13 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 18
INTERNATIONALFREE PRESS AIDS SOCIOECONOMIC GROWTH. An article in the British daily "The Observer" by Larry Kilman of the World Association of Newspapers on 3 May -- World Press Freedom Day -- discussed the economic benefits of a free media, RFE/RL reported on 5 May. "There is compelling evidence that a strong, independent and free press is a powerful ally to economic and social development and the reduction of poverty," Kilman wrote. The work of Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize laureate for economics, "established a link between an active media and the avoidance of famine and other disasters," Kilman noted. The World Bank has also found that the media's positive influence on markets -- as a conduit for information and "its ability to give a voice to the poor" -- helps reduce poverty while promoting public debate. CC
CPJ NAMES WORLD'S WORST PLACES TO BE A JOURNALIST. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 2 May released its list of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The list of 10 places represents the full range of current threats to press freedom. Iraq -- where nine journalists covering the U.S.-led military operation were killed during the first three weeks of hostilities -- tops the list. Four other international journalists in Iraq died in accidents or from illnesses. CPJ also placed Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Belarus on its list. CC
AFGHANISTANAFGHANISTAN NAMED THE FOURTH-WORST PLACE TO BE A JOURNALIST. Afghanistan placed fourth in a list of the world's 10 worst places to be a journalist released by the CPJ on 2 May. The CPJ report states that the unchecked power of local warlords and weak rule of law make Afghanistan an inhospitable media environment. Despite the new freedoms enjoyed by the media after the ouster of the repressive Taliban regime, journalists have complained that it is impossible to write and speak freely because of threats, physical intimidation, and assaults. According to the CPJ, these abuses are often committed by politicians and military commanders who use government security forces to harass independent journalists. The CPJ acknowledges that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has "publicly championed press freedom," but the report says his administration has "not moved aggressively to stop attacks against the press." Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Barometer (http://www.rsf.org) has listed Afghanistan among countries with "noticeable problems" -- a category that includes Spain and India -- while most countries in the Middle East and Central Asia are listed as countries with "difficult" or "very serious" media situations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
PRESS CLUB INAUGURATED IN KABUL. The independent Kabul Press Club was inaugurated in Kabul on 29 April, Pakistan's "Daily Times" reported on 1 May. Abdul Hai Warshan, chairman of the Afghan Center for Promotion of Communication, said the opening of the Press Club is "a dream come true." Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Sayyed Makhdum Rahin cancelled his scheduled appearance at the opening because he had an important meeting, the report added. Vincent Brossel, the Asia-Pacific desk chief for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said that with the inauguration of the Press Club it is hoped that "Afghan journalists working for Afghan and foreign media will find an open place where they can meet, [hold discussions], share views, and defend their rights to freedom of expression." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
CHAIRMAN APPROVES COMMITTEE FOR JOURNALISTS' RIGHTS. Chairman Karzai has formally approved a commission that Afghan journalists set up nine months ago in an effort to defend their rights, Radio Afghanistan reported on 4 May. Officials of the transitional government have recently threatened a number of journalists in Kabul and other areas of Afghanistan, the report added. Radio Afghanistan commented that it "would be difficult to anticipate the practical performance of a commission formed to support journalists and writers." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
ARE FOREIGN FM BROADCASTS ILLEGAL? Speaking to Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service on 5 May, Afghan Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi said that foreign FM radio broadcasts in Afghanistan violate the provisions of the 1964 Afghan Constitution, and that when Afghan radio and television expands its programming there will be no need to allow such broadcasts. In February 2002, the Afghan Interim Administration implemented a new media law that does not restrict the right to publish print media only to Afghan citizens or limit broadcasting rights only to the state. The 1964 Afghan Constitution will be replaced by a new constitution in October and the preliminary draft has no restrictions on foreign entities' rights to broadcast via FM frequencies or any other broadcast medium in Afghanistan ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
