2 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 17
INTERNATIONALPRESS FREEDOM DECLINES WORLDWIDE. Press freedom suffered notable worldwide deterioration in 2002, due in part to political and armed conflicts and increased government-backed restrictions on independent media outlets, according to a Freedom House report released on 30 April. There were major setbacks for press freedom in Russia and Ukraine, the report says. Restrictive legislation and politicized judiciaries still prevail in countries such as Russia, where President Vladimir Putin's government clamped down on independent media. "State-directed intimidation of and attempts to influence the media are being perpetrated by democratically elected governments that seem to be increasingly unwilling to tolerate critical coverage," said Karin Karlekar, the survey's managing editor. Overall, the study reveals that 11 countries, including Armenia, Russia, and Ukraine, declined in the ratings of press freedom. Of 193 countries surveyed (including the Israeli-Administered Territories/Palestinian Authority), 78 (41 percent, with 20 percent of the world's population) were rated "Free," with no major media restrictions; 47 (24 percent, or 38 percent of the global population) were rated "Partly Free" with some media restrictions; and 68 (35 percent, or 42 percent of the world's population) were rated "Not Free," with state control or other obstacles to a free press. The proportion of the world's population considered "not free" increased by 4 percent from 2001. The entire report is available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/pfs2003/pfs2003.pdf. CC
AFGHANISTANKABUL NEWSPAPER EDITOR RECEIVES NUMEROUS DEATH THREATS. Zohur Afghan, the editor in chief of Kabul daily "Erada," has received eight calls threatening him with death if he does not admit publicly that he was wrong in writing an article that criticized the Education Ministry's performance, "Erada" reported on 23 April. Afghan was arrested for a few hours at the orders of Deputy Minister of Education Zabihollah Esmati after the article was published on 17 April, according to "Erada." Three different callers have reportedly threatened Afghan, who has vowed to continue his work despite the threats. Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 April that Hosayn Ma'dawi, editor in chief of "Aftab," said police have warned him that "they could not guarantee his safety in the event of an unexpected incident." It is not clear if that statement was prompted by threats against Ma'dawi. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
ALBANIAPOLITICAL INFLUENCE PERVADES MEDIA? Italian Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, according to a report by the Media Plan Institute in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has become a role model for would-be media tycoons in Albania. Although some independent reporting remains, the media scene in Albania is increasingly dominated by rich businessmen who own media outlets, particularly TV stations, and slant their news and information accordingly. Since television in Albania serves as the primary information source for about 80 percent of the population, this trend has major political implications for the country. And since most Albanian journalists work without contracts, they are vulnerable to possible discrimination and political manipulation. For the complete text, see http://www.mediaonline.ba/mediaupite/clanak.html?sifra=8611. CC
ARMENIAOPPOSITION JOURNALIST ASSAULTED IN YEREVAN. A journalist working for a minor opposition newspaper was assaulted in his office on 29 April by a group of unknown assailants who fled the scene, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The victim, Mher Ghalechian, is a correspondent for the small opposition "Chorrord Iskhanutyun" newspaper, which is widely held to be one of the strongest critics of the Armenian government and which strongly supports former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ghalechian accused National Security Minister Karlos Petrosian of organizing the assault, allegedly in response to an article criticizing the minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
AZERBAIJANPOLICE HUNT DOWN SIGNATORIES OF APPEAL TO PRESIDENT TO RESIGN... Police on 23 April began rounding up the 122 members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia who the previous day signed a six-page appeal to President Heidar Aliyev to resign "while there is still time" or risk being forcibly ousted, Turan reported on 24 April. The signatories include one general, three colonels, and dozens of lawyers. Analyzing Aliev's policies since he was first elected in 1969 to head the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, the document affirms that his "dictatorial regime has brought Azerbaijan to the brink of catastrophe" and blames him for the country's economic decline and mass unemployment and out-migration. The statement was drafted by members of the Amal association representing the country's intelligentsia. Presenting the statement on 22 April, Professor Murshud Mamedli stressed that it was prepared before Aliev's televised collapse the previous day. On 23 April, Aliyev did not show up for work at the presidential administration, nor did he appear on state television, Turan reported on 24 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
