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Media Matters: August 29, 2003

29 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 33
POWER CUT DURING OPPOSITION LEADER'S TV BROADCAST. Civic Solidarity Party Chairman and presidential candidate Sabir Rustamkhanli lodged a formal protest on 27 August with Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission after electricity was cut off the previous day to several southern regions during his televised election campaign broadcast, Turan and reported on 27 August. Rustamkhanli said he believes the cuts were deliberate as the Azerbaijani authorities are aware that he enjoys strong support in the south of the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)

OSCE OFFICIAL DENIED BELARUSIAN VISA. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve has canceled his planned visit to Belarus on 1-2 September after the Belarusian Foreign Ministry refused on 25 August to issue entry visas to him and his adviser, Belapan reported on 26 August, quoting an OSCE press statement. Duve, whose term of office expires at the end of this year, received an invitation from OSCE office in Belarus head Eberhard Heyken and was expected to hold a farewell meeting in Minsk with journalists. "I greatly regret that I will not be allowed to come to Belarus on 1 September to say farewell to the many courageous Belarusian journalists whom I have had the honor frequently and publicly to support in my capacity as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media," the OSCE statement quoted Duve as saying. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the visa denial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

TELEVISION FACING HUGE DEFICIT. The Czech Television Council on 27 August "took note" of the dismissal of Petr Klimes from his post as chief financial officer of Czech Television, CTK reported. Czech Television did not publicly indicate the reasons for Klimes's dismissal, but CTK said the institution is facing a deficit of some 250 million crowns ($8.3 million) in 2003. The news agency reported that Czech Television Council members called the situation "alarming" and expressed fears that Czech Television might have to follow the example of Slovak Television, which underwent a radical restructuring, reduced programming, and dismissed more than 1,100 employees earlier this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)

INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL BLAMED FOR CANADIAN'S DEATH... According to the official investigation into the death in custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, two of her interrogators, who are Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) employees, are responsible for her death, ISNA reported on 25 August. The investigators visited all the locations where Kazemi was held, spoke with all the individuals who were in contact with her, and examined her medical records. Inquiries were also made at the MOIS, the police, the prosecutor's office at Evin prison, and at the prison itself. The Tehran Criminal Court has five days in which to express its view on these findings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

...WHILE INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATH... An official investigation found that two interrogators from the MOIS are responsible for the death in custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, but parliamentarians who looked into the case on 26 August absolved the MOIS of blame, according to interviews published by ISNA on 26 August. The legislature's Article 90 Committee, which looks into complaints about the government, met with an MOIS representative, and afterward Tehran representative Jamileh Kadivar said it became clear that MOIS personnel did not hit Kazemi. MOIS officials believe the fatal blow was inflicted in the first two or three hours of her detention, Kadivar said, and the MOIS knows the name of the assailant and has related evidence. The assailant was arrested and then released after about three days, she said. The presiding judge forced the MOIS to stop its investigation, and now a committee is adjudicating the MOIS-judiciary dispute. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

...WHILE PARLIAMENTARIAN VOICES SUPPORT... Another parliamentarian, Mohammad Kianush-Rad, also said that the MOIS is not involved in Kazemi's death and expressed concern that this case will be a repetition of the 1998 serial murders case. In that case, so-called rogue MOIS agents allegedly murdered dissidents and intellectuals, but the primary suspect reportedly killed himself while in custody. The sentences of the others involved in the case have been reduced repeatedly since the trial ended in January 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

...AND TEHRAN FEELS NO OBLIGATION TO KEEP OTTAWA INFORMED. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during his 26 August press conference that the MOIS will release information on the case of Canadian photojournalist Kazemi when it is appropriate, IRNA reported. Tehran is not obliged to share any information on the case with the Canadian government, he said. Ramezanzadeh explained that from the Iranian point of view, Kazemi was an Iranian citizen with dual nationality and her death occurred on Iranian territory, so Iranian officials will therefore deal with the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

DRAFT LAW ON MASS MEDIA SUBMITTED TO GOVERNMENT. Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on 26 August accepted for government consideration a draft law on the mass media, Kazinform reported, quoting Kazakhstan's Ministry of Culture, Information, and Public Harmony. The draft was prepared by a working group headed by Culture Minister Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed. Members of three journalism associations -- the Kazakhstan Journalists' Congress, the Journalists' Association, and the Association of Independent Television and Radio Broadcasters of Kazakhstan -- were included in the working group, according to the report. If the government approves the draft, it will then be submitted to parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