ARMENIAARMENIAN PRESS CLUB SLAMS PRESIDENT. The Armenian National Press Club (NPC), which comprises mostly opposition journalists, on 3 May issued a strong condemnation of President Robert Kocharian, labeling him an "enemy of the press" and denouncing his increasing restrictions on the media, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The condemnation, issued on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, criticized the Kocharian government for its closure of the independent A1+ television station, one of the government's harshest critics and, until its April 2002 closure, one of the country's few truly independent media outlets. The larger, more mainstream Yerevan Press Club, while distancing itself from the National Press Club, also noted that press freedom in Armenia has been seriously eroded over the past year. In a recent report released by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House that also deplored the closure of A1+, the Armenian media was negatively rated as "Not Free," and the Armenian government was criticized for "stifling dissent and intimidating journalists critical of its policies." The Armenian government maintains that A1+ was denied its broadcast frequency and forced off the air as a result of a fair competitive-bidding process that was in full conformity with the Armenian law on television and radio. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION NEWSPAPER OFFICE ATTACKED. A group of 30-40 unidentified attackers forced their way into the editorial offices of the opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper on 5 May, Turan, ITAR-TASS, and ANS reported. The attackers threatened the few staff in the office during the late-night incident and broke furniture and windows before moving on to ransack files. Witnesses told police that the attackers were searching for Editor Rauf Arifoglu, who was not in the office at the time. The head of the OSCE office in Baku, Peter Burkhart, visited the office after the attack and decried the incident as an "an attack on the free media and a violation of freedom of speech." The newspaper is the official organ of the opposition Musavat (Equality) Party. Baku police have launched an investigation and are reportedly questioning four suspects. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
GOVERNMENT ISSUES OFFICIAL WARNING TO FOUR OPPOSITION NEWSPAPERS. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 7 May warned the newspapers "Yeni Musavat," "Hurriyet," "Azadliq," and "Milliyet" that they violated the press law by publishing allegedly contentious articles about President Heidar Aliev. RSF the same day protested official harassment of the opposition media in Azerbaijan, saying it fears that legal harassment of media outlets and physical attacks on journalists will increase in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for October. CC
BELARUSOFFICIAL ASSAULT ON THE MEDIA INTENSIFIES. In naming Belarus as one of the world's 10 worst places to be a journalist, the CPJ on 2 May cited Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's continued "assault against the country's beleaguered independent and opposition press." In April 2003, Lukashenka announced plans to create a "state-ideological system." A proposed new law on the media will subject Internet publications "to the same crippling censorship as the printed press," the CPJ wrote. In 2002, journalists in Belarus were convicted for the first time of criminal libel and received corrective-labor sentences ranging from 12-24 months for criticizing Lukashenka before the 2001 presidential elections. Politically motivated civil libel lawsuits, which threaten huge fines, continue to hamper the media, forcing one leading independent publication to close in 2002. The CPJ also noted that no progress has been made in the investigation of the July 2000 disappearance of ORT television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, although the case was reopened late last year. CC
CZECH REPUBLICCOURT TOSSES OUT MEDIA MOGUL'S DEFAMATION SUIT. A Prague city court on 5 May rejected a libel suit brought by TV Nova Director and Senator Vladimir Zelezny against a former subordinate who has since opposed Zelezny in an ongoing legal battle for control of the station, CTK reported. Citing procedural grounds, Judge Jaroslava Lobotkova ruled that Zelezny may not sue Jan Vavra as an individual in the case, since he was identified as the director of rival CNTS in an opinion piece Vavra contributed to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 27 November 2001. Zelezny alleged that Vavra wronged him personally and denied him the presumption of innocence in that article and was seeking some 100,000 crowns ($3,630) in damages and a published apology. The judge also said Zelezny did not specify which information in the article was untrue. Vavra, a former news director under Zelezny, joined forces with Ron Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises (CME) after Zelezny ousted those investors in 1999. A lawyer for Zelezny, who faces six charges of defrauding a creditor and tax evasion in connection with the station, vowed to appeal the ruling. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
