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Media Matters: August 1, 2003

1 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 29
MEDIA ORGANIZATION'S CONSULTATIVE STATUS AT UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION SUSPENDED. On 24 July -- the same day that the Paris-based media group Reporters without Borders (RSF) published a report highly critical of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner (UNHRC) -- the RSF consultative status with the UNHRC was suspended for one year. The action by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was taken at the request of Cuba, RSF reported on 24 July, because RSF activists had staged a protest in March 2003 against the UNHRC decision to allow Libya to chair the commission. ECOSOC never invited RSF to provide an explanation of its decision. This violation of sanction procedures was criticized by the French government, which requested a postponement of the suspension decision. The RSF report on the UNHRC details its "excesses, shortcomings and the accelerating decline," and proposes a series of reforms, including the naming of an independent human-rights expert to chair the commission. The complete report is available in English and French on the Reporters Without Borders website ( CC

BESIEGED WRITERS RECEIVE AWARDS; 28 WRITERS FROM 13 COUNTRIES. A diverse group of 28 writers from 13 countries are receiving Hellman/Hammett grants in recognition of their courage in the face of political persecution, Human Rights Watch said on 29 July. Thirteen of the 28 grant recipients have asked Human Rights Watch not to release their names for fear of further reprisals, including journalists from Ukraine and Belarus. Included among those who gave permission to release news of their receipt of a Hellman/Hammett grant are Mark Grigorian (Armenia), a journalist who, after being seriously wounded in October 2002 by an unknown assailant, now lives in London and works on Armenia and the Caucasus at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Ismail Khoi (Iran), poet and essayist, was a university lecturer suspended after the 1979 Iranian revolution. After his colleague Saeed Soltanpoor was executed, Khoi spent two years in hiding and fled to England. Since then, he has chronicled life in exile and defended freedom of speech. The Iranian government has banned his books and prohibits media mention of his name (see more at: CC

IFJ: GOVERNMENTS NEED TO DEFEND MEDIA RIGHTS AND FREE EXPRESSION. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), with 500,000 members worldwide, attended the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Intersessional meeting in Paris from 15-18 July to discuss a draft declaration and action plan for the summit. "[T]his meeting ended without any specific reference to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression," said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary on 25 July. "Too many journalists and media workers today are the victims of violence and there is too much censorship, both of the Internet and media at large, to ignore the fact that freedom of expression has not yet been achieved in many countries of the world," according to White. The IFJ is also concerned that the protection of creators and of authors to receive fair remuneration for the use of their work are not in the draft WSIS plan, nor is the need for core labor standards for workers in the information society (for more info e-mail or see CC

MORE HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SLAM TV TENDER. In a statement released in Strasbourg on 23 July, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer expressed his "disappointment and concern" that two independent Armenian television stations -- A1+ and Noyan Tapan -- were not awarded broadcast frequencies in a tender, the results of which were made public last week, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Schwimmer characterized the tender outcome as "another example of insufficient respect for pluralism in Armenia," noting that Armenian government officials have repeatedly assured the Council of Europe that independent broadcasters will be given "serious opportunities to become part of the audiovisual landscape." Reporters Without Borders also issued a statement on 23 July in which it said the ongoing failure to award broadcasting frequencies to A1+ and Noyan Tapan raises "serious doubts" about the impartiality of the Armenian government commission tasked with allocating broadcast frequencies, Noyan Tapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

SENIOR PARLIAMENTARIANS CRITICIZE BROADCASTING COMMISSION HEAD. Parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian (Republican Party of Armenia) and parliament Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Armen Rustamian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, or HHD) took issue on 24 July with remarks made the previous day by Grigor Amalian, chairman of the government commission that allocates broadcasting frequencies, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 23 July, Amalian shrugged off as unfounded domestic and international criticism of his commission's 18 July decision to reject tender bids for television frequencies by the independent broadcasters A1+ and Noyan Tapan. Amalian had suggested earlier that instead of protesting the refusal to grant A1+ a frequency, international agencies should provide the station with cash and broadcasting equipment. Torosian and Rustamian said on 24 July they will lobby for amendments to the law on broadcasting that regulates tenders for broadcast frequencies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

