19 December 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Media Matters" will appear on 16 January 2004.
JOURNALISTS ALSO THE LOSERS IN AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
By Liz Fuller
In early November, Azerbaijan's independent Turan news agency published a 46-page report compiled by the independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil evaluating coverage by the Azerbaijani media of the campaign for the 15 October presidential election.
The report noted in its introduction that on paper, the constitution, media law and Election Code provide legal guarantees for the free exchange of information and for creating equal conditions for all individuals and political parties contesting presidential or parliamentary elections. In practice, however, the government-controlled media, both print and electronic, not only dominated the media scene at all times, but devoted the lion's share of their coverage of the presidential ballot to the candidate(s) backed by the present elite, giving far less coverage to opposition candidates.
That overall pattern duplicates to a certain extent media coverage of the 1998 presidential ballot. But the introductory section of the current monitoring report highlights a crucial change in the media landscape over the past five years that affected election coverage. It noted that whereas in 1998, 55 percent of print media were independent, 30 percent state-owned, and 15 percent owned by opposition political parties, the proportion of independent print media is now far lower, many of them having fallen victim to economic constraints.
Moreover, the independent newspapers that still do publish regularly have very small print runs, generally between 3,000 and 5,000 copies (for a population of more than 8 million). The largest print run during the campaign period (20,000) was that of "Yeni Musavat," the organ of the Musavat Party, whose chairman, Isa Qambar, was perceived as the most serious challenger to Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev. (During the run-up to the 1998 presidential ballot, "Yeni Musavat" raised its print run from 10,000 to 18,000 even though Qambar and other opposition candidates were boycotting the ballot.) The state-owned paper "Azerbaijan" appeared during the election period in print runs of 8,300 to 8,700, while "Yeni Azerbaycan," the paper of the eponymous ruling party, had a print run of 5,000.
However, today as in 1998, a far larger proportion of the population relies almost exclusively on television for news and information than reads newspapers. Of the various television channels available, only Azerbaijani state television can be received across the entire territory of Azerbaijan. Three private television stations can be received across 80 percent of Azerbaijan: the independent ANS TV, Space, and Lider. The latter two are believed to be owned by people with close ties to the Azerbaijani leadership.
The Yeni Nesil media monitoring encompassed seven television stations -- the four listed above, plus Nakhichevan state television and the privately owned ATV and Kapaz channels -- and 12 national newspapers -- three state-owned; seven privately owned, of which two are associated with political parties, and two that are the official organ of political parties ("Yeni Musavat" and "Yeni Azerbaycan").
Azerbaijan's election law requires state-owned media to allocate three hours per week to election-related programming for the duration of the election campaign, which began on 25 August. Each of the original 12 registered presidential candidates -- one of whom died and three of whom subsequently withdrew from the race -- was entitled to 10 minutes of airtime per week. The four national newspapers each allocated four pages per week to campaign coverage. In addition, candidates had the option of buying paid airtime, but opposition candidates complained that the rates charged by privately owned stations for such time were exorbitantly high.
The monitoring report failed to specify whether any candidates were prevented from using their full allocation of airtime. It did, however, provide extremely detailed data on the percentage of total coverage by each of the 19 media outlets that were monitored devoted to each individual candidate, and to what proportion of that coverage was positive, neutral, or negative.
Predictably, as in 1998, in 2003 the state-controlled media outlets, both television and newspapers, devoted the lion's share of their election coverage to the two candidates representing the country's leadership: incumbent President Heidar Aliyev (who withdrew from the ballot in early October), and his son, Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev.
Of the total election coverage devoted by the five television channels to specific candidates, 61.1 percent was given to Ilham Aliyev, 27.2 percent to Heidar Aliyev, 4 percent to Qambar, and 2.4 percent to opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mammedov. But there were clear differences in emphasis. Thus, Azerbaijan State TV, ATV, and Space TV gave Ilham Aliyev far more coverage than any other candidate (71.9 percent, 90 percent, and 65.2 percent, respectively). But that coverage, and the far-smaller coverage devoted to other candidates, was overwhelmingly neutral.