PROMINENT JOURNALIST CRITICIZES DRAFT MEDIA LAW. Journalist Rozlana Taukina, president of the Journalists in Need Foundation of Kazakhstan, said the draft law on the media submitted for government approval on 26 August has not been published as promised by the authorities, and from this she concludes that the new law will restrict freedom of speech, Deutsche Welle reported on 27 August. Media representatives were involved in the drafting process, but according to Taukina only those suggestions that the authorities liked were taken into account. In her view, the best media legislation in Kazakhstan was the law adopted in 1992. All subsequent changes have involved prohibitions, and the result has been a decline in the number of media outlets in the country and a lack of courage in reporting on domestic political events. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)

NGO ACTIVIST SAYS CONDITIONS FOR JOURNALISTS WORSENING. Independent journalists are increasingly becoming the victims of physical violence and judicial harassment, Tamara Kalaev, a leading press freedom advocate told a New York audience at the Soros-funded Open Society Institute on 21 August. Kalaev, head of Adil Soz, a group defending freedom of expression, said newspapers are constantly facing libel lawsuits and closures. She said new amendments contemplated for the press law will further complicate the work of journalists in the independent press. "The minister of culture wields very broad powers to control registration, content, and other aspects of the activities of the mass media," quoted her as saying on 27 August. CAF

TELECOM SLASHES RATES. Effective on 1 September, Lietuvos Telekomas is slashing rates on fixed-line phone calls and dial-up Internet connections, "The Baltic Times" reported on 28 August. In an effort to win back customers, the telecom company will cut off-peak local calls by 63 percent to .03 litas (3 centas) per minute and off-peak long distance calls by 70 percent to 14 centas a minute. The price reduction is expected to boost web access from home, "The Baltic Times" reported, citing the company's marketing and sales director. The number of Internet users is expected to double this year, says "The Baltic Times." As of 1 July, Lietuvos Telekomas had 859,000 lines, a 19.2 percent decline compared to the previous year. CAF

WRITERS SET UP ALTERNATIVE UNION. Fifty Moldovan writers announced on 26 August that they have set up an alternative organization to the Moldovan Writers' Union, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The new organization calls itself the Nistru (Dniester) Writers Union. Nikolai Savostin, a Russian-language writer, was appointed chairman of the new union. He said the union's aims are "the reinvigoration of literary and cultural creation" and "expressing the statehood of the Moldovan Republic as a modern state." ITAR-TASS quoted writer Constantin Munteanu, also a member of the new union, as saying the Moldovan Writers' Union has "turned into an opposition political party" whose essence is "monopolistic." He said the new union will strive to achieve "interethnic accord" and added that its publication, "Nistru," will be issued in both Romanian and Russian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

NOVA MAKEDONIJA PUBLISHING HOUSE FACES LIQUIDATION. The bankrupt state-owned Nova Makedonija publishing house -- which puts out the dailies "Nova Makedonija," "Vecer," "Birlik," and "Flaka" -- is facing liquidation, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 27 August. The company's employees most likely will be laid off soon. The creditors -- mainly state-owned companies and the private Stopanska Banka -- must decide how to sell off parts of the country's oldest and largest publishing house. In 2002, the government cancelled an agreement to privatize the company, charging that there had been irregularities in the privatization process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)

PRESIDENT SAYS ISRAELI DAILY COMMITTED 'FRAUD'... In a communique released by President Ion Iliescu's office precisely one month after the publication of his controversial interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz," Iliescu on 25 August accused the daily of committing "fraud," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said the reporter who interviewed him did not submit questions in advance as is usual in such cases. Nonetheless, "out of politeness" the president agreed to respond to questions, provided the text of the interview would be submitted to his office ahead of publication. He said "Ha'aretz" failed to respect that pledge, "responding to goodwill with ill will." Iliescu accused the daily of indulging in a "deplorable political provocation" and added that this behavior is "unlikely to contribute to the traditional friendship between the Romanian and the Israeli people." Quite the contrary, the behavior of the daily is likely to "boost suspicion and encourage anti-Semitic sentiments," he said. The communique added that, as a result of the scandal, he received many letters of support, including some "whose [anti-Semitic] demeanor he does not share." He said he was "trapped into the pitfall of a provocation stemming from obscure interests." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

