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Media Matters: February 24, 2003

24 February 2003, Volume 3, Number 7
DEBATE OVER UPCOMING INFORMATION-SOCIETY SUMMIT. The World Summit on the Information Society, scheduled to be held in Geneva in December, is generating debate within the free-expression community. In mid-February, the second Preparatory Committee meeting convened in Geneva to draft a declaration and an action plan for consideration at the December summit. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged the United Nations and government leaders not to let the summit become a venue for further impeding press freedom on the Internet. The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) says the summit presents "a potentially serious threat to press freedom" because some NGOs advocate discussion of "information as a common public good, ethics, or implications for economic, social, and cultural development," which the WPFC views as code words for censorship. The International Press Institute and the World Association of Newspapers believe private media outlets should bear sole responsibility for regulating media practices, and states should restrict their role to the distribution and administration of broadcast frequencies assigned by the international community. The International Federation of Journalists, Article 19, and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, however, believe that the democratic goals of the information society, such as expanding global access to the Internet, cannot be achieved by relying solely on the global marketplace, since news sources are dominated by Western media companies. For more, see (IFEX Communique, 18 February)

NEW TV STATION LAUNCHED IN HERAT. A new television station began broadcasting in the Ghurian District of Herat Province on 15 February, Herat News Center reported. A local resident identified only as Hafizollah has established the station, which has a low-power transmitter capable of covering a radius of about 2 kilometers, the report added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

STATE TV RUNS CARTOON RIDICULING FOUR OPPOSITION CANDIDATES. Campaigning for the 19 February presidential election ended on 17 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 16 February, Armenian National Television aired a cartoon ridiculing leading opposition contender Stepan Demirchian and three other opposition candidates: Artashes Geghamian, Vazgen Manukian, and Aram Karapetian. On the eve of the 1998 presidential election, Armenian State Television aired a similar cartoon ridiculing Stepan Demirchian's father Karen. In that vote, Karen Demirchian lost to Kocharian in a disputed runoff. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

CONGRESS TO DISCUSS PRESS COUNCIL, CODE OF ETHICS. More than 500 journalists in Azerbaijan are expected to attend a congress in Baku in March to discuss the formation of a press council and adoption of a new code of ethics, the Journalists' Trade Union (JuHI) reported. One purpose of the proposed press council would be to resolve problems such as accusations of defamation before they are taken to the courts. Congress organizers are hoping parliament will debate a law authorizing the press council this spring. (JuHI-IFEX Communique, 18 February)

REGIONAL EDITORS COMPLAIN OF STATE PRESSURE. The editors and publishers of several private, regional newspapers have appealed to the Belarusian public calling for the restoration of "law and justice" with regard to their periodicals and readers, Belapan reported on 13 February. According to the appeal, the authorities are currently clamping down on the regional press through lawsuits and administrative measures in order to "purge the information sector on the eve of the local elections" of independent regional publications. The appeal cites a recent court ban handed down against Ramuald Ulan, the publisher of "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni," on entrepreneurial activities as an example of such harassment. It also mentions administrative barriers erected by regional authorities to the distribution process. The appeal was signed by Anatol Hulyayeu, editor in chief of "Mestnoye vremya"; Yury Kamzolau, editor in chief of "Regionalnye vedomosti" (Horki); Ramuald Ulan; Andrey Shentarovich, editor in chief of "Mestnaya gazeta" (Vaukavysk); and Uladzimir Yanukevich, publisher of "Inteks-pres" (Baranavichy). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

JOURNALISTS OF STATE-OWNED NEWS AGENCY GO ON STRIKE. BTA journalists announced on 19 February that they will go on a symbolic strike on 20 February, reported. The journalists are demanding the resignation of BTA General Director Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, whom the Union of Bulgarian Journalists (SBZh) claims is more interested in the agency's real estate than in its journalistic work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER FILES SUIT AGAINST LEADING DAILIES. Shortly after resigning from his post as interior minister, Ain Seppik filed lawsuits against the dailies "Eesti Paevaleht" and "Postimees" in the Tallinn City Court, BNS reported earlier this month. He is demanding that the newspapers retract the allegedly false information they printed about him and pay damages of 10 million kroons ($690,000), plus legal expenses. The papers responded by asserting that they did not invent anything but simply relied on facts in available documents. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 17 February)