IRANIRANIAN LEGISLATOR CRITICIZES CENSORSHIP. Parliamentarian Fatimeh Haqiqatju on 6 May called for an end to the censorship imposed by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, the Fars News Agency reported. Speaking at Tehran's 16th International Book Fair, she criticized the persecution of authors and the investigation of books at the same time the country is propounding President Mohammad Khatami's "Dialogue Among Civilizations." Haqiqatju said cumbersome judicial and disciplinary policies can lead to an insecure atmosphere for intellectuals and could contribute to a brain drain. If authors see that their books will not be published in Iran, they might try to be published abroad, she said. Haqiqatju, who in early 2001 encountered politically inspired legal problems, said there should be juries in publishing-related trials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
JUDICIARY MOVES TO CENSOR INTERNET. Prosecutor-General Abdonabi Namazi said on 5 May that the judiciary will create a special unit to deal with Internet-related issues, the "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Namazi explained that promoting corruption, on paper or on the Web, is a vice. In what could be a related matter, emrooz.org Director Ali Reza Alavitabar said in the 5 May issue of the newspaper "Aftab-i Yazd" that he has been summoned to court. Alavitabar said the line on the summons form that is supposed to show the charge against him had been crossed out, but for profession it said, "director of the Emrooz website." Alavitabar speculated that the summons relates to his current-affairs website or to what newspapers have written about his website. The Internet is becoming increasingly popular as a source of news for Iran's elites, and news that is not available elsewhere often appears first on rooznegar.com, emrooz.org, alliran.net, and other websites. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
IRAQU.S. INITIATES INQUIRY INTO FATE OF TWO MISSING ITN REPORTERS. RSF on 5 May welcomed the U.S. military's long-awaited 28 April decision to investigate the 22 March shooting incident in southern Iraq in which Independent Television News (ITN) reporter Terry Lloyd was killed and two members of Lloyd's crew went missing. In the incident, a four-member crew from Britain's ITN came under fire, probably from a group of U.S. Marines, near the southern city of Al-Basrah. Lloyd, 51, was killed, and Belgian cameraman Daniel Demoustier was wounded. The two other members of the crew, French cameraman Frederic Nerac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Othman, are still missing. CC
IRAQ TELEVISION BUILDING ATTACKED. The building that temporarily houses Iraq Television was attacked by unidentified gunmen who destroyed the studio and stole equipment, according to a 5 May Al-Jazeera report. The channel was to begin six hours of daily transmissions after several weeks off the air. An unidentified man told Al-Jazeera that television employees had requested protection for the building. "We want only an approval by the U.S. forces to arm some young men who have expressed their readiness to volunteer for free to protect this institution," he said. Al-Jazeera reported that employees and managers had to collect equipment in order to operate Iraq Radio. (RFE/RL Iraq Report, 6 May)
KAZAKHSTANOSCE EXPERTS COMPLETE REPORT ON JOURNALIST'S CASE. A group of Dutch legal experts commissioned by the OSCE have completed a report on the case of independent Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after being convicted of statutory rape. The Kazakh opposition is convinced the case was fabricated for political reasons, although the Kazakh government vehemently denies this. Speaking to Interfax-Kazakhstan on 4 May, activist Yevgenii Zhovtis said that the report of the Dutch experts has been completed and submitted to the OSCE and probably to the Kazakh government. Zhovtis added that he has been told the report is critical of the authorities. Zhovtis, one of Duvanov's defense lawyers, was reported as saying that the defense team will appeal Duvanov's conviction to the Kazakh Supreme Court once they have familiarized themselves with the OSCE report. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
KYRGYZSTANBISHKEK CITY COURT REJECTS NEWSPAPER APPEAL. The Bishkek Municipal Court has rejected an appeal by the Kyrgyz newspaper "Kyrgyz Ordo" against a lower-court ruling that fined the publication 350,000 soms ($7,702) for an article that Aydarbek Duyshaliev, deputy head of the State Customs Service, said was libelous, the website of "Delo No" reported on 30 April. DuyshAliyev had originally demanded 500,000 soms in compensation and the closure of "Kyrgyz Ordo." The newspaper's property was confiscated, and the publication has not appeared since the lower court's mid-January ruling. The editor in chief of "Kyrgyz Ordo" has announced his intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 2 May)
UZBEK-LANGUAGE WEBSITE LAUNCHED IN KYRGYZSTAN. A media firm set up by journalists in Kyrgyzstan has launched an Uzbek-language website (http://www.asrasia.org), centrasia.ru reported on 5 May. The firm, Asrushon Aziya, was set up by 18 Kyrgyz journalists primarily to distribute information about Central Asia via the Internet, according to its acting director, Hakimjan Husanov. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
