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Media Matters: June 24, 2003

24 June 2003, Volume 3, Number 23
RIGHTS COMMISSION, UN CONCERNED ABOUT AFGHAN JOURNALISTS JAILED FOR BLASPHEMY. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN voiced concern over the 17 June arrest in Afghanistan of two journalists on charges of defaming Islam, AP reported. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva called the country's press laws ambiguous and justification for the detentions "unclear." "Aftab" Editor Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Riza Payam were reportedly arrested on orders issued by the Attorney General's Office for publishing an article on 11 June titled "Holy Fascism" that criticized Islam. The weekly's offices have been shut down, according to Deputy Information Minister Abdul Hamid Mubarrez. Representatives from the AIHRC and the UN visited Mahdawi and Payam in a Kabul jail and reportedly found them in good condition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)

PUBLICATION BANNED... The Information and Culture Ministry banned the independent Kabul weekly "Aftab" on 17 June for violating the press law, the Bakhtar news agency reported. The ban was reportedly imposed because of the weekly's publication on 11 June of an article entitled "Holy Fascism." Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez said the length of the ban has not been specified and it is not known exactly what the penalty will be. Bakhtar reported that he Information and Culture Ministry has summoned "Aftab" Editor in Chief Mir Husayn Mahdawi to provide explanations regarding his publication. Reuters on 18 June cited an unidentified Afghan official as saying Mahdawi has been arrested. Mahdawi, known for his open criticism of Afghan government officials, is said to belong to a communist group or party, according to Reuters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)

...FOR AN ARTICLE THAT CRITICIZED ISLAM. RFE/RL has obtained a copy of the article that led to the ban on "Aftab." The article, which was written by Mahdawi, is critical of the power of Muslim clerics and Islam in general. Mahdawi begins his article by questioning why no signs of advancement can be seen in Islamic societies, and answers that the Islam followed by most Muslims is used by clerics as a means to gain power. Mahdawi criticizes what he calls "mullasalari" (rule of mullas) and names several Afghan mujahedin leaders as culprits, including former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of Hizb-e Islami. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)

SUSPENDED NEWSPAPER PLEDGES TO CONTINUE FINDING WAY TO READERS. Future issues of the suspended "Belarusskaya delovaya gazeta" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003) will continue to be printed in the Russian city of Smolensk under the mastheads of other private publications, Belapan reported on 13 June, quoting Svyatlana Kalinkina, the newspaper's editor in chief. Following its suspension, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" managed to print stories under the mastheads of three private newspapers, but Belarusian authorities have already suspended one of them, warned the second, and confiscated part of the print run of the third. "There are some 200 newspapers in Belarus that [are registered but] do not appear," "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" publisher Pyotr Martsau told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. "We can publish [our materials under the mastheads of] all of them." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June)

ACTIVISTS, JOURNALISTS DETAINED. The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 18 June that national-religious activists Mohammad Rezai and Ali Asghar Sadeqi were arrested the previous night. ILNA did not mention who made the arrests, and reported that Sadeqi has been transferred to an unknown location. Reporters Without Borders on 18 June protested against the arrests of six journalists over a three-day period. Ensafali Hedayat of "Salam" was detained on 16 June, and Mohsen Sazgara of the website and "Gulistan-i Iran" Editor Amin Bozorgian were detained on 15 June. Three journalists -- Taqi Rahmani of "Omid-i Zanjan," "Iran-i Farda" Editor Reza Alijani, and "Iran-i Farda" staff member Hoda Saber -- were detained on 14 June. Vigilantes abducted Bozorgian and Hedayat, and their families have not heard any news of them since. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June)

OBLAST COURT REFUSES TO REVIEW JOURNALIST'S CASE. Lawyers for imprisoned Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov announced on 19 June that the Almaty Oblast Court has refused to review the case against their client, who was sentenced in January to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment for statutory rape, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Duvanov has always insisted on his innocence of the charge and his supporters insist the case against the journalist and human rights activist was politically motivated. The oblast court also refused an appeal by relatives of the purported victim seeking a harsher sentence for Duvanov. A Committee for the Liberation of Sergei Duvanov has been formed, and it has announced that it will continue trying to persuade the court to review the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)