PAPERS REJECT AD OFFERING MONEY FOR INFORMATION ON NAZI WAR CRIMINALS. The Estonian dailies "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" and the rural weekly "Maaleht" have refused to publish advertisements by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the U.S.-based Targum Shlishi Foundation offering rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the conviction of Nazi war criminals in Estonia, BNS reported on 17 February. The newspapers said the advertisement would violate the law and good journalistic practice. In late January, the Media House advertising agency and leaders of some Jewish organizations protested an earlier version of the ads, charging that it would enflame ethnic hatred and "accuses Estonians as a nation of murdering Jews." The new version sent by the Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office director, Efraim Zuroff, no longer says Estonians as a nation collaborated with the Nazis but asserts that some Nazi henchmen did. It also no longer includes the telephone number of the security police. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXPRESSES 'SERIOUS CONCERN' ABOUT PRESS FREEDOM. Harassment and physical attacks against journalists and a government proposal to stiffen penalties for defaming public officials are giving rise to serious concern about press freedom in Georgia, says a new report released by the Council of Europe. Written by two independent media experts who conducted a fact-finding visit to the country in July, the report says media professionals throughout the country describe Georgia's media as less free in 2002 than five years ago. Journalists everywhere, especially in the regions, "operate in fear, not only of interference by officials and prosecutors, but also of lawlessness, harassment, and physical attacks," the report says. While local media are partly responsible because they often report "inaccurate, incomplete, or exaggerated information," attacks against journalists often go unpunished. The media experts say another cause of concern is the government's proposal to amend the Criminal Code to increase jail sentences for those convicted of defaming public officials. Read the full report at (IFEX Communique, 19 February)

JOURNALISTS' ACCESS TO STATE CHANCELLERY RESTRICTED. On 13 February, a deputy presidential press spokesman informed journalists that within three days they will no longer have unrestricted access to the state chancellery building. Previously, accredited journalists had access to this building, and to regular meetings with ministers and other officials on Wednesdays and Fridays. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 February)

JOURNALIST CRITICAL OF THOUGHT-CRIME JAILINGS. Iranian journalist Emadedin Baqi, who was jailed in May 2000, was released from Evin Prison on 6 February, according to ISNA. In an 8 February interview with ISNA, Baqi criticized the jailing of individuals for their opinions. Baqi urged the judiciary to be more farsighted and said that imprisonment is generally not an effective way to deal with crime, that those who use imprisonment to solve political problems merely create more such problems, and that thought-crime imprisonments undermine society's credibility. Baqi also said that the methodology of right-wing ideologues has in fact damaged the conservatives' prestige and that they will not be able to get back on their feet in 100 years. Baqi advised rational conservatives to abandon the conservative faction. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February)

REFORMIST JOURNALIST ARRESTED. On 18 February, journalist Mohsen Sazgara was arrested at his home, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported. Although no reason for Sazgara's detention was given, the arrest came a few days after the publication of an article on his website, in which he criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sazgara's article called for constitutional reform and said that Iranian popular will was "being held hostage by six hard-line clerics on the Guardians Council." The Guardians Council is a body dominated by hard-liners whose members are appointed by Khamenei. The supreme leader supervises elections and ratifies laws. "The experience of the past five years demonstrates that the Islamic establishment cannot be reformed. It cannot be rendered efficient," Sazgara wrote. He also described the power exercised by Khamenei as "dictatorial." Sazgara previously worked as the editor of several now-banned publications, including "Jameh," "Neshat," and "Tous." (RSF, 18 February)

CONCERN FOR JAILED JOURNALIST'S HEALTH. Alireza Eshraqi, a journalist for the now-closed paper "Hayat-e No," has been incarcerated at Evin Prison near Tehran since 12 January, RSF reported on 18 February. In a 17 January letter to President Mohammad Khatami, the journalist's mother said that Eshraqi, who has now been held in solitary confinement for more than 40 days, has lost a great deal of weight and is suicidal. (RSF, 18 February)

U.S. EXPELS IRAQI REPORTER. On 14 February, the American authorities asked a correspondent of the Iraqi news agency INA in New York to leave the United States within two weeks, Reporters Without Borders reported on 18 February. According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, journalist Muhammad Hassan Alawi has been accused of "engaging in activities outside his normal duties and considered prejudicial to [U.S.] national security." It is not yet clear if the Iraqis will be permitted to send a journalist to replace Alawi. The Iraqi authorities reacted the same day by ordering the expulsion of Greg Palkot, a Baghdad correspondent for the American cable television station Fox News. Fox News has been authorized to keep three technicians in Baghdad. Discussions are reportedly under way with the Iraqi authorities on replacing Palkot. (RSF, 18 February)

OPPOSITION LEADER VIEWS DUVANOV CASE AS 'LITMUS CASE.' Amirzhan Qosanov, chairman of the executive committee of Kazakhstan's Republican People's Party, said that 28 January -- the day that Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov was sentenced to 3 1/2 years for statutory rape -- was a "black day" in his country's history that will be a "litmus test" for Kazakhstan's democracy. Qosanov made the statements at RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office on 28 January. He said that Kazakhstan is "controlled by a single person [President Nursultan Nazarbaev]" and that "imitation democracy" there is substituting for genuine reform. Qosanov urged U.S. journalists to write about Duvanov. "Every sentence written by the West, every U.S. government statement has weight in Kazakhstan," Qosanov said. He added that the Kazakh political opposition still hopes for a "national dialogue" on free speech and other key elements of democracy. CC