MOLDOVAFREEDOM HOUSE CONSIDERS MEDIA PARTLY FREE. Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO whose stated aim is to spread democracy, in its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report released on 30 April ranked Moldova's media sector as "Partly Free." Freedom House ranked countries as "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free." "Independent media in Moldova face obstacles from restrictive libel laws, government pressure, and dependence upon state financing," the group writes. The report says that journalists frequently engage in self-censorship and that journalists risk being targets of harassment or physical assault, especially when reporting on corruption issues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
POLANDANTI-EU PARTY WANTS DEBATE IN PUBLIC MEDIA. Roman Giertych, leader of the staunchly anti-EU League of Polish Families, said on 30 April that debates between EU supporters and opponents should take place each week in the public media, PAP reported. Giertych said he plans to discuss the issue with public-television and radio executives. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
ROMANIAFREEDOM HOUSE, HELSINKI COMMISSION SAY MEDIA RESTRICTIONS REMAIN. Freedom House, in its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report released on 30 April, singled out Romania as the only EU candidate country in which the media is not entirely free, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported on 2 May. The Romanian media sector received a ranking of "Partly Free" in the report. The report said Romania's ranking came as a result of its recently adopted law on classified information, as well as constant political interference with the state-owned media. Freedom House provided as an example the private ProTV station, which owes $50 million to the state budget and depends on the government for its survival. On 3 May, U.S. Representative Christopher Smith (Republican, New Jersey), co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), a U.S. government agency that is also known as the United States Helsinki Commission, called on Romania to abrogate laws referring to insults of public officials and defamation. Smith added that if the Romanian parliament were to show a real effort to reform Romania's Penal Code, it would demonstrate the country's commitment to the reform process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
PRESS CLUB HAILS CHANGES TO DRAFT PENAL CODE. The Romanian Press Club (CRP) in a 1 May press release hailed the changes to the draft Penal Code that are to be presented to parliament, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. The Justice Ministry revised the draft after talks with the CRP and nongovernmental organizations. The new version eliminates the clause that would have made insulting a public official a punishable offense and makes defamation punishable only by a fine, while an earlier version allowed for prison sentences. CRP Chairman Cristian Tudor Popescu said he hopes parliament will approve the draft and vowed that media outlets will protest if it does not. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
RUSSIAMEDIA WATCHDOGS GIVE RUSSIA POOR MARKS. Press freedom continued to shrink in Russia during the past year, according to reports issued by several watchdog groups in connection with World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. Russia was among the 10 countries criticized by RSF for governmental limitations on media freedom. RSF particularly noted the dangers of reporting in and around Chechnya. The CPJ named Chechnya as one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist, noting that Russian policies have accomplished "the government's goal of preventing journalists from reporting on the [Chechnya] war's devastation" (see http://www.cpj.org). (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
FOUR REPORTERS KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH. Four Russian journalists were killed on 3 May when a large firefighting helicopter in which they were traveling crashed near Chita, the CPJ reported on 5 May, citing local and international press reports. RTR journalist Yulyana Nakhodkhina, RTR camera operator Konstantin Kozar, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" journalist Galina Kovalskaya, and "Yezhnedelnyi zhurnal" photographer were all killed in the incident. A criminal inquiry has been launched into the crash, AP reported, and President Vladimir Putin has called for the creation of a commission to investigate the incident. CC