PRESIDENT DEFENDS DENIAL OF FREQUENCY TO INDEPENDENT TV STATION. A spokesman for Robert Kocharian said on 29 July that the president is surprised that the decision by the commission in charge of allocating broadcasting frequencies to reject bids for frequencies by the television stations Noyan Tapan and A1+ has been "politicized to such an extent," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE and the Council of Europe have both expressed concern that the two television stations have for more than a year been deprived of the possibility of broadcasting. Kocharian said the commission is an independent body and that he therefore has no right to interfere in its decisions. Anyone who disagrees with those decisions is free to take the commission to court, Kocharian added. On 30 July, the independent daily "Aravot" quoted Aleksan Karapetian, a close aide to opposition National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, as saying Kocharian personally blocked the resumption of A1+ broadcasts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)

INDEPENDENT MEDIA UNDER OFFICIAL PRESSURE IN RUN-UP TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION... On 28 July, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplored increased harassment of Azerbaijan's independent press in the runup to its presidential election in October. Eleven media activists and journalists, including six staffers for the opposition paper "Yeni Musavat," were detained for several hours on 26 July on charges of violating traffic regulations and insulting the police. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the daily paper "Yeni Musavat," has received threats against his life. On the same day, Justice Minister Fikret Mamadov accused the media of trying to destabilize the country before the 15 October presidential elections and said he would crack down on media outlets that did not respect the ban on undermining presidential "honor and dignity." A few hours later, Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov repeated these warnings. On 25 July, Interior Minister Usubov had accused opposition media of publishing defamatory and insulting material. "Yeni Musavat" and other independent papers have written on the declining health of 80-year-old President Heidar Aliev, hospitalized in Turkey since 8 July. CC

...RULING PARTY JOINS IN CALL FOR LEGAL ACTION. The press office of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party issued a statement on 24 July accusing the opposition newspapers "Yeni Musavat," "Azadlig," Cumhurriyet," "Muhalifat," "Yeni Zaman," and others of spreading "defamatory rumors" and "insulting the honor and dignity of the president" by publishing unverified and erroneous information concerning President Aliev's health, Turan reported. The statement called on Justice Minister Fikret Mamedov and the Press Council to take "appropriate measures" against the newspapers in question. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

OFFICIAL REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OF MEDIA CRACKDOWN. Claims by Ambassador Peter Burkhard, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Baku office, that there has been a recent upsurge in intimidation of and violence against journalists are untrue, presidential administration official Ali Gasanov told Interfax on 22 July. Nor do the police resort to violence against journalists observing unauthorized demonstrations, provided they do not participate in those demonstrations, Gasanov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

BAKU COMPLAINS TO TURKEY OVER TV REPORT ON PRESIDENT'S HEALTH. The Azerbaijani Embassy in Ankara has filed a formal complaint with the state Turkish Radio and Television Organization over a news report broadcast on 22 July by the private television station Star, Interfax reported on 23 July. Star's correspondent alleged that Azerbaijani President Aliev, who was undergoing medical treatment in Ankara's Gulhane military hospital, is suffering from several incurable diseases and that he is being treated with state-of-the art drugs that cost millions of dollars per month. Azerbaijani Ambassador to Turkey Mamed Aliyev (no relation to President Aliev) dismissed that report as "false and slanderous." He said the president will remain at Gulhane for "several more days," according to on 24 July. The ambassador is scheduled to convene a press conference on 24 July to comment on ongoing media speculation about the seriousness of Aliev's illness. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