EDITOR FEARS END OF INDEPENDENT PRESS BY YEAR'S END... Speaking at RFE/RL's Washington offices on 13 February, journalist Irina Petrushova, the editor of the "Assandi-Taims" and former editor of "Delovoe obozrenie-respublika," tied the Kazakh government's continuing campaign against the independent media to next year's parliamentary elections. The editors of publications that investigate accusations of official corruption -- such as Duvanov -- have been targeted for harassment campaigns and face spurious criminal charges and physical attacks on themselves and their offices, Petrushova said. With the Kazakh government pushing a new and potentially more restrictive press law through parliament, Petrushova believes that "the independent media will be dead by the end of this year" and will thus be unable to report on internal developments and the 2004 elections. "This is what worries us," Petrushova said. (RFE/RL, 19 February)

...AS OFFICIALS BAN SALES OF OPPOSITION PAPER. On 14 February, the editors of the "Assandi-Taims" issued a statement that Almaty officials have ordered the paper's distributors not to sell the paper in that city. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 February)

INTERNET PAPER DESCRIBES GOVERNMENT-MEDIA RELATIONS. An article in the Internet newspaper "Respublika" on 14 February describes the worsening relations between independent publications and the press services of various ministries. The report states that new leadership at several ministries -- including the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs -- have introduced restrictive new information policies. It cites the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources as "one of the most closed ministries." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 February)

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES... In a special resolution unanimously adopted on 13 February, the European Parliament condemned in unprecedentedly tough terms the recent trials of opposition politicians and an independent journalist in Kazakhstan, Reuters and reported. The resolution focuses specifically on the trial on charges of statutory rape of journalist Duvanov and on the sentencing last year on embezzlement charges of opposition politicians Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. It calls on the Kazakh authorities to conduct independent investigations of all three cases and to make public their findings. It also calls on Kazakhstan to make available information on all ongoing investigations and trials, to criminalize the use of torture, to review the new law on the reregistration of political parties, and to embark on a dialogue with the opposition on ways to end the existing standoff between them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

...AND GOVERNMENT REJECTS THAT CRITICISM. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has issued a statement rejecting as "untrue" and "based on biased information" the resolution adopted on 13 February by the European Parliament criticizing human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 18 February. The ministry's statement said the government of Kazakhstan considers the resolution nonbinding and contradictory to the provisions of the partnership and cooperation agreement between Kazakhstan and the EU. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

COMMUNIST OFFICIAL BACKS GRANTING OFFICIAL STATUS TO RUSSIAN LANGUAGE. Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary majority group, said in an interview with RFE/RL on 14 February that granting official status to the Russian language does not amount to an infringement of the recommendations made last year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Stepaniuc said the assembly recommended a moratorium on this issue, and a moratorium "does not last forever." Granting "official status" to the Russian language is included among President Vladimir Voronin's proposals for a new constitution, under which Moldovan would be the "official state language." The difference between the two concepts has not been clarified in the proposals, which were officially made public on 14 February. Meanwhile, another issue on which PACE recommended a moratorium resurfaced on 17 February. According to the Moldovan Historians' Association, the government now intends to replace the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with General History. The association is threatening to renew street protests if the decision is approved and enforced, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXPERTS BACK INTENTION TO REPLACE 'HISTORY OF ROMANIANS.' A team of Council of Europe experts said in Chisinau on 18 February that the authorities' intention to replace the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with General History is likely ultimately to contribute to the strengthening of Moldova's statehood, Flux reported. The experts said experience in several European countries shows that teaching history courses with a "multicultural approach contributes to defusing interethnic tension and tension with neighbors." President Voronin on 18 February met with Alison Cardell, head of the Council of Europe team of experts, and told him the authorities wish to introduce genuine European standards in teaching history in schools and that those courses must be "neither politicized, nor falsified, nor distorted," but must present "the genuine history of Moldova." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION PROBES RYWINGATE... On 8 February, the ad hoc parliamentary commission to investigate allegations that film producer Lew Rywin tried to solicit a $17.5 million bribe on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller began its first public interrogations in the case now known in the Polish media as "Rywingate." The first person questioned by the commission was "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, who on 27 December published a secretly taped conversation with Rywin in which the latter, claiming to have support from a "group of people in power," offered to lobby the government for a favorable media law that would allow Agora S.A., the newspaper's publisher, to buy the private Polsat television station. Michnik's public testimony, according to Polish commentators, has added little substance to what was already known from the "Gazeta Wyborcza" article. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February)

...AS POLISH TV HEAD IMPLICATED... "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Michnik suggested during his testimony before the ad hoc parliamentary commission that Polish Television Chairman Robert Kwiatkowski and Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, a member of the National Radio and Television Council -- who were allegedly mentioned by Rywin as the people behind his bribe offer -- had plans to privatize the second channel of the public Polish Television and might have been interested in eliminating Agora as a potential buyer by embroiling it in a bribery scandal. On 10 February, the parliamentary commission called for Kwiatkowski's suspension and asked the prosecution for the right to examine his telephone bills. "In light of certain facts uncovered in the course of the commission's work...and doubts as to the public television station's objectiveness in covering its sittings, as well as Kwiatkowski's use of public television to disseminate his private views, the commission believes Kwiatkowski should be suspended from his functions until [the commission] has completed its work," the commission said in a statement. The Polish Television Supervisory Board, which has the authority to suspend or sack Kwiatkowski, voted on 14 February to leave him in his post. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February)