POLICE STORM RADIO STATION IN URALS CITY. Police in the Urals city of Noyabrsk on 6 May raided the popular opposition radio station Krasnaya Armiya, the CPJ reported on 7 May. According to the report, the raid came after the City Election Commission annulled the results of the city's 4 May mayoral election in four electoral districts, a move that gave incumbent Mayor Yurii Link a lead over challenger Anatolii Kudryashov and sparked a wave of public protests in support of Kudryashov. During the campaign, Krasnaya Armiya supported Kudryashov and criticized Link, for which it allegedly was the victim of official harassment. Station Director Sergei Zubanov told CPJ that approximately seven staff members were manhandled and handcuffed during the police raid, in which some 40 police officers took part. Zubanov also said police knocked his head against a wall. Several journalists were taken to a local police station and detained for several hours. On 7 May, which is Radio Day in Russia, a report was posted on Zubanov's website (http://nojabrsk.com) saying that a local court had fined three of the detained journalists 1,000 rubles ($32) each for obstructing the police. Zubanov's court hearing was postponed because he was still in the hospital following the incident. Krasnaya Armiya has been off the air since the police raid. CC
THREE TOP MANAGERS QUIT NTV. The heads of NTV's programming, personnel, and film departments have resigned from the network, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 May. They join four other senior NTV executives who have resigned since Nikolai Senkevich became the network's general director in January. According to "Vremya novostei," NTV's star anchor and chief news editor Tatyana Mitkova will also leave the network soon. At the end of April, Senkevich issued a directive giving himself and his first deputy, Aleksandr Gerasimov, the final say on news-story selection and installing "shift editors" who report directly to him instead of to Mitkova. Lenta.ru reported on 6 May that NTV journalists consider the move tantamount to imposing internal censorship. Mitkova considers Senkevich's order a violation of the law on the mass media and has said she will not implement it. Unnamed sources at NTV told "Vremya novostei" that Mitkova has already received other job offers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
COURT REJECTS 'ZAVTRA' EDITOR'S LAWSUIT AGAINST MEDIA MINISTRY. A Moscow court on 5 May rejected a lawsuit filed by "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov against the Media Ministry, "Gazeta" reported on 6 May. The ruling leaves in place the ministry's official warning issued to "Zavtra" for publishing an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev. The warning characterized that interview as extremist material that incited ethnic enmity. "Zavtra" may be shut down if it receives another official warning. Prokhanov told "Gazeta" it would be easy for the Media Ministry to find a "pretext" for such an action. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
GOVERNMENT COMMISSION ON PIRACY HOLDS FIRST MEETING. A government commission formed in October to tackle the problem of intellectual piracy held its first session on 6 May with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promising action against the "total lawlessness" in the area of intellectual-property rights, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 May. According to commission member and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, piracy accounts for some 80 percent of music and video sales in Russia. The commission will prepare amendments to the Civil Code concerning intellectual-property rights, and Lesin said those amendments will be drafted by September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
INTERNET USE CONTINUES TO RISE. Some 10.2 million Russian citizens, or 9.1 percent of the population, were Internet users in April, Interfax reported on 6 May, citing data provided by the companies SpyLOG and J'son & Partners. The highest proportion of people with Internet access is in Moscow and Moscow Oblast, where some 44 percent reported using the Internet. In St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, some 10 percent of the population has Internet access, while that figure in other regions does not exceed 3 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
DRAFT MEDIA LAW WOULD ELIMINATE REGISTRATION FOR INTERNET PUBLICATIONS. The Media Ministry's website has published a new draft law on the mass media that would lift registration requirements for Internet publications, lenta.ru reported on 2 May. The draft contains a new chapter regulating online media. Russia's current media law was adopted in December 1991, before Internet publications existed in Russia. According to lenta.ru, those wishing to publish online would not have to register with the Media Ministry under the draft law. Instead, they would be required only to inform the Media Ministry when an online media outlet began publication. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
BELGOROD JOURNALIST WINS GERMAN PRIZE... Germany's Union of Journalists has awarded its annual Free Press Prize to Olga Kitova, gazeta.ru reported on 4 May, citing Deutsche Welle. As a reporter for "Belgorodskaya pravda" and a deputy in the Belgorod Oblast Duma, Kitova published numerous articles critical of local officials including Governor Yevgenii Savchenko. Although the regional branch of Russia's Union of Journalists had awarded Kitova a prize for investigative reporting and she ostensibly had immunity from criminal prosecution as a member of the regional legislature, she was nonetheless arrested in 2001. Kitova was prosecuted on five criminal charges and eventually convicted of libel. A Belgorod Court gave her a suspended prison sentence of 2 1/2 years. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