SUSPENDED PUBLICATION'S APPEAL FAILS. Belarus's Higher Economic Court rejected an appeal on 23 July by the satirical periodical "Navinki" to cancel an official warning by the Information Ministry that served as grounds for a three-month suspension, Belapan reported. CTK reported that 10 Czech anarchists demonstrated later the same day on Wenceslas Square in Prague to express their solidarity with the suspended Belarusian periodical. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS BULGARIAN MEDIA THREATENED BY UNDERWORLD, COURTS. During the annual meeting of the Bulgarian Media Coalition (BMK) in Bansko on 28 July, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew linked cases of violence against journalists to organized crime and a weak judiciary, reported. Pardew said that a number of journalists have been attacked as a result of their investigations into the underworld and that in hundreds of cases, the courts have been used to intimidate journalists. Rumen Georgiev, acting director of the National Investigation Service, admitted that more than 200 journalists are currently under investigation, while not a single attack on a journalist has resulted in a guilty verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)

SUPREME COURT RETURNS BULGARIAN TELECOM PRIVATIZATION TO EARLIER STAGE. The last instance of the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 29 July that the state Privatization Agency Supervisory Board's decision to cancel the sale of a 65 percent stake of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to the Vienna-based Viva Ventures breached privatization regulations, reported. Earlier this month, the Privatization Agency had challenged a similar decision of a lower instance of the same court. Citing "legal inconsistencies" in the documentation submitted by Viva Ventures, the Privatization Agency reopened negotiations with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which initially finished second in the tender. On 18 July, the agency and the Turkish consortium signed a letter of intent on the sale. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)

LAWYER CONVICTED FOR SLANDERING OFFICIAL ON THE INTERNET. Lawyer Petr Partyk was sentenced to 200 hours community service by a Prague district court for slandering local building official Jiri Chour on a Prague Internet chat room, in the Czech Republic's first such conviction, the journal "Respekt" reported on 28 July. A higher court decreased the sentence to 150 hours of community service, CTK reported on 28 July. Chour ruled that investors who began extensive renovations of the attic in Partyk's apartment building could complete construction, although historical landmark authorities had ordered the project stopped. On the Internet, Partyk claimed that Chour had said that "he knows how to get around historical landmark officials," adding that "Chour is defending the policy of his wallet." The judge who heard the case said that the statement was untrue, but admitted that this could not be proven. In the judge's view, officials need protection from criticism by citizens. Meanwhile, a group of Czech parliamentarians are trying to have slander removed from the criminal statutes. As for Partyk, he told "Respekt" that he plans to file suit with the Czech Constitutional Court. If the lawyer loses that case, Partyk said he would then complain to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where he thinks he would "await hefty compensation." CC

CONSERVATIVES RALLY TO DEFEND RADIO PRESIDENT. A group of conservative intellectuals and entertainers countered a recent public demand for the resignation of Hungarian Radio President Katalin Kondor on 24 July, expressing "shock" at claims that the state broadcaster regularly airs anti-Semitic and racist programs, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. The group claimed Kondor has consistently been the target of politically motivated attacks. It added that after "the politically inspired reorganization at Hungarian Television," those currently in power and "their loyal mercenaries" want Hungarian Radio to become their mouthpiece. The letter was signed by opera singer Denes Gyulas, former soccer stars Gyula Grosics and Jeno Buzanszky, and several conservative intellectuals, among others. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

MILITARY COURT WASHES HANDS OF KAZEMI CASE. The head of the Armed Forces Judicial Organization, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Niazi, said on 24 July that the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Tehran Military Court, Fars News Agency reported. Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham had said two days earlier that the Tehran Prosecutor's Office has completed its work and any further work is within the jurisdiction of the military court. The case has been returned to the branch that was dealing with the case previously, Niazi said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

ARRESTS MADE IN CASE OF CANADIAN JOURNALIST. Tehran's Public and Revolutionary Court announced on 26 July that five individuals who were involved in the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi have been arrested and jailed, ISNA reported. The news agency did not identify these individuals. The arrests came just one day after an anonymous Prosecutor's Office official was cited by AP as saying that Judge Javad Ismaili is heading the new probe into the case. Ismaili reportedly began his preliminary investigation with a visit to Evin Prison, where Kazemi was held following her arrest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