OPPOSITION PAPER FORCED TO CLOSE UNDER HAIL OF LAWSUITS... The Kyrgyz opposition Russian-language newspaper "Moya stolitsa" (My Capital) announced it was publishing its last issue, finally succumbing to punitive fines in libel suits launched against the paper by government officials, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and local human rights groups reported on 13 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003). Kyrgyz human rights activist Tursunbek Akun commented that the case represented the government's "complete pressure against freedom of speech" in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Reporters Without Borders, the French media-freedom organization, condemned the newspaper's 11 June closure due to bankruptcy. The paper has been ordered to pay approximately $90,700 in damages and fines in the course of 31 lawsuits in the past two years. The legal actions stemmed from complaints filed by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, who claimed he was libeled in a 2 April article by NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society Deputy Chairman Mikhail Korsunskii, who accused Tanaev of embezzling public health funds, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on 17 June. "Moya stolitsa" had previously faced fines in March for a complaint by Merliside, a company run by the president's son-in-law, Adil Toygonbaev, who was accused of tax fraud in the paper. CAF

...BIDS FAREWELL TO READERS. In a last statement to readers in the final 13 June issue, editors of "Moya stolitsa" explained that they were forced to close the paper or face bankruptcy, proceedings for which had already been launched in court. 'We lost all our court cases. We lost in that reality which exists today in Kyrgyzstan.... And while we are leaving, we bow our heads before the power of free thought, we are happy that we tried to clear a path for it for the people of Kyrgyzstan." The editors have plans to try to start a new paper, "Advokat" (Lawyer), but are uncertain whether officials will tolerate it. In a statement released in defense of "Moya stolitsa," the U.S. human rights group Freedom House urged the government to "impose a moratorium on civil lawsuits against journalists and media outlets and move immediately to initiate new legislation to guarantee a free and independent press." In its annual "Freedom of the Press Survey," Freedom House rated Kyrgyzstan "not free." CAF

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER FINED. The Lenin Raion Court in Bishkek has ordered the independent publication "Obshchestvennyi reiting" to pay Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov 50,000 soms (about $1,190) and two Foreign Ministry employees 25,000 soms each in damages because of an article posted on the Internet by the newspaper in February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 16 June, quoting Editor in Chief Aibek Chekoshev. The article, written anonymously, asserted that the Foreign Ministry is riddled with corruption, embezzlement, and cronyism. The ministry sued the publication, demanding 10 million soms as compensation for the damage to its reputation. First Deputy Foreign Minister Talantbek Kushchubekov filed a separate suit, seeking 1 million soms. The court has not yet taken up his case. Chekoshev said he intends to appeal the court's verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)

NEW MEDIA LAW MAY THREATEN PRESS FREEDOM, SAY JOURNALISTS. Journalists are concerned that new Criminal and Civil codes that went into effect on 12 June could threaten press freedom, Basapress and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported on 13 June. In a statement the same day, the Independent Journalism Center in Chisinau ( said the new laws preserve features of old legislation restricting the media, and even worsen them, in their view. Journalists are particularly concerned about the criminal libel article, punishable by up to five years of prison, which serves to intimidate reporters and commentators critical of government figures in particular. Such punitive measures have been removed from many liberalizing transition states in Eastern Europe, often under the pressure of entry into the Council of Europe. The preservation of the article represents a major step backwards, local journalists and international media freedom groups believe, and they have called for its removal. Reporters have lost 90 percent of the civil libel suits brought against them, and fear more suits will be coming under the new laws. Independent media outlets are pressured under restrictive press laws, and state media cannot be trusted to deliver the news accurately, say local journalists. The Independent Journalism Center together with the Center for Sociological, Political, and Psychological Analysis monitored 14 TV and 10 radio stations before local elections last month, and found them to be biased, "Moldova Media News" reported on 27 May. They said open debates among candidates were not organized. Radio Moldova was singled out for what was characterized as an "aggressive campaign" against the rival of the Communist Party of Moldova's candidate for mayor of Chisinau. CAF

JOURNALIST'S SUSPICIOUS DEATH RAISES DOUBTS ABOUT MEDIA FREEDOM. Authorities are investigating the death of a journalist whose body was discovered earlier this year after he disappeared in June 2002, RFE/RL reported on 12 June. Police this month announced that DNA tests have identified a skeleton found in March as being that of journalist Iosif Costinas, 62, from Timisoara, a city some 500 kilometers west of Bucharest. Although there is no confirmation so far that Costinas was murdered, journalists and media watchdog groups have expressed suspicions that his death may have been connected to his work. Costinas was best-known for his investigations into the role of the dreaded communist-era secret police, the Securitate, in the killing of scores of Timisoara protesters in the country's 1989 anticommunist revolt. Costinas took active part in the revolt. Only a few of those army and Securitate officers responsible for the more than 1,000 protesters killed throughout Romania have been identified, and even fewer have faced punishment. Journalist Malin Bot, of the Timisoara newspaper "Ziua de Vest," told RFE/RL that at the time of his disappearance, Costinas was gathering documents for a book on local Securitate officers who fired into the crowds. ("Romania: Journalist's Suspicious Death Raises New Doubts About Media Freedom,", 12 June)