...AS TWO JOURNALISTS DETAINED, CAUTIONED. Two journalists from the independent newspaper "Milliyet" were detained on 23 April and taken to the Prosecutor-General's Office, where First Deputy Prosecutor-General Ramiz Rzaev warned them that it is "inadmissible" to print materials insulting the honor and dignity of President Aliev, Turan reported. The two were then released. The paper printed in its 19 April edition a collage of the toppled statue in Baghdad of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with Aliev's head superimposed. All copies of the paper were confiscated from newspaper kiosks the following day, "Milliyet" founder Zalimkhan Mamedli told Turan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
NEWSPAPER OF RULING PARTY PUBLISHES ETHNIC SLUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER... Turan on 26 April quoted "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous ruling party, as reporting that embattled human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov has changed his first name to Eduard. The newspaper infers from this that Zeynalov is not of pure Azerbaijani extraction, and comments that any person who is not 100 percent ethnic Azeri is not capable of doing any good for the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
...IN STATE MEDIA TACTIC TO DISCREDIT OPPOSITION? In recent years, state-controlled media have resorted to calling activists "Armenians" regardless of their ethnic backgrounds as a means of discrediting their public positions on sensitive regional issues of peace, security, and human rights (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" 30 April 2003). CC
BELARUSU.S. EMBASSY DONATES BOOKS TO PRISON LIBRARY FOUNDED BY BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST. The U.S. Embassy in Belarus on 24 April donated more than 60 books, mostly works by modern American writers, to the library of a minimum-security correctional facility in Zhlobin, Homel Oblast, Belapan reported. Two U.S. diplomats handed over the books jointly with journalist Pavel Mazheyka, who spent nearly seven months in that institution after being convicted of slander against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Mazheyka founded the library, donating a collection of books he received from friends while incarcerated. In March, shortly before Mazheyka's release on parole, the Belarusian Association of Journalists delivered some 800 books to the penitentiary. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
CZECH REPUBLICPARTIES FAIL TO FILL BROADCAST COUNCIL. The Czech lower house succeeded in selecting just six of a required 13 nominees to the Radio and Television Broadcasting Council on 29 April, CTK reported, highlighting the governing coalition's weakness and leaving the broadcast watchdog in limbo until seven more members get legislative backing. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla must act on parliamentary recommendations in making the appointments. The three-party coalition had hoped to push through nine nominees, which would give them considerable control in the media sector, but succeeded in securing just five nominees. Deputies also approved a sixth nominee, of the opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, while they rejected all nominees of the opposition Civic Democratic Party. The board appointments have assumed a high political profile since Spidla sacked the previous board in early April amid accusations of incompetence and corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003). No date was set for another attempt at filling the council seats, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
HUNGARYFREEDOM HOUSE CHARACTERIZES MEDIA AS 'FREE.' Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization whose declared aim is to support democracy around the world, rated the Hungarian media "Free" in its most recent assessment, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 30 April. Director Patrick Egan said only slight changes could be observed in the last year, as state authorities and political parties continued to influence the media. However, the situation is still better than in 1997, when Hungary was graded "Partly Free," he said. Without mentioning FIDESZ, the report said the former governing party accused the new government of influencing state television and radio after it lost power in 2002. The report says pro-government media sometimes have greater access to official information. The main opposition daily "Magyar Nemzet" has repeatedly charged that the new cabinet has exerted pressure on advertisers, endangering the newspaper's financial viability. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal called the "Magyar Nemzet" accusation unfounded and said the government does not influence advertisers in an effort to provide preferential treatment to particular newspapers or television channels, "Nepszabadsag" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
LABOR MINISTRY TO AID ROMANY RADIO STATION. Labor Minister Sandor Burany said on 24 April that his ministry is offering a contract to Budapest's cash-strapped Romany radio station, "Radio C," in the hope that the station might help Roma find work, "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. The ministry will extend 4 million forints ($17,000) to the radio station, and expects it to broadcast information concerning employment. Radio C Editor in Chief Gyorgy Kerenyi said he is pleased with the news, but he added that another 60 million forints must be raised if the radio station is to operate. The radio station stopped its broadcasting on 7 April due to a lack of financing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