...BUT ROMANIAN DAILY SAYS PRESIDENT 'IS LYING.' The daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 26 August printed a transcript of the controversial parts of Iliescu's interview with "Ha'aretz" and published them under the headline, "At the age of 73, Iliescu is lying!" The daily said it received the tapes from Israeli correspondent Grig Davidovici, who interviewed the president. Davidovici also told "Evenimentul zilei" that he and the daily are "strictly abiding by the rules of professional journalism." Davidovici also said there was never any agreement to have the interview cleared prior to publication. He said Iliescu made the request after the interview ended, and that Davidovici tried to no avail to reach presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu in order to satisfy the president's request. The transcript published by "Evenimentul zilei" shows the journalist in fact softened the president's controversial statements, rather than exacerbating them or taking them out of context. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

MEDIA SEE POLITICAL MOTIVE BEHIND FORMER OLIGARCH'S ARREST... Most Russian media outlets agreed on 25 August that the arrest of former oligarch and media tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii in Athens on 21 August must be viewed in a political context. "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 August that Gusinskii has visited Greece repeatedly since 2001 without any problems. The daily also noted that the term of the 2000 criminal case against him is due to expire this month, leaving the Prosecutor-General's Office with the choice of extending or closing it. wrote on 25 August that although Gusinskii has curtailed his business and political activities in Russia, he has raised his profile in Moscow somewhat in the last few months. The Russian division of Gusinskii's Tel-Aviv-registered company Ekho recently hired two journalists who are known for their outspoken criticism of Kremlin policies -- Viktor Shenderovich and Vladimir Kara-Murza. "Vedomosti" noted that if Moscow insists on Gusinskii's extradition, Athens will likely comply as it has many times in the past. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and several members of the U.S. Congress have contacted Greece and expressed their concern about Gusinskii's fate. Gusinskii holds both Russian and Israeli citizenship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 August)

...IN LATEST TWIST IN LONG-RUNNING FEUD. In 2000-01, Gusinskii was caught up in a political confrontation with the Kremlin administration of President Vladimir Putin, in the course of which the Prosecutor-General's Office accused him of fraud and money laundering. Analysts believe the Kremlin targeted Gusinskii because his media outlets sharply criticized the government's campaign in Chechnya and other Kremlin policies. He was briefly arrested in Moscow in 2000, and soon after he was released he left the country. In 2001, he was arrested at Russia's request at his villa in Spain, but a Spanish court later that year declined to extradite him. The same year, Interpol refused Russia's demand to issue an arrest warrant for Gusinskii, saying the request was politically motivated. Meanwhile, the Media-MOST holding was systematically dismantled, as the daily newspaper "Segodnya" was closed, and Gazprom took control of the NTV television station and the weekly news magazine "Itogi." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August)

FIRST 'THE OLIGARCH,' NOW 'THE PATRIARCH.' Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II held talks with Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi on 25 August to discuss film projects devoted to the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, RosBalt reported. Shvydkoi told Aleksii about the results of three documentary-film projects -- a 10-part television mini-series on the history of the church, a five-part television series on the Russian patriarch, and a film directed by Pavel Lungin called "Pilgrimage to the Eternal City." Lungin also directed "Oligarkh," a feature film loosely based on the life of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 August 2003). Aleksii told reporters that "the history of the Russian Orthodox Church is inextricably connected with the history of the Russian state" and that "young people in Russia currently are not sufficiently acquainted with the history of their fatherland and, even more, the history of the Russian Orthodox Church," reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

SLOWLY TURN THE WHEELS OF JUSTICE IN JOURNALIST'S MURDER CASE. The Moscow Military District Court was scheduled to open on 25 August a new trial in connection with the 1994 killing of "Moskovskii komsomolets" investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 August. The new trial was scheduled to open on 21 July, but was postponed due to the absence of one of the lawyers for the accused. In June 2002, the Moscow Military District Court acquitted Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, a unit commander in the Russian Airborne Troops, and five of his comrades. However, the Supreme Court's Military Collegium, at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office, overturned that acquittal in May and sent the case back to the Moscow Military District Court for retrial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August)

