1 December 2002 and 20-26 January 2003)

RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST PREVENTED FROM ENTERING UZBEKISTAN. Nikolai Mitrokhin of the Russian human rights organization Memorial was detained at the Tashkent airport on 23 January for the second time this month and refused entry into Uzbekistan, Interfax and reported. As on 18 January, Mitrokhin was put on a plane back to Moscow. Interfax quoted the Russian Embassy in Tashkent as saying it had been informed by the Uzbek authorities that Mitrokhin is persona non grata. Interfax quoted an unnamed Uzbek Foreign Ministry official as saying that following earlier visits to Uzbekistan, Mitrokhin wrote biased and negative articles about the situation in the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)


By Eugen Tomiuc

A Council of Europe report on freedom of expression in the European media warns that many problems persist and that serious abuses continue to be committed against journalists and independent media organizations. The report, which was discussed by the council's Parliamentary Assembly on 28 January, points to various forms of attack against media freedoms, ranging from physical violence and killing to legal harassment, imprisonment, and government control. The document, presented by Tytti Isohookana Asunmaa, the rapporteur on media freedom in Europe, covers 24 countries, including Belarus, which is not a member of the 44-member Council of Europe.

Asunmaa told RFE/RL on 29 January that the report highlights serious violations of media freedom both in former communist countries and in some Western states. "In some Eastern [European] and Central European countries, there are difficulties with physical violence, because we know that, for instance, in Russia, in Ukraine, journalists have been killed until this year, and some other forms of harassment happen constantly. In Western countries, there are the so-called new problems arising, like in Italy, because the development in the media sector has been shut, and the media concentration is growing continuously, and the connections between politicians and [the media] business are becoming very interesting," Asunmaa said.

The report also cites cases of journalists in France, Germany, and Portugal forced by the courts to divulge their sources.

The report is the first presented to the Parliamentary Assembly after the Council of Europe, in 2001, decided to appoint a rapporteur on media freedom, and it covers events up to mid-November last year.

The document says the situation is worsening in Russia and Ukraine, calling the number of journalists attacked or killed in those countries "alarming." Six journalists were killed in Russia last year, while in Ukraine, one journalist was found hanged. The document also calls the lack of progress in the investigation of the killing in 2000 of Ukrainian reporter Heorhiy Gongadze "unacceptable." The report mentions recent instances of violence against, and killing of, reporters in Armenia, where one journalist was killed and one seriously wounded in recent months; in Georgia, where police staged an assault against journalists at a television station that had been critical of them; and in Macedonia, where a radio reporter investigating allegations of government corruption was severely beaten by unknown assailants.

The report also cites cases of journalists who have been imprisoned for their work. It points to the detention of Russian journalist Grigorii Pasko on charges of high treason after he revealed official involvement in dumping radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan, as well as the imprisonment of three Belarusian journalists. Pasko was released on parole from a prison in Russia's Far East on 22 January after serving two-thirds of a four-year sentence. The report also mentions cases of prosecution against journalists in Turkey. Legal harassment in the form of defamation lawsuits or very high fines is also mentioned as a threat to the existence of a free media in countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.

But the report says one of the most serious problems confronting media freedom in most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States is tight or even total government control of television, which remains the most accessible medium in poor countries. It points to the situation in Moldova, where the Communist government last year ignored both mass protests and the Council of Europe's recommendations and adopted a broadcasting law providing for various means of political interference. A similar problem, the report says, rests with a draft law on Azerbaijan's public television.

The document also says recent terrorist attacks have been used as a pretext for new restrictions on the free access to information. It gives the example of the adoption by the Russian State Duma of restrictive amendments to media laws and the law against terrorism. But President Putin vetoed the measures, requesting that they be reformulated.

The report stresses the need for the Council of Europe to continue to closely monitor the state of freedom of expression across the continent and to intervene when necessary. Asunmaa told RFE/RL: "The most important [tool] is that we keep on our monitoring process system, which we have developed, and in this context we asked the Committee of Ministers to make the results of monitoring in the field of media freedom known. And the other mechanism is to organize special hearings when it is necessary, and it concerns so-called ad hoc cases, as we have already done when we spoke about the Ukrainian situation, for instance."

The report recommends the release of all journalists imprisoned for their work, removal of legislation that makes freedom of expression a crime, as well as the revision of media laws according to Council of Europe standards. It also says that all forms of legal and economic harassment should stop and that the plurality of the media market should be ensured through appropriate measures.

Following the debate, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1589, which was based on the findings of the report and which included its proposals.

Asunmaa also told RFE/RL that she hopes the assembly will hold an annual debate on the issue of media freedom in Europe. "I think that the discussion in the assembly is also very useful because we need to discuss more and more about such problems and how to try to solve the problems. And [we should also] keep in our mind that promoting freedom of expression in Europe is also [helping] to improve our democracy."

Asunmaa said that more intense and regular debate could also enable the body to influence the situation immediately when what she calls "alarming situations" are found.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.