IRANJOURNALIST SENTENCED TO FOUR-YEAR TERM AND 253 LASHES. On 29 April, the Paris-based press-freedom organization Reporters without Borders (RSF) deplored the sentencing of one journalist to four years' imprisonment and 253 lashes. On 19 April, Alireza Jabari, a translator and freelance contributor to several independent newspapers, including "Adineh," was sentenced to four years' imprisonment, 253 lashes, and a fine of 6 million rials ($1,115) for "consuming and distributing alcoholic drinks" and "adultery and incitement to immoral acts." Actually, RSF believes that Jabari was imprisoned as a result of his membership in the Iranian Writers' Association and for sending material to foreign-based news websites. Jabari's lawyer said the journalist had been arrested illegally and that he had not been allowed to attend his client's trial. Jabari was arrested on 28 December 2002, released on 6 February, but rearrested on 17 March. His most recent arrest came soon after Jabari told reporters about the conditions of his detention and pressure exerted on him to confess. CC
IMPRISONED WRITER HONORED. PEN Canada and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) will present the case of Iranian writer and lawyer Nasser Zarafshan, jailed for his crusade to win justice for the families of murdered writers in Iran, at UNESCO's 2-3 May conference in Jamaica. CC
KHATAMI DENOUNCES SATELLITE-BROADCAST JAMMING. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi have called a stop to a reported project in Tehran to jam satellite broadcasts, IRNA reported on 22 April. Following a discussion in parliament, the president and speaker issued a directive calling for identifying and taking action against those responsible for the jamming. At the parliament session, officials said that "a certain military organization," otherwise unidentified, is transmitting powerful jamming signals from several of its bases in Tehran as well as from mobile units installed on trucks. The report, which originally appeared in the 22 April edition of the reformist daily "Hambastegi," did not identify the offending broadcasts, which likely are Persian-language television programs originating from Los Angeles and other foreign cities. In an apparent effort to avoid controversy over whether the contents of the broadcasts warranted jamming, opponents of the project are stressing that the jamming transmissions are harmful to citizens' health, causing, among other things, infertility. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April)
KAZAKHSTANMILITARY SAYS JOURNALIST TRYING TO AVOID NATIONAL SERVICE. Yuri Khalikov, a journalist with Kazakh Commercial Television, is trying to avoid military service, khabar.kz asserted on 23 April, quoting the Kustanai military commissariat. Khalikov is currently involved in a legal dispute with the authorities over his reports, and his case has attracted the attention of the independent media in Kazakhstan, for whom it is another example of government harassment of journalists. Khabar.kz quoted oblast military commissar Igor Losev as saying that Khalikov obtained a postponement of his military service last fall for health reasons before he became embroiled with the local authorities, but he was not exempted. Losev asserted that Khalikov was behaving like a dissident in order to evade his national service altogether. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
EURASIAN MEDIA FORUM OPENS. The Second Eurasian Media Forum opened in Almaty on 24 April, khabar.kz and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The forum is being attended by more than 170 journalists and media specialists from 45 countries. In a keynote speech, President Nursultan Nazarbaev called on the mass media to facilitate the development of dialogue among civilizations, cultures, and religions, but added that under the conditions of a weak civil society, the media can be an instrument of disintegration. Dariga Nazarbaeva -- the president's daughter, the head of the forum's organizing committee, and one of the most prominent figures in the Kazakh media scene -- said the forum is intended to emphasize cooperation rather than differences and to seek mutual understanding. European Commission President Romano Prodi sent a video greeting to the forum in which he described Kazakhstan as a very young country with developing democratic institutions. Holding such a gathering in Kazakhstan is itself very important, Prodi said. A group of leading Kazakh opposition journalists have refused to attend the event because they assert that it will give the false impression that Kazakhstan is a media-friendly country. To demonstrate that this impression is far from accurate, Ermurat Bapi, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "SolDat," pointed to the case of imprisoned journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was convicted of statutory rape after writing articles critical of Nazarbaev. Bapi also points to the problems of his own newspaper with the tax authorities after it became almost the only media outlet in the country to report on the latest developments in the "Kazakhgate" bribery scandal, in which the president and his family are alleged to be involved. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve also refused to attend the forum on the grounds that his presence might be used by Kazakhstan's propaganda machine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER WARNS OF MEDIA RESTRICTIONS. President Nazarbaev's adviser on political issues, Ermuhamet Ertysbaev, told the Second Eurasian Media Forum that the ability of the country's information media freely to express its views will soon be reduced, because "they violate certain articles of the constitution, legislation, and the press law," Interfax and Deutsche Welle reported on 28 April. The forum opened in Almaty on 24 April and ended on 27 April. Ertysbaev noted that the Kazakh Constitution protects freedom of speech, but said that freedom is not absolute. According to the reports, he made his remark about restricting the independent media after a disagreement with opposition journalist Tamara Kaleeva, who heads the Kazakh Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, over the criminal case against Duvanov. Ertysbaev denied there was any political motivation for the prosecution of Duvanov on a statutory rape charge. Kaleeva said those who argued that there was a political background had presented some good arguments to support their point of view. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