MEDIA MINISTRY PULLS TVS OFF THE AIR... The Media Ministry cut off TVS's television broadcasts in the early morning of 22 June, Russian media reported. As some news media reports speculated earlier, the station's broadcasting frequency has been offered to Sport TV, which was recently created by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company. According the Media Ministry's statement, which was distributed by RIA-Novosti, the ministry said it is acting "to protect the interests of television viewers." "This decision was not an easy one to make," but the ministry "has an obligation to defend the rights of television viewers and cannot allow a vacuum to be formed on a central television channel," the statement said. The ministry also charged that "large loans and financial resources were involved that could have made it possible to create a basis for successful work," but these "positive prerequisites were wasted, and within less than a year of work, TVS's finances, personnel, organization, and management were in crisis." The statement did not specify if or when a new tender to broadcast on the frequency would be held. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)

...AS SOME LAMENT RETURN TO STATE-CONTROLLED TV... Commenting on the station's closure, Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov concluded that "the frequency the television station has used has been nationalized and all federal channels are now under the state's control." "The state is now the sole monopolist in the area of federal television stations," he added. Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Union of Journalists, commented: "It is not an accident that all this occurred on the eve of elections. It is necessary to cement up fully the information field," Interfax reported. "It is sad that one of the last independent private television stations has not managed to settle its organizational, financial, and probably, political problems," Yabloko Deputy Sergei Ivanenko commented. "And everything that has happened once again proves that business and power are inseparable, and the myth that by privatizing the television station, the oligarchs will be able to make it independent of the authorities is just a myth." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)

...AND OTHERS SEE END TO PROLONGED BUSINESS DISPUTE. Television personality Vladimir Pozner said that he is not searching for a political subtext to the departure of TVS from the air. "This is a typical example of when people [shareholders] cannot agree," Pozner said, according to Interfax. "TVS was the last private federal channel," he noted. "All the rest are directly or indirectly state-controlled.... And for this at least, I am afraid." Unity Deputy Oleg Kovalev said that the Media Ministry had legitimate reasons to take the station off the air. "Everything should be guided by the law," Kovalev said. "If the Media Ministry had sufficient grounds, then we cannot help it." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)

BILL TO RESTRICT MEDIA COVERAGE OF ELECTIONS MOVES TO UPPER CHAMBER. Duma deputies passed on 18 June in its third reading a bill restricting media coverage of elections, Russian media reported. The vote was 358 in favor and 41 against, RosBalt reported. Under the bill, a media outlet could have its license or registration annulled if found guilty of multiple violations of election rules. The legislation also imposes harsher penalties on non-media entities that violate election rules. For example, a person found guilty of falsifying election results could receive up to four years in prison, according to ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)

NEWSPAPER CONDEMNS NEW MEDIA LEGISLATION. "Vremya-MN" argued on 19 June that the legislation on media coverage of elections essentially "removes the media from the election process." According to the daily, the law -- if enacted -- would enable state officials to decide whether a journalist or author of a letter to a publication was attempting to persuade readers to change their political positions on the eve of an election. An article about a record crop "could be taken as campaign advertising for the Agrarian Party." Any mention of delays in pension payments "could be taken for campaign advertising against Unified Russia," while "an advertisement for apple juice could be taken as secretly expressing support for Yabloko." The Federation Council is expected to consider the legislation on 25 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)

WEEKLY REMEMBERS ANOTHER INCIDENT FROM HISTORY OF 'THE NEW YORK TIMES.' Reporting about the recent departure of "The New York Times'" executive editor and the episode involving former reporter Jason Blair, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," No. 73, recalled the career of "The New York Times" correspondent Walter Duranty. The weekly noted that Duranty, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his "dispassionate and objective reporting" from the Soviet Union, labeled reports about a famine in Ukraine "baseless." According to the weekly, people who knew Duranty recall that he in fact knew that 7 million people had died. The weekly speculates that Duranty was a paid agent of the Soviet secret police. It wrote that many of his articles "were clearly prepared with the assistance of the [secret police's] foreign department." Another possibility, according to the weekly, was that Duranty's work was an expression of "ideal amorality." Duranty was a close associate of satanist Alistair Crowley. At one point, Crowley reportedly wrote to Duranty suggesting that in order for the Soviet regime to be "truly modern," Stalin should proclaim a law of Satanism. The Pulitzer Prize committee is currently reviewing Duranty's award as a result of international pressure calling for its revocation, UPI and other international media reported on 2 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June)