...AND COMMISSION CALLS FOR HIS SUSPENSION... Polish Television Chairman Kwiatkowski on 19 February told the parliamentary commission investigating the so-called Rywingate scandal that it was not his idea to send film producer Rywin to "Gazeta Wyborcza" to solicit a bribe, Polish media reported. "I never intended to privatize the [Polish Television] Second Program, or indeed the First Program either, and I never undertook activities in that direction," Kwiatkowski told the commission. Meanwhile, the 18 February issue of "Rzeczpospolita" published Kwiatkowski's phone bills, which show that he telephoned Rywin 13 times over a two-week period in July, when Rywin allegedly made his offer to Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

...WHILE WITNESS COMPLAINS OF TELEPHONE THREAT. Wanda Rapaczynska, president of the Agora publishing house, testified on 18 February before a special parliamentary commission dealing with the Rywin bribery scandal, Polish media reported. Rapaczynska told the commission that she received a telephone call during which an anonymous caller said he had been paid to kill her. Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik said later the same day that police will investigate the alleged threat and take protective measures if necessary. Rapaczynska was reportedly the first person whom Rywin allegedly approached with an offer to lobby the government over a media law in exchange for a $17.5 million bribe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

EX-PREMIER URGES RULING PARTY TO DEAL OPENLY WITH RYWINGATE SCANDAL. Mieczyslaw Rakowski, Poland's last communist premier, published an open letter in "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 17 February urging the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) to convene a meeting of its National Council in connection with Rywingate. Rakowski told PAP on 19 February that he initially planned to publish his letter in the daily "Trybuna," which is linked to the SLD, but "Trybuna" Editor in Chief Marek Baranski refused to print it. Rakowski urged the SLD in his letter to "present [before its National Council] the circumstances concerning every aspect of [Rywingate] in which its politicians are involved in any way." Rakowski told PAP that he wants the SLD "not to give the impression that it is on the defensive" in Rywingate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

CATHOLIC-RADIO HEAD GRANTED TV LICENSE. The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council on 13 February granted a license to Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, head of the conservative-Catholic Radio Maryja, to operate a television channel called Trwam ("I abide" in Polish), Polish media reported. The new station's stated goal is to cover issues connected with religion and education, as well as to provide general information. It will be available by satellite and cable and will broadcast five hours a day at the outset with an eye toward expanding to 15-16 hours. Radio Maryja broadcasts a strident anti-EU message to a regular listenership of several million Poles. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

INCREASED MEASURES AGAINST ELECTRONIC-MEDIA INCITEMENT OF RACISM, ANTI-SEMITISM. The Chamber of Deputies' Cultural Commission on 19 February empowered the National Audiovisual Council to revoke the broadcasting licenses of radio and television stations that "repeatedly incite anti-Semitism, [and] racial, religious, or sexual discrimination" or which "seriously and repeatedly infringe on the innocent-until-proven-guilty" presumption. The commission also decided that licenses could be withdrawn if broadcasts affect national security or incite social disorder, Romanian Radio reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

NEWSPAPER EDITOR GETS FIRED... Oleg Mitvol, chairman of the board of directors of the newspaper "Novye izvestiya," announced on 20 February that he has dismissed the daily's editor in chief and general director, Igor Golembiovskii, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 20 February. The newspaper's deputy editor, Sergei Agafonov, told that the paper would not come out on 21 February as a sign of protest against Golembiovskii's dismissal. Mitvol told on 20 February that Golembiovskii might be allowed to remain as the paper's editor, although he has been removed as its general director for alleged financial improprieties. Although ownership of the paper has long been attributed to self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who financed the creation of the paper when Golembiovskii and other journalists left "Izvestiya" in 1997, Mitvol now claims to own 76 percent of the daily, while Golembiovskii reportedly manages the remaining 24 percent in the name of the journalistic collective. Berezovskii told on 20 February that Mitvol was supposed to transfer the paper's shares to one of Berezovskii's companies after its creation but never did so. Berezovskii said he is continuing to demand that Mitvol surrender the shares. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)

...AND BEREZOVSKII BLAMES THE KREMLIN. Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he believes Golembiovskii was fired because the newspaper "has been irritating the Kremlin for a long time" and that Mitvol "is not an independent figure." Vladimir Yakov, one of the newspaper's journalists, told TVS that the daily had "recently published several tough articles about the leadership of the country and the president in particular." "On 20 February we published an article called the 'Putinization of the Country' [that] described the threat of a personality cult and all this stupidity with Putin's busts and portraits," Yakov said., however, published a commentary that argued the tycoon himself was to blame for the dispute because he chose to manage his shares by proxy "because he did not want to take direct responsibility himself." The website, which is owned by the state broadcasting company VGTRK, speculated that similar situations could evolve regarding Berezovskii's other newspapers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)