OTTAWA WANTS FOLLOW-THROUGH ON JOURNALIST'S DEATH... Ottawa said on 23 July that it is considering trade sanctions and travel restrictions on Iranians who want to visit Canada as a protest against the Iranian regime's burial of Kazemi, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 24 July. Trade between the two countries was worth more than $500 million in 2002, with Iran exporting oil and petroleum products and buying Canadian wheat. Canadian credit assistance to Iran was worth some $156 million. Foreign Minister Graham said that Canada is encouraging its European allies to impose sanctions. Prime Minister Jean Chretien told reporters after a cabinet meeting: "I am very unhappy that they would take a journalist and kill a journalist. It is unacceptable and I protested very strongly, but there is nothing I can do to bring her back to life." Ottawa will press for Kazemi's exhumation and return to Canada and has recalled its ambassador to Iran, Philip MacKinnon.

...AS TEHRAN FEARS 'IRRATIONAL' REACTION. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 23 July that Canada's reaction to Kazemi's death is not justified, ISNA and IRNA reported, and he expressed the hope that Canada would not say anything "hasty and irrational" about her death. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July)

MORE JOURNALISTS JAILED. Two members of the editorial board of the monthly "Guzarish" were arrested on the evening of 23 July, ISNA reported on 25 July. They are caricaturist Arash Nurchian and cover designer Mohammad Amin Golbaz. Afshin Molavi wrote in "The Washington Post" on 26 July that 14 proreform journalists have been arrested this month, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is giving editors gag orders more frequently. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July)

CPJ CONCERNED OVER U.S. DETENTION AND HARASSMENT OF FOREIGN REPORTERS IN IRAQ. On 29 July, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter to L. Paul Bremer, senior administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, to express its concern over recent cases of detention and harassment of foreign reporters in Iraq. According to the CPJ, U.S. forces have detained Said Abu Taleb and Soheil Kareemi, two journalists with Iranian State Television, since 1 July. Iranian journalists told CPJ that the reporters were working on a documentary for Iran's Channel 2 television in Diwaniyah, a town in southern Iraq. News reports quoted Gholem Reza Kutchak, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting chief in Baghdad, as saying that on 7 July U.S. forces confiscated Taleb's and Kareemi's belongings from a hotel in Karbala. According to AFP on 29 July, a coalition spokesman said that the Iranian journalists were being held for "security violations" and because they were "not acting in a journalistic capacity when they were arrested." CPJ has yet to receive information from U.S. Central Command about the basis of these charges. CPJ is investigating reports that U.S. troops have recently harassed other journalists. Japanese cameraman Kazutaka Sato, of the independent news outlet Japan Press, was beaten and briefly detained by U.S. troops in Baghdad after he filmed the bodies of people killed in a raid by U.S. forces, the AFP reported on 28 July. Other news services reported on 26 July that U.S. troops briefly detained four Turkish journalists and a reporter with the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera. CC

GOVERNMENT DENIES MEDIA TARGETING. The head of the department for defense and security in the Kyrgyz presidential administration, Bolot Dzhanukov, summed up the 19 July roundtable that brought together government officials, political-party leaders, and the media, telling journalists that dialogue during the event was positive, reported on 23 July. He also denied that some media have been targeted for repression through the judicial system, asserting that all publications, including progovernment ones, find themselves in court in Kyrgyzstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS REPORTED SENTENCED. Four members of the banned Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir have been convicted of distributing leaflets and other literature, according to the Kyrgyz Human Rights Society on 28 July. The four are reported to be residents of the village of Kyzyljar in Djalal-Abad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan. Two of the accused received sentences of four years' imprisonment, and the other two were sentenced to three years. However, one of latter was released on probation after promising to have nothing further to do with the movement. According to the Human Rights Society, the four had no lawyers and were subjected to torture by police. According to a law enforcement official, as of early July eight people had been arrested in Bishkek alone so far this year for distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature. As of late June, 25 people in Kyrgyzstan as a whole were known to the World Organization Against Torture as having been arrested and sentenced for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