...AS PENZA PUBLISHER FINDS MEANING OF LIFE. Yevgenii Guseinov, general director of the Penzenskaya Pravda publishing house in Penza Oblast, announced on 30 April that he is joining the Unified Russia party, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 4 May. Guseinov explained that his "spiritual needs and search for the meaning of life" drew him to the "party of support for the Russian president." According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Guseinov is on good terms with Penza Governor Vasilii Bochkarev, a supporter of Unified Russia. (RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
SERBIA AND MONTENEGROSERBIAN LEADERS MEET WITH MEDIA CHIEFS. Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac, and unspecified other government officials met in Belgrade on 5 May with the editors in chief of 15 leading Serbian periodicals and electronic-media outlets, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The editors expressed their misgivings about several aspects of the new media law, including taxation policy and the government's right to operate a news agency and ban the sale of periodicals. The government promised to study the journalists' complaints. The editors added that media people are tired of receiving "telephone calls and threats" from unspecified cabinet members and other government officials. Korac replied that "politicians are only human" and that sometimes they "lose control over themselves when they should not." He added that everyone, including politicians, has to learn that "the price of being involved in public life in a democratic society is often quite high." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
TAJIKISTANMORE ALLEGED HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS ARRESTED. Seven people alleged to be activists of the Muslim extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement have been arrested in northern Tajikistan and Dushanbe, Interfax reported on 30 April, quoting the Tajik Interior Ministry. The ministry was quoted as claiming that the detainees, all aged between 25 and 30, have been members of the movement for more than a year and that police searches of their homes had turned up large numbers of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and "religious propagandist literature." Interfax noted that since 2000, 120 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been detained in Tajikistan and several dozen have been jailed, while large quantities of the movement's literature have been seized. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 2 May)
UKRAINEPROSECUTOR SENTENCED, AMNESTIED IN CASE OF SLAIN JOURNALIST. A court in Kyiv on 6 May sentenced Serhiy Obozov, a former public prosecutor in Tarashcha Raion, Kyiv Oblast, to 2 1/2 years in prison for abuse of office and forgery in connection with the case of slain Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found near Tarashcha in November 2000, Interfax reported. The court found Obozov guilty of violating proper procedure and falsifying documents connected with the case. Simultaneously, the court excused Obozov from punishment, saying he was protected by an amnesty law at the time he committed his crimes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
UKRAINIAN DIASPORA TARGETS PULITZER PRIZEWINNER. The Ukrainian diaspora on 1 May launched a campaign aimed at seeing the late U.S. journalist Walter Duranty stripped of his 1932 Pulitzer Prize, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Duranty, then a correspondent for "The New York Times," received his prize for a series of articles he published in 1931 on Stalin's plans to reform the Soviet economy. Duranty subsequently maintained silence in his writings about a man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, in which an estimated 5 million-10 million people died. "[Duranty] completely ignored the Ukrainian famine; he even went as far as to lie that there was no famine, there was no genocide of the Ukrainian people," Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President Michael Sawkiw told RFE/RL. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
UZBEKISTANEBRD PRESIDENT MEETS UZBEK PRESIDENT, CALLS FOR MEETING REFORM GOALS. At the opening session of the EBRD annual meeting on 4 May, EBRD President Jean Lemierre delivered a statement in which he said that "Uzbekistan has the capacity for far more investment" than it is currently receiving and for greater economic development, uzreport.com reported on 5 May. But in order for the EBRD to invest more in the country, Lemierre said, Uzbekistan will have to meet some benchmarks that the bank has recently set against which Uzbekistan's performance will be measured. The political benchmarks include freedom for the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May)