CRITICS LAMBASTE PROPOSED MEDIA LEGISLATION. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 February provided more details about a presidential package of bills that would amend the election and mass-media laws to allow the authorities to shut down media outlets that violate election rules during campaigns. Under the bill, journalists would not be permitted to disseminate any information -- even if it is accurate -- that could harm a candidate's dignity or damage his or her reputation, unless the media outlet is prepared to give the candidate similar space or air time free of charge for a rebuttal, the newspaper reported. Commenting on the bills, Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research said they "might seriously distort the electoral process" and that "politicians will stop canvassing for votes and will concentrate on winning court cases." "The outcome of the election will depend on the court bureaucracy rather than the will of the people," Markov said. Georgii Satarov of the INDEM Foundation added that he considers the amendments "extremely harmful." When the media are not allowed to explain to citizens what is happening, "expect some highly negative consequences," Satarov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

'BLACK PR' LINKED TO UPSET IN MAGADAN ELECTION? Acting Magadan Oblast Governor Nikolai Dudov on 16 February won the second round of the oblast's gubernatorial election with 50.41 percent of the vote, compared to 42.38 percent for rival Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, ITAR-TASS reported. Karpenko had been the favorite to win the race, beating Dudov in the first round by a 12 percent margin. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February, Karpenko was the victim of a number of dirty tricks, or "black public relations," between the rounds. For example, reworked film clips of Karpenko were shown with his campaign slogan "Nikolai Karpenko is our man!" altered to read "Nikolai Karpenko is whose man?" Karpenko's supporters in Magadan and Moscow are reportedly attributing Dudov's victory to the aggressive media campaign that he waged between rounds. Karpenko had the strong support of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, and an unidentified party official told the daily that his loss came as a complete surprise. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

NTV LURES ONE OF ITS FORMER WORKERS BACK... Aleksandr Gerasimov on 17 February was named deputy general director of NTV in charge of informational programming, TVS reported. Gerasimov was most recently deputy general director for informational and public/political broadcasting at REN-TV. Before that, he worked at NTV until Gazprom-Media took over the station in 2001. Gerasimov said he will strive to raise the level of informational programming so that it is no worse than it was when the team headed by Yevgenii Kiselev worked at NTV, reported. Kiselev is now general director of TVS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

...AS CONTROL OF REN-TV POSSIBLY UP FOR GRABS. The sale of a 70 percent stake in REN-TV owned by Unified Energy Systems (EES) will be discussed at a meeting of the EES board of directors at the end of this month, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov. In the fall of 2000, LUKoil sold its REN-TV stake to EES. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February)

BASHKIR JOURNALIST CLAIMS POLICE HARASSMENT... ITAR-TASS's Ufa correspondent Rawil Tokhwetullin has said he was detained on the street on 13 February by two police officers who held him for an unspecified time although he presented his press card, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 16 February. The officers also reportedly threatened to arrest Tokhwetullin. Tokhwetullin said some forces in the republic are unhappy with a recent publication about a lawsuit filed by an Ufa resident against the Bashkir government to protest VIP motorcades. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

...AS DISTRIBUTION OF CENTRAL NEWSPAPERS RESTRICTED. Last week, journalists from the opposition newspaper "Otechestvo" and representatives of National Television and Radio Research Center held a press conference in Ufa to condemn restrictions placed by the Bashkir government on the distribution of the latest issues of central newspapers "Kommersant-Daily," "Novye izvestiya," and "Trud," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 17 February, citing "Tribuna." Those dailies reportedly featured critical materials about republican authorities. "Tribuna" also reported that Sergei Fufaev, a former correspondent for "Vechernyaya Ufa," alleges that he was fired recently after reporting about a State Duma deputy's conference dedicated to Russia's Independence Day in June. In his report Fufaev claimed that this national holiday has not been celebrated in Bashkortostan for a long time, and after the article was published, the paper's editor allegedly received an order from the staff of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov to dismiss Fufaev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

BILL WOULD MANDATE MORE INFORMATIONAL PROGRAMMING ON TELEVISION. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has sent to the government a draft bill under which state-controlled national and local television stations would have to devote 20 percent of their broadcast time to "socially significant information," while private television channels would have to devote 10 percent, reported on 19 February. Furthermore, the bill would require that not less than 60 percent of all programming be domestically produced. Violators would be stripped of their broadcast licenses. According to RIA-Novosti, the bill will be considered during the Duma's fall session. The bill's author is Deputy Valerii Galchenko (People's Deputy). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