GERMAN MEDIA GROUP BUYS MAJOR NEWSPAPERS. The German WAZ media group announced on 28 July its purchase of majority stakes in the three leading Macedonian newspapers, "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest," Macedonian and international news agencies reported. The papers, which have a total of 350 employees and a combined circulation of some 120,000 copies, will be part of the new company Media Print Macedonia, which will be headed by former Macedonian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Germany Srgjan Kerim. Bodo Hombach, who previously headed the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, is one of WAZ's four managing directors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)

MOLDOVAN-ROMANIAN DICTIONARY PUBLISHED IN CHISINAU. A 19,000-word, 340-page Moldovan-Romanian dictionary authored by Vasile Stati went on sale in Chisinau on 24 July, Flux reported. Stati is also the author of the "History of Moldova," published in Chisinau last year. In his introduction to the dictionary, the author harshly attacks Romanian authorities, including Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, for claiming that Moldovan and Romanian are one and the same language. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

NO LEADS IN CASE OF JOURNALIST ABDUCTED IN INGUSHETIA. On 29 July, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed "great concern" over the Russian authorities' failure to find Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist Ali Astamirov, kidnapped on 4 July 2003. Astamirov, a 34-year-old Chechen who had worked for AFP in Ingushetia and Chechnya for over a year, was abducted by three armed men. The reporter was threatened with a gun during his abduction; he had recently received anonymous threatening phone calls. RSF called on investigators to increase their efforts to obtain his safe release. The French news agency AFP said it had learned that Astamirov is alive and being held in Chechnya. The official inquiry, set up on 6 July in Nazran, Ingushetia, where Astamirov was abducted, has not been able to determine the kidnappers' identity or motive. No ransom demand has been received by the journalist's family or by AFP. CC

ST. PETERSBURG PRESS CENTER TELLS FORMER EMPLOYEES TO TAKE A SEAT... A liquidation commission in charge of settling the debts of the St. Petersburg-based International Press Center has decided that the center will cover back wages to its former employees by giving them chairs, IMA Press reported on 17 July. The center was created to accommodate Russian and international journalists covering the city's tercentennial, which was celebrated in May. At the press center's opening ceremony last year, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said, "There isn't another press center in Russia that compares with this one with regard to the level of technology, telecommunications equipment, and of available resources," "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 24 May 2002. "I think this center will play an active role in developing the image of St. Petersburg." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

...AS SOME TVS JOURNALISTS FIND REFUGE AT REN-TV. TVS Deputy Editor for Information Programming Marianna Maksimovskaya has begun working at REN-TV, Interfax reported on 23 July. Maksimovskaya commented that REN-TV is now the only large television channel that is not under the control of the government. In addition, another TVS employee, commentator Yulia Latynina, will start working at REN-TV in August, according to the channel's information service. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

NATIONAL ADVERTISING MARKET CONTINUES STEADY RECOVERY... The size of the advertising market in Russia during the first six months of 2003 was between $1.16 billion-$1.18 billion, which represents a 32 percent increase over the same period last year, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Russian Association of Advertising Agencies. Internet advertising experienced the biggest jump at 75 percent, but television advertising continued to constitute the biggest share with 38 percent of the total market. Before the economic crash of 1998, nearly $2.5 billion a year was being spent on advertising in Russia. Advertising in Russian media totaled the ruble equivalent of some $1.5 billion in 2001, up about 43 percent from the previous year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