BASHKORTOSTAN BLASTED FOR MEDIA CENSORSHIP. Russian Union of Journalists General Secretary Igor Yakovenko has denounced republican authorities in Bashkortostan for their unstinting efforts to limit freedom of speech, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. The union found that 17 national newspapers and magazines were subject to direct censorship during May and July of this year. Either articles were cut or whole editions were never delivered to the republic. In addition, according to the daily, the opposition radio station Retro-Ufa was not allowed to renew its broadcasting contract. Yakovenko declared that Bashkortostan has the most odious political regime in Russia and that many of its laws violate the Russian Constitution, Regnum reported on 20 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August)

EU SUSPENDS AID TO MEDIA COUNCIL. The European Agency for Reconstruction has frozen 300,000 euros ($329,000) allocated for the Broadcast Agency Council, B92 reported on 27 August. The move was said to come as a surprise for Culture and Media Minister Branislav Lecic, who said it was "some kind of blackmail" to achieve political ends, quoted him as saying. Lecic said that he had received no warning of the suspension at meetings with officials of European bodies within the last month. The decision is the first time Europe has suspended aid to Serbia since the popular uprising of October 2000, B92 said. An agency representative told Radio B92 that the EU must ascertain that its grants comply with democratic procedures and the rule of law. Without elaborating, he indicated procedures were not followed and the EU is "unable to support a process that has certain flaws." Serbia's broadcasting body has been dogged with controversy since its creation in April. Independent media groups complained that the council was violating its own procedures. Some members resigned in protest against the nominee slated to represent Kosova, challenging his residence credentials. Lecic appeared unperturbed by the loss of European support, commented, since the council could be funded from other state coffers and the licensing of broadcast frequencies, which is expected to bring in large revenues. CAF

FORMER SIS DIRECTOR WINS SUIT AGAINST DAILY. A Bratislava district court ruled on 25 August that the Ecopress company, publisher of the daily "Hospodarske noviny," must pay 1 million crowns ($25,910) in damages to former Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa, TASR reported. Lexa filed a defamation suit against the publisher after "Hospodarske noviny" published on 22 July 2002 an article by lawyer Michal Berko describing Lexa as a "small scoundrel from the communist family." The court said Berko did not provide any evidence that Lexa had belonged to the so-called communist "golden youth." In his article, Berko also alleged that Lexa was responsible for Berko's dismissal from Slovak Radio in 1995, but the judge said this allegation also was not proven. Berko was fired after broadcasting a report from foreign press sources saying the SIS was behind the abduction that year of the son of former President Michal Kovac. Lexa is currently on trial for abuse of office, but former Premier Vladimir Meciar amnestied him for his role in the Kovac abduction and other offenses. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

PREMIER SUES OPPOSITION DEPUTY FOR DEFAMATION. The Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKU) has sued Smer (Direction) party parliamentary deputy Robert Kalinak for defamation, TASR reported on 25 August. Shortly after Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda testified before a prosecutor on 18 August regarding his allegations about a "group" working to discredit the SDKU and the SIS, Kalinak, who is also chairman of the parliament's Defense Committee, told the daily "Sme" that the group includes five people, naming among them "Sme" Editor in Chief Martin Simecka. Kalinak said he received the information from "circles close to the SDKU." Speaking on Slovak Television on 24 August, Dzurinda, who is chairman of SDKU, said the party intends to sue Kalinak to force him to expose his alleged sources. Unless Kalinak does so willingly, "I shall make it possible for him to do so" by suing him, Dzurinda said. The prime minister refused to comment on the accuracy of Kalinak's allegations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)

GOVERNMENT ASKS CZECH AUTHORITIES TO INVESTIGATE JOURNALIST. The Slovak government has asked Czech authorities to investigate Czech journalist Jiri Kominek, who authored a series of articles critical of the SIS in the British "Jane's Intelligence Digest," CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 4 and 8 August 2003). Jan Bernat, director of the Czech Special Prosecution in the Prosecutor-General's Office, confirmed to CTK that the request has been received and said Kominek has agreed to be questioned. Bernat also said a mutual agreement between the two countries' prosecution authorities makes such investigations possible. Kominek claimed in his articles that the SIS cooperates with Russian and other former communist secret services, that it employs former communist secret police members, and is involved in suspicious arms deals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)