JOURNALISTS DENOUNCE NEW PRESS LEGISLATION. Serbian journalists this week launched a protest against what they say are attempts by the authorities to curb freedom of the press, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported on 13 June. Eighteen editors and members of journalist associations signed a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the government's role in drafting new press legislation. The document, which also contained a list of recommendations, was sent on 9 June to top Serbian officials and international organizations. It accused the authorities of failing to make "an irrevocable break with the practice of direct influence on the media". One of the document's signatories, Radio and TV B92 Editor in Chief Veran Matic, told IWPR that the situation is more difficult now than at any time since the democratic opposition came to power. "The polarization between the government and the media is very intense. This is the most complicated period for the Serbian media since [former President Slobodan] Milosevic was ousted in October 2000," IWPR quoted him as saying. CAF

ONE-THIRD OF SERBS APPROVE GOVERNMENT PRESSURE ON MEDIA. "Glas javnosti" and "Ipres" have researched what the Serbian people think about press bans and how they describe the government's attitude to the media, "Glas javnosti" and the Association of Independent Electronic Media reported in a press release on 16 June. Analyzing the response, "Ipres" concluded that the majority of Serbs (50.4 percent) believe that press bans are unnecessary because they jeopardize democratic freedoms. However a very high percentage (42.8 percent) see bans as a necessity which should be used only in extreme situations, while only 4.4 percent saw the banning of newspapers as a legitimate measure used by every state to protect itself from the abuse of democratic freedom. As far as Serbs' description of the present authorities' attitude to the media the situation is clearer, with 91.5 percent of people believing that the government is exerting some kind of pressure on media. Of these 91.5 percent, 60.7 percent say that the authorities are always exerting strong pressure on media, while 31.1 percent say that the government applies a reasonable amount of pressure on media, as does any other government. CAF

PRESIDENT LAUNCHES CONTEST AMONG TV OFFICIALS TO SEE WHO PRAISES HIM LEAST... Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 16 June that he is launching a competition among the directors of the three state television channels to determine who praised him the least, and the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 18 June. First prize in the contest is Niyazov's thanks. In announcing the contest, Niyazov complained about what he called the excessive television coverage of him and his activities, and the excessive praise heaped on him. He said he is tired of looking at his own portrait and that the focus of television coverage on him demonstrates the low professional level of broadcast journalists. He suggested that songs based on his poems should be broadcast instead, along with reports on what Turkmenistan has achieved since obtaining its independence. Niyazov has regularly voiced similar complaints about his personality cult for at least the last five years, but they have consistently resulted in an intensification, rather than a reduction, of that cult. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June)

...AND ATTACKS RUSSIAN MEDIA. President Niyazov demanded international respect for his country and attacked the Russian media during his weekly televised cabinet meeting on 16 June, RIA-Novosti and reported on 17 June. The Russian media were targeted for allegedly discrediting Turkmenistan in their reporting on the revocation of a Turkmen-Russian dual-citizenship agreement. Niyazov also complained that some Russian politicians have joined the campaign to discredit his country. Turkmenistan, Niyazov said, should be respected as a neutral state, the basic principle of whose foreign policy is openness and noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries. Niyazov also announced that he will ask the Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly) at its annual session to approve constitutional changes that he said would improve Turkmenistan's national security, Interfax reported on 17 June. The report said Niyazov did not specify what those changes would be. After Niyazov's attack on the Russian media, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry issued a statement appealing to the Russian media for objectivity in its reporting of the citizenship issue. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)

RELIGIOUS INTERNET SITES BLOCKED. Forum18, an international religious news service, has discovered through using various Internet service providers that access to a U.S.-based Islamic radical site,, is now barred in Uzbekistan. The site contains Muslim and general news and describes itself as "the site of the Muslims of Uzbekistan" publishing in four languages: Uzbek, Arabic, Russian, and English. "This website informs about the true situation of Muslims of this region, on the many thousands of tortures which they undergo for their steadfast faithfulness to their religion," the site's owners declare. Also now barred is access to a Russian-based news site that often reports on religious issues in the region, The apparently new bar on access to these sites is in addition to the long-standing bar on the website, the British-based site of the radical Islamist party, which is banned in Uzbekistan. An Internet cafe owner in Tashkent told Forum18 that he monitored the surfing of his clients and reported suspicious activity to security services. CAF


By Antoine Blua

Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ), which already is the dominant publishing house for newspapers in Southeastern Europe, plans to expand its activities in the region. WAZ's director, Lutz Glandt, last month told the "Financial Times Deutschland" that his group was soon to take over three of the leading newspapers in Macedonia: "Dnevnik," "Utrinski Vesnik," and "Vest."