...BUT BENEFITS SLOW TO TRICKLE DOWN TO REGIONAL MEDIA OUTLETS. The regional advertising market did not experience any growth in the first six months of 2003, according to ITAR-TASS. It remained at its previous level, accounting for a 25 percent share of all media spending. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

NEWS FLASH: MOSCOW MAYOR MAY BE LOSING HIS HAIR. "Rossiiskye vesti," no. 27, reported that members of the press corps assigned to cover Yurii Luzhkov must observe a number of rules established by the mayoral administration's press service. Journalists are forbidden to photograph Luzhkov from behind or to photograph his bald "spot" -- an expanse that extends from his eyebrows almost all the way to the back of his neck -- or use flashes in front of him. They also are not allowed to ask any unauthorized questions. To enforce these rules, the press service relies on the 15 members of the Federal Protection Service who are assigned to protect Luzhkov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

PROTESTS OVER NAMING OF NEW HEAD OF MEDIA HOLDING. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) expressed its strong objection on 28 July to the appointment of a new acting-director to the media holding Sloboda. In ANEM's view, "the appointment represents an attempt to reintroduce political control over the media and influence the editorial policy of Sloboda." The person selected is a member of the local People's Democratic Party and a member of the local executive council -- in violation of the Broadcast Act. CC

INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISTS' GROUP CALLS FOR GREATER INFORMATION ACCESS FOR MEDIA. A delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Tajik authorities to create a better environment for the media in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus Blitz and Deutsche Welle reported on 28 July. The delegation spent three days in the country assessing media conditions. After meetings with government officials and journalists, they called for the Tajik media to have greater access to information, and for more democratization and economic development. The delegation noted that President Imomali Rakhmonov and other high-level officials rarely meet with the media, and access to some government agencies is limited due to bureaucratic obstructionism. The CPJ group was also critical of the failure to bring to justice the killers of journalists during the 1992-1997 civil war. Tajik journalists reportedly said that the government's failure to apprehend the killers had limited press freedom in the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

SUPREME COURT SENTENCES TWO FOR INVOLVEMENT IN DEATHS OF JOURNALISTS. The Tajik Supreme Court has sentenced two men charged with involvement in the killing of two journalists during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war to long prison terms, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. The two, Ahtam Tohirov and Nazirbek Davlatov, were tried as accomplices in the murders of BBC Farsi Service journalist Muhiddin Olimpur in 1995 and Russian ORT journalist Viktor Nikulin in 1996. Tohirov received a sentence of 22 years in prison while Davlatov received 15 years. ITAR-TASS quoted Supreme Court First Deputy Chairman Mahmadali Vatanov as saying the slayings were ordered by opposition field commander Eshon Namozov, who died fighting government forces. According to ITAR-TASS, the actual killer of Olimpur, named as Nasrullo Sharipov, is in a Russian prison, serving a seven-year sentence for robbery. The name of Nikulin's killer is known -- Khurshed Shoev -- but Vatanov was quoted as saying he has disappeared and might be dead. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)

JOURNALIST ATTACKED. Two unidentified men on 24 July attacked Oleh Yeltsov, a journalist reporting on corruption in government and business for the "Ukrayina kryminalna" (Criminal Ukraine) website (, Ukrainian media reported. The pair ambushed Yeltsov with a stun gun and a metal pipe as he was leaving his apartment in Kyiv. Yeltsov was hospitalized, according to "Ukrayina kryminalna." Police have opened an investigation into the incident. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 28 July, at the time of his attack, Yeltsov was on his way to a court hearing about an article he had published. Yeltsov had recently written a controversial article on the academic dean of the Law Department of Kyiv University, alleging that the dean had accepted a bribe of $8,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July; International Federation of Journalists, 28 July)