COURT HEARING POSTPONED IN TASHKENT NEWSPAPER CASE. The start of the court hearing of a defamation case against the popular Tashkent newspaper "Zerkalo 21" was postponed on 6 May due to the illness of the judge, centrasia.ru reported on 7 May. According to one of two reports on the case, the judge might have developed his sudden illness -- he was reportedly in good health the previous day -- because of the large number of journalists in the courtroom. The case has attracted considerable interest among Uzbek journalists because it is a judge, Jamshid Saidaliev, who is suing the newspaper. SaidAliyev claims he was libeled in an article asserting that he freed a known criminal in violation of judicial procedures and reporting that the Tashkent prosecutor had formally protested that action. After SaidAliyev filed his case against "Zerkalo 21," its assets were seized, but the publication continued to appear. Last week the court declared the seizure illegal. Saidaliev's objective, according to the newspaper's lawyer, is to force the publication into bankruptcy, since the seizure of its assets failed to shut it down. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER TO BE DISTRIBUTED IN UZBEKISTAN. The independent Uzbek-language newspaper "Dustlik" (Friendship), published in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, will be distributed in neighboring Uzbekistan, according to the publication's Editor in Chief Barno Isakova, who said she has reached an agreement with the relevant Uzbek authorities, oshmedia.kg and Deutsche Welle reported on 5 May. The copies of the newspaper for distribution in Uzbekistan will be printed in Andijan for the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley and in Tashkent, Isakova was quoted as saying. She added that the Uzbek authorities have demanded that any articles that offend official Tashkent be replaced by advertisements in the Uzbekistan edition. Oshmedia.kz noted that this is the first time the Kyrgyz press will be distributed officially in Uzbekistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
REGIONALU.S. RIGHTS GROUP SIGNALS PRESS FREEDOM STILL WEAK IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE... Freedom House released its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report on 30 April, noting that 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 the group's website (http://www.freedomhouse.org). The conclusions include classification of countries' media as "Free" (0-30 points), "Partly Free" (31-60 points), or "Not Free" (61-100 points). "Of the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, nine (33 percent) are rated Free, eight (30 percent) are Partly Free, and 10 (37 percent) are Not Free," the group said. Ratings in Central and Eastern Europe, listed alphabetically, are: Belarus (82), Czech Republic (23), Estonia (17), Hungary (23), Latvia (18), Lithuania (18), Poland (18), Slovakia (21), and Ukraine (67). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
...AND IN DECLINE IN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE. Freedom House named Ukraine among 11 countries where ratings dropped from the "Partly Free" to "Not Free," according to the group's website. "Among the most serious developments were major setbacks for press freedom in Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela," the group noted in a press release accompanying the survey. Freedom House said several Ukrainian journalists were targeted by politically motivated libel lawsuits or punitive tax audits last year. "Russian and Ukrainian reporters who investigated official corruption were routinely intimidated and sometimes violently attacked," the group said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
KREMLIN PRESSURES ESTONIA TO SHUT DOWN CHECHEN WEBSITE. Russian officials have been pressing Estonian authorities to shut down the pro-independence Chechen website Kavkaz Center (http://www.kavkazcenter.com) for more than a week, CPJ reported on 1 May, citing local and international press reports. The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on Estonia several times to shutter the privately hosted site, but the request has been rejected by the Estonian government. Russia's campaign against kavkazcenter.com was initiated after the site posted a dramatic, two-minute video clip on 20 April that showed a rebel ambush in Chechnya on a bus reportedly carrying special police officers. The video was broadcast on some Russian television stations to the embarrassment of the Kremlin, whose reports on Chechnya had not mentioned the 15 April ambush. The website was running as of 1 May. Some Western and Russian journalists rely on the site for information due to official restrictions on access to the war-torn region, as well as security risks for journalists there. CC
END NOTESAFETY: THE ULTIMATE PRESS-FREEDOM ISSUE
By Don Hill
More than 1,200 reporters and media workers have been killed on the job since 1990, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The International Press Institute (IPI) says the need for increased security for journalists has never been more urgent. Safety for war correspondents and other journalists is a central aim of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Now into this alphabet soup of journalistic organizations is ladled a new entry -- the International News Safety Institute (INSI).