NEW PUBLICATION AIMS FOR THE ACQUISITIVE CLASS. The former publisher of "Kommersant-Daily" and some of its former staff are starting a new weekly called "Stolichnaya," aimed at Russia's growing middle class, reported on 13 February. According to a press release, the new publication will be aimed at people who "know that they live better today than they did yesterday, and who want to believe that they will live better tomorrow than they do today." The weekly's potential readers are people "who already have what they lost and who hope to have more in the future." Researchers at the Sotsioekspress Research Center estimate that there are around 1.1 million such people in Moscow. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

EXPLOSION DAMAGES ARCHIVES AT LITERATURE INSTITUTE. A fire-extinguisher explosion in the closed archive of the Institute of Russian Literature, or Pushkin House, in St. Petersburg on 17 February has damaged or destroyed numerous manuscripts and historical documents, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 February. According to archivist Tatyana Ivanova, archives related to 19th-century poet Ivan Krylov and 19th-century writer Dmitrii Grigorovich suffered the greatest damage. The institute's Krylov archive is the largest in the world and included 151 documents, including manuscripts of his famous fables and original letters. The institute's director, Nikolai Skatov, told the daily that the fire-extinguishing system should have undergone regular maintenance last fall, but "we could not extend the service contract because we simply did not have the money." Skatov could not say precisely how many documents have been destroyed beyond restoration or how the institute would pay for the restoration of damaged documents. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

CORRECTION: An "RFE/RL Media Matters" item on 11 February titled "Prosecution Asks for 14-Year Prison Sentence for Radical-Party Leader/Writer" erroneously reported that a court in Saratov Oblast had convicted National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov of organizing an illegal armed formation and other charges. The court is expected to announce its verdict in April.

POLICE CHARGED FOR DETENTION OF JOURNALISTS IN 2000. On 4 February, the Pozarevac public prosecutor brought charges against the former chief of the city's police department, Radisa Jovic-Selja; former police officials Dragomir Milenkovic and Velimir Ivanovic; and current Pozarevac Police Chief Nikola Kaurin for allegedly organizing the illegal detention of "Danas" journalists Mile Veljkovic, Bojan Toncic, and Natasa Bogovic on 8 and 9 May 2000. During their detention, the three journalists were not allowed to contact their families, and no proceedings were initiated. ("ANEM Media Report," 3-10 February)

POLICE CHARGE REPORTER. On 6 February, Belgrade police filed charges against journalist Jovica Krtinic of the weekly "Reporter" for allegedly "obstructing an official on duty." Police allege that Krtinic struck a policeman guarding a Belgrade district courtroom on 20 January during a case involving the 1999 killings of Serbian Renewal Movement officials. A police statement claimed that after Krtinic and other witnesses were questioned, criminal charges were filed against the journalist. According to the police statement, Krtinic attempted to enter the courtroom by force. Krtinic dismissed the police accusations and said he would file a criminal complaint against the policeman who shoved him and then reported him to the police. The next day, several other journalists who witnessed the incident confirmed Krtinic's statement. ("ANEM Media Report," 3-10 February)

STRUGGLE FOR SLOVENIAN RADIO IN AUSTRIA. Representatives from the Austrian Center for Ethnic Groups and the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages have wrapped up a three-day visit to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in Strasbourg, "Delo" reported on 14 February. The representatives drew attention to the situation of the Slovenian language in the Austrian province of Carinthia following a decision by the Austrian broadcasting corporation ORF to stop funding the radio program "Radio Dva" (Radio Two). "Radio Dva" has served Austria's Slovenian minority since 1998 in accord with Austria's obligations under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and its staff now works on a volunteer basis. Four radio staff members held a five-day hunger strike last week to raise awareness and seek guarantees for all-day Slovenian-language programming in the province. Otherwise, they threaten an unlimited hunger strike starting in mid-March. Activists have gathered 8,600 signatures that they plan to deliver to Austrian State Secretary for the Arts Franz Morak on 20 February, and "Radio Dva" has posted messages of support on its website ( ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)

CUSTOMS OFFICIALS BECOME AVID READERS. Travelers entering Turkmenistan are now subject to a "complete search" for newspapers and journals at the country's points of entry, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 10 February. Since customs officials claim that a list of banned publications does not exist, they must read through every publication searching for references to Turkmenistan. According to these officials, they are under strict orders from the security services to find such references. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 February)

CPJ CONCERNED OVER ALLEGED DEATH THREAT AGAINST EDITOR. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report on 19 February about Vira Kytayhorodska, editor in chief of the twice-weekly paper "Bukovynske Viche" in the western city of Chernivtsi. Kytayhorodska said on 16 February that a local government official has threatened to kill her for republishing an article on 7 February that accused Chernivtsi Oblast Governor Teofil Bauer of corruption and violating customs regulations. The official, Chernivtsi regional council Deputy Chairman Ivan Muntyan, told CPJ that he did not threaten Kytayhorodska. He said that he called the editor to ask why she had reprinted the article without checking its claims. The original article appeared in the 29 January edition of "Reporter," a newspaper in the neighboring city of Ternopil. On 14 February, Kytayhorodska sent a letter to President Leonid Kuchma and Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Pyskun requesting protection. A local police official confirmed that Kytayhorodska's letter and claims are being reviewed to determine whether they warrant an investigation. (CPJ, 19 February)