JOURNALISTS CONCERNED OVER TASHKENT COURT CASE. Uzbek journalists are concerned about the lack of objectivity being shown by the judge in a civil case against the Tashkent newspaper "Zerkalo" and its owners for having allegedly defamed a judge, the Moscow Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 27 July. The plaintiff asserts that an article that appeared in "Zerkalo" in March damaged her professional reputation and is demanding 10 million sums (about $10,270) in compensation. The article in question, which stated that the judge had improperly released a defendant, was based on information provided by a prosecutor. Uzbek law says that journalists are not responsible for the accuracy of information provided by prosecutors or the courts. The judge in the defamation case, which has been dragging on for several months, recently refused a request by the defense to call as a witness the prosecutor who gave the newspaper the information on which the offending article was based. Journalists are also concerned about the fact that the plaintiff is a judge in the district in which the case is being heard. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS APPEAL TO RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ON DISSIDENT'S CASE. A group of Uzbek human rights activists has appealed to Vladimir Putin to intervene in the case of Bakhrom Khamroev, a leader of the banned Uzbek democratic movement Birlik, who was arrested in Moscow on 20 July, reported on 27 July. The letter asserts that Khamroev's arrest creates the impression that the Russian authorities are taking orders from the Uzbek security forces, which are trying to stop the publication and distribution in Uzbekistan of the opposition journal "Harakat." Khamroev's wife told Uzbek human rights activists that she, her husband, and his brother were questioned recently by police about Khamroev's alleged connections with extremist groups and about his involvement with "Harakat." The letter points out that Khamroev, a Russian citizen, was forced to emigrate from Uzbekistan because of the repression of dissidents in the early 1990s, and now he appears to be facing the same thing in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July)

POST-SOVIET MEDIA CONFERENCE. "Media Transformation in Post-Soviet Conditions" will take place at the Caucasus Media Institute on 26-27 September. The conference is open to media experts, academics, and journalists from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia, Belarus, and western countries. Deadline for papers is 1 August, but discussants are welcome. For more, see

GERMAN MEDIA TRAINING FOR SLAVIC JOURNALISTS. The Free University of Berlin is encouraging young journalists from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine to apply for a three-month program "Journalisten International," beginning in April 2004. The program starts with six weeks of training at the Free University of Berlin followed by a six-week internship with a Berlin media outlet. The application deadline is 15 October and application forms are at, or e-mail: CC

EUROPEAN MEDIA INSTITUTE PUBLISHES MANUALS ON MEDIA AND DIVERSITY. The London-based Media Diversity Institute (MDI) has published three new handbooks for nongovernmental organizations. The "Reporting Diversity Manual" is a practical guide for reporters and journalism trainers, focusing on Southeastern Europe. The "Media Relations Handbook for Non-Governmental Organizations" is a survey of media communications manuals reprinted by the MDI along with the handbook's author, the Independent Journalism Foundation. The manual and handbook are available in Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, and English from; Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Ossetian, and Russian versions will be available soon. The third MDI publication is the "Reporting Diversity Curriculum Framework." For more information, contact Lydia el-Khouri at CC


By Mark Baker

Spam -- those unwanted and frequently offensive e-mails pitching everything from easy money to rapid weight loss and better sex -- is the bane of Internet users around the world.

It now accounts for around half of all e-mail messages sent every day -- up from 10 percent just a couple of years ago.

Experts say that, if left unchecked, spam could effectively kill off e-mail as a means of communication.

There is a song from a famous television skit by the British comedy troupe Monty Python, which celebrates a famous U.S. brand of canned seasoned pork. It's where spam got its name. In the skit, a man and woman try to order food in a restaurant. Their order is drowned out by a group of rowdy Vikings sitting at a nearby table yelling the word "spam" at the top of their lungs.

In much the same way, experts say the flood of spam e-mail is now drowning out legitimate communication.

George Mills is the chairman of the European Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email -- a group that favors tougher restrictions on spam. He paints a bleak picture of a future in which individual Internet users are forced to process thousands or even millions of junk e-mails every day. He says the system -- and users -- simply couldn't cope.