KYRGYZSTANOPPOSITION NEWSPAPER LOSES ANOTHER ROUND AGAINST PRIME MINISTER. The Kyrgyz opposition newspaper "Moya stolitsa-novosti" has lost another round in its court battle with Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, human rights sources in Bishkek reported on 30 April. Tanaev filed suit against the newspaper for a 26 November 2002 article that he claimed insulted his honor and dignity. He demanded 1 million soms ($169,000) in damages. The district court that tried the case fined "Moya stolitsa-novosti" 500,000 soms and the author of the article 3,000 soms. The newspaper appealed the decision to the Bishkek City Court, which has now confirmed the lower-court verdict. Editor in Chief Aleksandr Kim was quoted as saying he intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
MACEDONIAGERMAN MEDIA GROUP REPORTED SET TO BUY UP MAJOR NEWSPAPERS. The German WAZ media group is planning to purchase some of Macedonia's major newspapers, the Bulgarian mediapool.bg news agency reported on 23 April. According to the agency, WAZ has signed a provisional agreement on taking over the majority of shares in the dailies "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and the tabloid "Vest." WAZ would thereby acquire a dominant position in the Macedonian-language media market because the remaining dailies -- "Nova Makedonija" and "Makedonija denes" -- are constantly fighting for their economic survival. Under the provisional agreement, WAZ would guarantee the dailies' editorial independence. Former Ambassador to Germany and Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim will coordinate the German media group's activities in Macedonia. WAZ also owns the major Bulgarian dailies "Trud" and "24 chasa" as well as the Serbian "Politika." Bodo Hombach, who previously headed the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, is one of WAZ's four managing directors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
MOLDOVASTATION DIRECTOR, JOURNALIST SUMMONED FOR QUESTIONING. On 17 April, the office of the Chisinau prosecutor issued summons to Ion Bunduchi, director of the popular city-funded Antena C radio station, and reporter Oleg Brega for questioning about the popular call-in show "Hyde Park" hosted by Brega. The security service had urged the prosecutor's office to investigate the possibility of opening a legal suit on charges of "incitement" against the station staff. Antena C has repeatedly come under criticism from communist authorities, the Independent Journalism Center Moldova Media News reported on 24 April. CC
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA WATCHDOG CONCERNED ABOUT DRAFT MEDIA LAW. On 11 April, Article 19, the London-based international human rights watchdog, voiced concern about the draft media law prepared by the Moldovan Justice Ministry. Article 19 urged the Moldovan authorities to remove draft provisions that restrict contents, suspend or terminate a publication's activities, and reconsider registration requirements for the print media, the Independent Journalism Center Moldova Media News reported on 24 April. CC
POLANDPREMIER PROCLAIMS INNOCENCE IN 'RYWINGATE' AFFAIR. Premier Leszek Miller on 26 April testified before the special parliamentary commission set up to investigate the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal, Polish media reported. The commission is probing allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that film producer Lew Rywin in July sought a $17.5 million bribe from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, on behalf of Miller's Democratic Left Alliance in return for changes to a media bill to benefit Agora. Miller said he did not send Rywin to solicit a bribe from Agora. "From the very start, the whole matter seemed to me to be so absurd that it did not seem to merit serious attention," Miller said in his testimony, which was covered live by Polish Television. Miller said there was no need to send Rywin to solicit a bribe from anybody in July 2002, since the government and Agora had already agreed on a compromise version of the media bill. Miller's interrogation is to continue this week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April)
RUSSIAJOURNALIST CHALLENGES MEDIA RESTRICTIONS IN ELECTION LAW. "Vremya-MN" journalist Konstantin Kotanyan on 25 April appealed to the Constitutional Court to strike down portions of the law on basic guarantees of electoral rights, "Vremya-MN" reported on 26 April. One section of the law restricts the right to engage in "campaign agitation" for or against candidates to the candidates themselves. Kotanyan's lawsuit charges that the law in effect bars citizens, including journalists, from distributing any information about candidates, thereby limiting political discussions in media coverage of the campaign. It cites a 1998 decision by the European Court of Human Rights stating that free speech and free elections are interconnected and that all information and views should be allowed to circulate during election campaigns. Russian election law has long restricted the rights of journalists to comment on candidates and parties and has been condemned by journalists and media watchdogs. But that prohibition has not been widely enforced during previous election cycles. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