Also, the German media concern from Essen is about to take over the newspaper "Dnevnik" in Novi Sad, the capital of the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina. Last March the group concluded a strategic partnership -- 50 percent of the shares and the so-called golden vote in financial and commercial matters -- with Montenegro's daily "Vijesti." Further to the north, WAZ is also set to take over the influential Hungarian weekly news magazine "Heti Vilaggazdasag."

These projects reveal the general interest of German publishers -- including WAZ, Axel Springer, Rheinische Post Media, Verlagsgruppe Passau, Gruener & Jahr, and H. Bauer -- in Eastern Europe. They are offering a fresh start to many papers in the region, pumping in millions of euros. Yet there are fears the takeovers could lead to a suffocating monopoly, concentrating media in the hands of a few powerful concerns.

In the 1990s, at a time when they were receiving huge benefits, German media groups diversified their activities, moving east and hoping for an economic bonanza during the postcommunist transition. Now that the Western market is saturated, it is complicated to acquire titles, and very costly to launch new ones. So the German companies have turned their sights on Eastern Europe.

Horst Roper heads the Dortmund-based Formatt-Institut, a research institute on the media business. He told RFE/RL the competition between publishing houses in Western Europe is so fierce that there are better opportunities in Eastern Europe for expansion. "German companies are paying relatively low prices to buy up the publishers in Eastern Europe that usually play a leading role in their market segments. And then they build up these publishers. By doing this, they hope to improve these publishers' positions within their segments. This stronger position allows them to earn more money," Roper said.

Roper added that German media concerns, who in the West were confined to the magazine and weekly press market, have found more flexibility in Eastern Europe, where they have moved into the daily press market as well as more political publications. At a time when the Western daily market is experiencing a downturn and the advertising market is in a recession, Eastern Europe now provides a significant contribution to the German groups' turnovers.

Roman Latuske is spokesman of MAFRA, a Czech publishing house controlled by the Dusseldorf-based Rheinische Post Media. He told RFE/RL: "Today, the situation in the Western European media markets is very difficult. And that's why, you can say, our foreign 'engagement,' in principle, contributes significantly to the results for the entire company."

German media groups are also eager to solidify their expansion plans outside Germany, where the rules of competition are more loose. "You can do in Poland or the Czech Republic many economic things much more simply," Latuske said. "And you can react more flexibly because there is not as much bureaucracy here or special interests as in Germany." Rheinische Post Media controls the two prominent Czech newspapers "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Lidove noviny." It is also active in Poland.

German media concerns are regularly accused of monopolizing the Eastern European print market. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, for instance, German publishing houses control the majority of the local press. In Croatia, WAZ alone reportedly holds one-third of the daily paper market and one-half of the magazine market. In Bulgaria, WAZ reportedly controls about one-third of print publications and nearly half of the print advertising market.

There is a perception in both countries that independents cannot compete against what critics call WAZ monopolies. Critics accuse WAZ of trying to squeeze rival publications out of the market. For instance, WAZ distributes its papers on a sale-or-return basis. Distributors thus tend to order less from WAZ's competitors, who do not have a sale-or-return policy. Critics direct some of the blame at government bodies charged with safeguarding fair competition, which they say are not tackling WAZ's hold over print media.

Sanja Cosic is secretary-general of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia. She told RFE/RL Serbia welcomes investment in its print market, as with any sector. She added that her organization is not particularly worried by the inroads made by WAZ in Serbia. In March 2002, WAZ bought -- for 12.5 million euros -- 50 percent of the Serbian Politika publishing house, which owns three dailies, including the prominent "Politika," and 14 magazines, as well as printing and distribution systems.

Cosic said: "We are aware of those critics saying that WAZ is monopolist. As far as Serbia is concerned, their investment in the Politika [publishing house] is the only big one. So we would like to see more, maybe not just WAZ. We would not like to see a monopoly by any group but we would very much welcome any investment in the field of media."

Cosic said Serbian journalists work in poor conditions, with low salaries and no social security. One of the ways to improve the situation, she pointed out, is with an influx of foreign cash. "It is one solution for the transformation and improvement of the situation and the general position of journalists," Cosic said. "We've discussed what WAZ is doing right now for the transformation of 'Politika,' and I can say that people are not unsatisfied. They have a very good collective agreement, which gives them basic safety."

Cosic noted that WAZ has pushed for improvements in the publications' design and content. In this way, she said, their circulations are likely to increase.

RFE/RL correspondents Mark Baker and Charles Carlson contributed to this report.