JOURNALIST GIVEN SEVEN-YEAR SENTENCE. Uzbekistan's Supreme Court has handed down a seven-year prison sentence to 24-year-old Gairat Mekhliboev for his conviction on charges of inciting religious intolerance, attempting to undermine the state system, and participating in mass unrest, Interfax reported on 19 February. An unnamed court official claimed that Mekhliboev confessed to belonging to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party and that illicit religious literature was found in his hostel room. Mekhliboev was arrested in Tashkent in July during a protest by market traders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)

JOURNALIST SUMMONED TO PROSECUTORS. On 12 February, independent journalist Fahriddin Tillaev was summoned to the office of Prosecutor Nurullo Bobojonov of the Baisun Raion of Surkhandarya Oblast. The summons came in connection with Tillaev's article in the newspaper "Mihiyat" on 31 January that alleged that Uzbek banks are under order to take measures to lower the official inflation rate, as well as to delay payment of salaries at organizations and enterprises for the same purpose. Bobojonov demanded that Tillaev write an official explanation of why he wrote the article, and the journalist refused to do so. The prosecutor also asked Tillaev to sign a pledge not to leave the area, but again the journalist refused. Tillaev now fears that he might be the target of a provocation by the local authorities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 10-16 February)

SEEMO REPORTS LITTLE IMPROVEMENT IN BALKANS MEDIA FREEDOM. Last year, the South-Eastern Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) recorded 422 cases of violations of media freedom in the region, the Association of Independence Electronic Media (ANEM) reported on 3 February. The organization, which is a member of the International Press Institute, documented threats; physical assaults; criminal charges and other legal proceedings; problems with criminals, armies, secret services and bureaucrats; problems with customs and immigration officials; conflicts with media proprietors; and political pressure. Serbia (without Kosova) topped the list with 64 incidents. Following Serbia came Romania (58), Bosnia-Herzegovina (57), Cyprus (43), Macedonia (41), Kosova (37), Moldova (33), Croatia (31), and Montenegro (24). ("ANEM Media Report," 3-10 February)


By Andrei Deriabin

Although the recent activities of Novosibirsk politicians and officials are not overtly connected to this year's parliamentary elections or next year's presidential and gubernatorial elections, a series of local media developments in the last month lead one to conclude that they are already moving to clean up the regional media environment. Some observers believe that recent cuts in Radio Novosibirsk broadcasting, the closure of the local Ekho Moskvy affiliate, and Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolokonskii's promotion of a regional mass-media bill are signs of a tightened "information vertical" aimed at controlling regional media content.

Beginning 20 February, the broadcasts of Radio Novosibirsk were decreased from 2 1/2 hours a day to 30 minutes because the federal broadcasting company's (VGTRK) Radio Rossiya, which holds the license for national wired-circuit broadcasting, unified its national broadcast schedule. On 31 January, Radio Novosibirsk Director Vladimir Piskarev said that this decision will mean that the local audience of 300,000 -- mostly pensioners and housewives -- will now only be able to listen to national radio programming rather than local news. Renat Suleimanov, a member of Novosibirsk City Council and chairman of its Media Relations Committee, stressed that "the committee considers this decision unfair." "However, we have little chance of defending our position," he added. "It looks as if an 'information vertical' is being built. All this relates to the forthcoming elections."

Local FM radio is also undergoing changes. On 27 December, Ekho Moskvy, an important private source of political information in the regions, dropped its broadcasting services to Novosibirsk, a city with a population of 1.5 million. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov said that the contract with the local retransmitting company in Novosibirsk, MKS Plus, expired on 26 December. Without any explanation, Ekho Moskvy's local partner exercised its right not to extend the contract. But the station's listeners have been demanding an explanation on Ekho Moskvy's website and on the local sites and, which are crowded with angry posting calling for the local station's return.

A spokesperson for MKS Plus said that the station was shut down because it was targeted at a narrow audience and did not generate sufficient advertising revenues. "There is no political pressure of any kind," MKS Plus Director Nikolai Melekhin said in an interview with the newspaper "Novaya Sibir." "The point is that information broadcasting requires sufficient resources and a large staff of journalists who need proper salaries.... Also, the Moscow office did not want to concern itself with the station's ratings or the quality of its programs. The last time the station had high ratings was during the conflict around NTV and Ekho Moskvy itself. Then some personnel crisis occurred, and the quality of the station's programs started going downhill. That's the main reason to stop the broadcasting in the regions."