'ZAVTRA' SUES MEDIA MINISTRY. A Moscow district court is hearing a lawsuit by the weekly "Zavtra" against the Media Ministry, which in February issued an official warning accusing the newspaper of extremism, TVS reported on 29 April. The warning charged that the weekly violated the media law's prohibition against inciting ethnic hatred by publishing a discussion between "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, who is fighting extradition to Russia from Great Britain. Prokhanov on 29 April said he had been serving as a peacemaker and said the warning was an attempt to suppress free thought. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)
PORNOGRAPHY CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST AVANT-GARDE WRITER... The Moscow city prosecutor's office has dropped its criminal case against avant-garde writer Vladimir Sorokin on charges of distributing pornography, Russian media reported on 24 April. The investigation started in July of last year following complaints from the pro-Putin youth group Walking Together that Sorokin's 1999 novel "Goluboye Salo" (Blue Lard) contains pornography. The prosecutor made its decision following the recommendation by a panel of three experts, who decided the novel is not pornographic, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
...AND PROSECUTORS DECIDE NOT TO APPEAL LIMONOV VERDICT. The Prosecutor-General's Office will not appeal to the Supreme Court the 15 April ruling of a Saratov Oblast court in the case of writer and National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and five other party activists, strana.ru reported on 25 April, citing Limonov's lawyer Sergei Belyak. The Saratov court convicted Limonov of illegally purchasing weapons and sentenced him to four years' imprisonment, while acquitting him of the more serious charges of plotting terrorist acts, calling for the forcible seizure of power, and forming an illegal armed unit. Belyak said that Limonov and the others have already served more than half of their sentences and will begin seeking early release before the end of this month. Limonov maintains his innocence and will seek to have his conviction overturned "after he is released," Belyak said. Commenting on the sentence for strana.ru on 15 April, writer Viktor Yerofeev said: "Just like in Soviet times, the government has conducted itself pitilessly regarding dissent.... This means that Limonov's positions will not only be publicized, but will become fashionable, an emblem, a banner." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
DAGHESTANI EDITOR IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT. The state-funded daily "Dagestanskaya pravda" marked its 85th anniversary with an official conference attended by State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov. National Policy, Information and Foreign Liaison Minister Magomed-Salikh Gusaev presented the paper's editor in chief the keys of a Volga car and money for bonuses to the paper's staff, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations' (CJES) "Russian Authorities vs. Media" weekly of 22-28 April reported. CC
WEB READERS MAJOR POLITICAL FACTOR? The readership of the largest Russian Internet outlets is now comparable to that of the largest print publications and to the audience of radio stations, according to the CJES's "Russian Authorities vs. Media" of 22-28 April. Thus, ownership struggles for major Russian websites are likely to intensify as State Duma, slated for December 2003, draw closer. CC
SERBIA AND MONTENEGROJOURNALISTS WANT TO TALK TO THE GOVERNMENT... The editors in chief of 15 leading Serbian periodicals and electronic media outlets sent a letter to the government on 24 April calling for a meeting to discuss their profession's current working conditions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Many journalists and editors have expressed anger over treatment by authorities during the recently lifted state of emergency. The government has not responded to the letter, but Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac said he will meet with the editors "with pleasure." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
...AND SET OUT THEIR CONCERNS. The 15 editors set forth their specific concerns to the government, including "unheralded" new amendments to the Information Act, such as giving the state the right to establish its own news agency. The editors also asked for the dismissal of the two illegally appointed members of the Broadcast Agency Council, evidence for any allegations published about media companies and journalists, and a reduction of the steep sales taxes on newspapers, which has brought publishers in Serbia to the edge of bankruptcy. CC