"If you look at it, the potential [is there] of millions of senders. Are you ready? Would you be ready to cope with millions of messages in your mailbox? You probably think you are already coping with millions [of spam e-mails] now, but you're probably only dealing with hundreds or thousands," Mills says.

The reason for the spam explosion is mostly economic. The cost to companies of sending bulk e-mail is essentially zero. Even if only one in 1,000 recipients responds to a spam e-mail message, the business can still be profitable.

This contrasts, for example, with junk mail sent through the post office, where the cost to senders can be relatively high. This cost imposes a natural limit on companies and keeps the level of paper junk mail at manageable levels.

Computer users around the world are up in arms. Many are repulsed by the vulgar content of some spam messages. Businesses warn of falling productivity as their workers lose valuable time each day reading and deleting unsolicited e-mail.

Governments are responding with new laws, but it's not yet clear how best to restrict unwanted spam while continuing to allow the Internet to be used for legitimate commercial purposes.

One approach, favored by the European Union, is to allow companies to send unsolicited e-mails only to individuals who have already consented to receiving the messages. This is commonly referred to as "opt in."

In fact, this approach was used effectively a decade ago to eliminate junk faxes that were clogging up fax machines and wasting ink and paper. Such faxes are now mostly a thing of the past.

The European Commission last year passed a law on data protection that mandated the "opt in" approach for unsolicited e-mail. European Union member countries now have until the end of October to adopt and enforce the law.

The U.S. has taken a different approach. There, lawmakers are leaning toward what they call "opt out," meaning companies can continue to send unsolicited e-mail to anyone provided a person has not specifically said he or she does not want to receive it.

Mills explains the difference: "'Opt in' assumes that permission [for companies to send junk e-mail] is not given and must be requested. 'Opt out' assumes that permission [to send junk e-mail] is [already] there and can be withdrawn unless there is an objection that has been posted in some recognized public place."

Supporters say the "opt out" approach gives better protection to companies, but detractors say it is unworkable in practice. Mills says that an individual could conceivably spend most of his or her life writing e-mail to opt out of receiving spam.

Alastair Tempest is the director-general of the Federation of European Direct Marketing in Brussels -- a commercial nongovernmental organization that supports the interests of direct marketers. These include companies that use the Internet for commercial purposes.

He tells RFE/RL that his group is also opposed to unsolicited mass e-mailing. He calls it a "cancer" that threatens to destroy the integrity of direct marketing.

"We make a very clear distinction between 'marketing' -- that is, sending people things that they want to hear based on good targeting of people, the keeping of people's names when they've bought something, and sending them material about other products that they will be interested in -- so good professional marketing -- and 'spam,' which is untargeted mass sending of messages without any reason at all," Tempest says.

Tempest agrees that tough action is needed to stop spammers but says the "opt in" versus "opt out" debate isn't relevant. What's needed, he says, is better enforcement of existing laws. He says many spammers could be shut down now for violating laws on public decency and making false product claims.

"Pass legislation -- yes, that's good. [But] pass more legislation, well, you're starting to waste your time, really. You shouldn't constantly be looking at passing legislation. You should be looking at the way in which that legislation is being adopted, and how it's being implemented and how it's actually being enforced," Tempest says.

Tempest points out that around half of the 150 or so largest companies involved in sending spam are located in the United States. He questions what effect the new, tougher laws in Europe will have if authorities in the U.S. and the rest of the world don't aggressively crack down on spammers.

Experts say an end to spam is not in sight. But they say individuals can take some precautions to minimize the amount of spam they receive.

Mills says the first rule is never to respond to unsolicited e-mail, even if only to tick a box that says "please do not send me any more e-mails."

"If you respond to a spam with a request to opt out, you will be confirming that the address that you have is live, is valid, and is read by a human being," Mills says.

Such information is highly valuable to spammers, since they generate many of their target e-mails electronically and have no idea whether the e-mail addresses are valid or not.

Finally, experts warn to be highly skeptical of spammers' claims. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Mark Baker is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.