However, the arguments that Ekho Moskvy was responsible for the lack of advertising revenues in Novosibirsk and the low-quality local programs do not seem convincing. Ekho Moskvy listeners generally agree that the Novosibirsk branch did not adopt successful advertising and marketing policies. "The local programs...looked like rough patches and caused nothing but irritation, especially when some interesting program from Moscow was suddenly interrupted," one listener wrote in her posting to a local Internet forum. "As to the point that the whole project was running at a loss, it seems as if nobody seriously worked on the issue. It's as if the local branch intentionally failed in order to use that as excuse [for the shut down] later on."

Another Novosibirsk listener wrote on the online forum at that "advertisements in the news blocks didn't fit the station's general image and were antiliberal in spirit." The same listener also notes that in addition to the commercials' very poor quality, Ekho Moskvy-Novosibirsk was not careful in selecting the goods and services it advertised, as if the station managers had no idea of its audience profile. If this is true, it is hardly surprising that the radio station failed to gain an acceptable level of advertising revenues and overall financial sustainability.

Many observers, however, believe that the station was shut down because of its criticisms of government policies and its reputation as an "opposition" outlet. In 2003, such Russian media outlets have become particularly unwelcome because of the parliamentary elections slated for December. Novosibirsk Oblast will also be holding a gubernatorial election at that time. Therefore, some analysts speculate, the authorities have started "cleaning up" regional media in preparation for the campaigns. They note that Ekho Moskvy has already closed its local stations in Vladivostok, Nizhnii Novgorod, Perm, and Volgograd.

Last but not least, Tolokonskii has initiated the drafting of a new regional-media bill. "I cannot say that I am fully satisfied with our media relationships," Tolokonskii said on 20 December. "What is required is to bring some order to that field, to increase authorities' responsibility in their media work, and to provide journalists with full access to information. At the same time, journalists should be more responsible for the adequate presentation of such information to their audiences."

Aleksei Simonov, president of the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation and a well-known free-speech advocate, has been asked to organize a drafting group that will prepare the bill. Simonov told "Kontinent-Sibir" on 20 December that he had submitted to the Novosibirsk Oblast administration an activities plan and a budget that includes focus groups and roundtable discussions with local NGOs. The budget also includes two research studies: one of public attitudes toward the media and a second on relative access to media in urban and rural areas.

Tolokonskii has also pledged to involve local media professionals in the drafting of the bill, but there has been no decision yet about the bill's ultimate legislative status. Meanwhile, Novosibirsk Oblast administration Information Department head Yurii Korobchenko, who is supervising the draft's preparation, said that the administration has also been preparing another document -- its contents have not yet been made public -- to regulate media relations.

Recent events indicate that media relations will probably be regulated with an eye toward restricting direct media access to senior regional authorities and increasing the buffering role of their press services. On 17 December, local television journalists were barred from a session of the oblast administration presidium, and not even standard protocol shots were allowed. After that, Tolokonskii ordered the creation of new rules for presidium staff and the media. Journalists will no longer be allowed to attend presidium sessions, and the administration press service will now manage all contacts between the media and local authorities, including providing responses to reporters' information requests. "The presidium is a working organ," Tolokonskii said, "and there are some things that are not always tactful to expose to the public." "Novaya Sibir" commented on 20 December that Tolokonskii thinks it is "not tactful" for the public to know when he "rails at the presidium's members" and when "they argue with him."

There are about 10 regional media laws in Russia today. Most of these laws merely repeat relevant federal law, placing certain restrictions on it and sometimes regulating the distribution of state funding. The media is often regulated by regional laws in areas known for their problems with freedom of speech, such as Bashkortostan. Novosibirsk, with its well-developed media sphere, is scarcely in this category.

It is not quite clear why the Novosibirsk Oblast administration has suddenly decided to draft a media law. In light of the upcoming oblast gubernatorial election, however, it seems likely the draft law is part of preparations for Tolokonskii's re-election campaign. Even if, as some journalists believe, the new media law is not meant to pressure local media, the drafting process might be used to attract regional and national public attention to Tolokonskii, especially if the State Duma resumes its discussion of possible amendments to federal media laws such as those vetoed by President Vladimir Putin in November. If a regional media law is passed, Tolokonskii might be able to position himself as a leader in the discussion of topical social and political issues and to attract much-needed media coverage to his campaign.

Simonov believes that the Glasnost Defense Foundation's role in drafting of the Novosibirsk bill will ensure that it is fundamentally democratic and functions properly. "If what the governor needs from this act is merely convenient legislative formulations that let him manipulate the press during his election campaign, he will not achieve it through the [Glasnost Defense Foundation]," Simonov said. "Another possibility is that a well-conceived media law will enhance the governor's reputation in the media and such public relations is for the common good."

Media executives and owners have developed the habit of explaining media-sector developments in purely business or management terms. But anyone who is familiar with the state's media policies will likely think these recent events in Novosibirsk are conscious efforts to squeeze out media outlets that are independent or cannot be controlled by the authorities.

Andrei Deriabin is the founder of Developmental Policies, an independent, nonpartisan research and consulting organization for Western Siberia.