SLOVAKIAWHO PAID THE PIPER IN PRO-EU SONG? Embattled Slovak Deputy Premier Pal Csaky sought on 28 April to ease the media furor over his office's controversial selection of a get-out-the-EU-vote campaign song, conceding that "a mistake" was made in not securing the Hungarian authors' permission to use the piece, TASR reported the same day. It was unclear who was responsible for the mistake, but Csaky insisted it was not the fault of the government. CTK reported on 25 April that a spokesman in Csaky's office said it appeared the producer of the Slovak version had ignored copyright protections -- not an infrequent mistake in a region that virtually ignored international copyright law in the Soviet era. The Slovak media and rival politicians pounced on Csaky after Hungarian musicians Miklos and Mihaly Varga protested on 25 April at their 1980s pop hit being used as Slovakia's "Euro-anthem" ahead of Slovakia's 16-17 May referendum on EU membership. Csaky subsequently ordered the advertising agencies involved not to use the song, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
TURKMENISTANACTIVIST WINS MEDIA-IMPORT CASE. Vyacheslav Mamedov, an environmental and human rights activist in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk), has won a suit against the municipal communications department, in which he sought compensation for the Russian newspapers and magazines that he did not receive in the second half of 2002 because Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov banned the importation of foreign periodicals, centrasia.ru reported on 25 April, citing information from the Moscow-based human rights organization Memorial. The Turkmenbashi City Court agreed that Mamedov had suffered significant personal loss and ordered the post office to reimburse him. The city communications department has 10 days to appeal the ruling. Until July 2002, it was possible for people resident in Turkmenistan to subscribe to foreign publications, but few citizens could afford to do so. In order to obtain newspapers and magazines from Russia, the Turkmenbashi city library had to appeal to an international organization to pay for the subscriptions. Turkmenbashi still has a significant Russian-speaking population. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
UKRAINEPRESIDENT SAYS HE WANTS DEFAMATION CASES STOPPED... President Leonid Kuchma said at a news conference in Kyiv on 23 April that he has asked Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun to discontinue the criminal investigations launched recently against a number of regional media outlets for allegedly defaming the president and obstructing his activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003), UNIAN reported. Kuchma said he did not play any role in launching the cases, adding that he even does not know what media were targeted by the Prosecutor-General's Office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
...AND SIGNS ANTICENSORSHIP BILL INTO LAW... Kuchma has signed into law a bill defining and banning media censorship in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 28 April. The bill was passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 3 April, and makes it a criminal offense for officials to "deliberately intervene in the professional work of journalists." It also limits financial penalties against journalists for defamation claims. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
...AS LAW HAILED BY ARTICLE 19, WITH RESERVATIONS. In April, the London-based freedom-of-expression organization Article 19 released a statement on amendments to the Ukrainian anticensorship law. According to Article 19, the amendments "represent a timely and important positive step in terms of ensuring respect in practice for the right to freedom of expression in Ukraine." It noted, however, that a number of further steps are needed, including measures to address the culture of secrecy in public bodies, a "public interest override" for exceptions and the introduction of minimum standards of record maintenance. While the clarification on censorship is helpful, the definition should not be exclusive but rather illustrative. As regards defamation, the rule prohibiting government bodies from suing should be extended to include public or state-owned bodies and the burden of proof should lie with the plaintiff on all statements of public concern, not just those relating to public officials. The law should not require payment of fees for lodging a defamation case, as this might inhibit access to the courts. Finally, the law should make it clear that true statements can never attract liability. The full text is available in English at http://www.article19.org/docimages/1553.doc, and in Ukrainian at http://www.article19.org/docimages/1554.doc. CC
MORE MEDIA MANIPULATION? U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell noted on 29 April that "in her 18 April annual report to the Ukrainian parliament, Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past 10 years, while beatings, intimidation of media employees, freezing of bank accounts of media outlets, and confiscation of entire print runs of newspapers and other publications have become commonplace in Ukraine." Another troubling aspect of the media climate, according to Campbell, has been the control exerted by media moguls with close links to the government, and "there is growing evidence that backers of the current prime minister and other political figures have been buying out previously independent news sources, including websites, and either firing reporters or telling them to cease criticism of the government or find new jobs," Campbell said. CC
REGIONALMOLDOVA SIGNS INFORMATION-PROTECTION AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA. Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) Director Ion Rusu met with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on 24 April and signed an agreement on the mutual protection of secret information, Flux reported. The document also defines the process of bilateral information exchanges in the political, military, economic, and scientific spheres. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April)