The INSI is so new it doesn't yet have a staff, a home, or a budget. One of its founding organizations, the IFJ, is supplying all that for now. IFJ human rights officer Sarah de Jong, speaking for INSI, says the need for an organization that focuses exclusively on the safety of journalists has grown vastly over the last decade or so. "What we have seen is a definite increase in victims in the journalist community," de Jong said. "Since 1990, [IFJ] has counted more than 1,200 journalists and media staff killed in the line of their work. Of course, not all of those are necessarily related to wars. However, out of that number, approximately 280 journalists [were] killed in war zones, out of which the majority are what we would call local journalists."
INSI's organizers conceived the organization last November, but it took on new urgency with the war in Iraq, which the IFJ says was "one of the bloodiest events in the history of journalism." The IFJ counts 16 media workers dead or missing and presumed dead in the conflict. IFJ General Secretary Aidan White and IPI Director Johann Fritz convened a meeting of their staffs and recruited a broad coalition of news organizations. One of the concerns they identified at the outset was the special vulnerability of local journalists, as compared to international correspondents. "International correspondents parachute into a conflict and are able to leave, as well as to have the necessary backup, such as the appropriate insurance, the appropriate risk-awareness training, as well as the flak jackets, the satellite telephones, the armored vehicles, and everything else that they would require in order to do their job in the safest possible way," de Jong said.
In many cases, as INSI founders see it, local journalists and foreign correspondents often go into dangerous situations side by side. Frequently, the locals act as assistants, interpreters, or drivers for the foreign correspondents. And when the correspondents go home, the locals remain behind. "So one of the main aims of the International News Safety Institute is to make the information and the necessary training, as well as equipment, available to all corners of the world, especially those corners that could never afford this type of training or equipment or insurance," de Jong said.
There is, of course, already an NGO dedicated to the safety of journalists, the New York-based CPJ. The INSI might be accused of being unnecessary or redundant. Not so, says de Jong. "As a matter of fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists is a supporting organization, is one of the founder organizations of the International News Safety Institute," de Jong said. "And one of the CPJ board members is actually also a board member of the INSI."
CPJ Deputy Director Joel Simon concurs. "[The INSI] does safety training and helps journalists narrowly on safety issues," Simon said. "And we do advocacy, such as sending letters and organizing missions on a wide variety of press freedom issues." Simon says the INSI will work to lessen the likelihood that a given journalist will be killed or injured, while the CPJ works to make the environment safer for journalists in general and to protest against inhibiting conditions. "So, in a sense, the INSI is going to be largely proactive, and we are largely reactive," Simon added.
The IPI issued a statement this week saying that journalists around the world have been killed at the rate of five per month since 1997 and suggesting that safety for journalists might be the ultimate press issue. "Such deaths have placed a high price on the right of everyone under Article 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights to 'seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,'" the IPI statement read.
Don Hill is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.