AWARDSLEIPZIG ROUNDTABLE ON PRESS FREEDOM. Media City Leipzig, the German UNESCO Commission, and the city of Leipzig will present awards to four journalists, including Ukrainian journalist Vladimir Mostovoi, who are winners of the 2003 Leipzig Prize for Freedom and Future of the Media. See http://www.medienstadt-leipzig.org/pressefreiheit2003/index_ eng.html#preist. CC
CONFERENCES, WORKSHOPSWAR, PEACE AND INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING CONFERENCE. Representatives of over 150 international television and radio broadcasters plus satellite, transmission, production, and manufacturing companies, met in London on 28-29 April, according to the AIB Global Media Business Conference. The conference examined war coverage, journalists' safety, perceptions of bias, and government-funded international broadcasting. Full details of the conference are available at http://www.aib.org.uk. CC
MEETING OF MEDIA EXECUTIVES FROM SERBIA AND KOSOVA. On 7-9 May, there will be a meeting in Macedonia of 70 editors in chief and media executives from Serbia and Kosova in the first such meeting since 1991. The conference, organized with the OSCE Mission in Kosovo and the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), is funded by the Austrian Foreign Ministry. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. CC
PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITES, MATERIALSWAN LAUNCHES EDITORIAL PACKAGE. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) invites newspapers around the world to download materials from its special World Press Freedom Day editorial package for publication. Available at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.com, the editorial and advertising materials can be downloaded and published for free on 3 May. The package includes details on the killings of 46 journalists in 20 countries in 2002 and on 136 journalists currently imprisoned in 27 countries. CC
CRIMES OF WAR PROJECT. On 2 May in Brussels, a new book will be launched by the Crimes of War Project, a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars dedicated to raising public awareness of the laws of war and their application to situations of conflict. See http://www.crimesofwar.org. CC
END NOTEWORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY HIGHLIGHTS PRINCIPLES OF PRESS FREEDOM
By Catherine Cosman
World Press Freedom Day was established on 3 May by the United Nations 12 years ago to highlight the basic principles of press freedom. It is a day to encourage and develop press-freedom initiatives and to spur assessments of the state of press freedom worldwide.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists will mark 3 May by naming the "World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist" -- 10 places which represent the full range of current threats to press freedom: government crackdowns, physical violence, and danger from military operations. (http://www.cpj.org). The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will present its 2003 annual report on press freedom in 156 countries plus a list of 42 "predators" responsible for attacks against press freedom (http://www.rsf.org/). The National Press Club of Canada released its "Press Freedom Review," a booklet of cartoons and articles surveying press freedom from the point of view of various international press associations, on 3 May (http://www.pressclub.on.ca/).
World Press Freedom Day should also remind governments to respect press freedom pledges, as the U.S. Helsinki Commission noted on 30 April (http://www.csce.gov). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will dedicate 3 May to fighting the global trend towards impunity that shields perpetrators of crimes against journalists from prosecution. (http://portal.unesco.org/ci/ev.php?URL_ID=8757&URL_DO=DO_ TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201&reload=1051399188). It is joined in this effort by the International PEN Club.
World Press Freedom Day can also serve as a time to offer support for vulnerable media workers, as in the International News Safety Institute, launched in Brussels on 2 May by the International Federation of Journalists and a coalition of media organizations, journalists' unions, and press-freedom groups (http://www.ifj.org/hrights/wpfd2003/wpfd2003en.html).
World Press Freedom Day should serve as a time of remembrance for the many journalists who have been killed in the line of duty. The Vienna-based International Press Institute noted that with 54 journalists killed in 2002 and 23 journalists killed since the start of this year -- 14 of them during the war in Iraq -- the need for better safety for journalists has never been more urgent (see the "IPI Death Watch" at http://www.freemedia.at).
World Press Freedom Day also reminds the world that in dozens of countries, publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, imprisoned, detained, and murdered, as the Toronto-based International Freedom of Information Exchange (IFEX) communique observed on 29 April (http://www.ifex.org/wpfd).
The World Press Freedom Committee on 3 May will highlight the urgent need to eliminate insult laws that protect presidents and other officials from public scrutiny of their conduct in office and in certain countries are used ruthlessly against journalists. Around the world, the majority of crimes against journalists go unpunished (http://www.wpfc.org).