Of the five channels, ANS TV gave Ilham Aliyev the least coverage (47.9 percent) and opposition candidates Qambar and Mammedov the most (13.9 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively). Lider gave Ilham Aliyev 52.4 percent and Heidar Aliyev 36.8 percent. In both cases, the coverage was roughly half positive and half neutral, but Lider's minimal coverage of opposition candidates was overwhelmingly negative.
Predictably, coverage of the campaign in the print media varied according to the political affiliation (or lack of such) of the paper in question. Thus, the three state-owned papers all devoted the bulk of their coverage to Ilham and Heidar Aliyev. Coverage in "Azerbaijan" both of the Aliyevs and of the opposition candidates was mostly neutral, and 99 percent of the limited coverage by "Khalg gazeti" and "Bakinskii rabichii" of opposition candidates Qambar, Mammedov, and Sabir Rustamkhanli was negative in tone.
Of the independent papers, the Russian-language dailies "Ekho" and "Zerkalo" provided the most balanced and neutral coverage. True, they too devoted 60 percent-65 percent of their coverage to the Aliyevs, but they also reported extensively on the campaigns of opposition candidates, and the abortive attempts by the opposition to reach agreement on fielding a single candidate. "Ekho" published extracts from campaign speeches and interviews with five of the eight candidates.
"Azadlyg," while nominally now an independent publication, nonetheless betrayed its former allegiance as the organ of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), devoting more coverage to Mammedov and AHCP candidate Ali Kerimov than to the two Aliyevs (coverage of whom was overwhelmingly negative). "Yeni Musavat" and "Yeni Azerbaycan" both favored their respective "parent" party's candidate. "Yeni Musavat" devoted 65 percent of its coverage to Qambar, and more (27.5 percent) to the two Aliyevs than to rival opposition candidate Mammedov (3.3 percent). "Yeni Azerbaycan," predictably, devoted almost 90 percent of its coverage to the two Aliyevs, compared to 6.8 percent for Qambar and 2.6 percent for Mammedov. Coverage of the latter two was overwhelmingly negative, but the paper praised independent opposition candidate Lala-Shovket Gadjieva, a former member of Heidar Aliyev's ruling team.
A separate section of the monitoring report was devoted to the problems and hazards that journalists, especially those representing independent publications, encountered while trying to cover the election campaign. The report quoted an unidentified newspaper editor as summing up the situation as "very difficult, but not intolerable." The report notes that Central Election Commission (CEC) officials were generally cooperative and helpful, except for one incident on 24 September when two journalists were not permitted to attend a CEC session.
But a total of more than 50 journalists were beaten by police on five separate occasions while trying to report on campaign rallies, and three were seriously injured. Eighteen journalists were arrested, of whom eight were jailed. Despite protests by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and local and international media organizations, no one has been brought to account for harassing or exerting pressure on journalists during the election campaign.
In summing up, the report noted that the media in general, and the state-owned media specifically, did not create equal conditions for all eight presidential candidates, and most media outlets failed to remain impartial. It noted that print media frequently failed to differentiate clearly between news reports of candidates' campaign activities and commentary.
The concluding section of the report comprises recommendations that, in the opinion of its compilers, would improve media standards and pluralism in general. The first of these is the transformation of Azerbaijan State TV into a public broadcasting company, which should be accompanied by measures to increase the independence (whether financial or political is not clear) of privately owned media. (Turan reported on 9 December that parliament will pass the draft law on creating a public television broadcaster in the third and final reading by the end of this year.)
In terms of media coverage of election campaigns, the report advocates amending the Election Code to increase the amount of free airtime to which candidates are entitled; to define more precisely what constitutes "political advertising" on behalf of a given candidate; to establish an independent council that would determine the maximum tariffs that could be charged for paid campaign advertising; and to ban the publication of opinion-poll findings during the final week before the date of the ballot. The report also urges the perfection of legislation on the creation of an independent body charged with assessing and acting on complaints brought by election candidates who are refused free airtime. In general, the report calls for compliance with Council of Europe recommendations intended to protect journalists from official pressure and harassment during election campaigns.
Liz Fuller monitored media coverage of the 1995 parliamentary and 1998 Azerbaijani presidential elections for the European Institute for the Media.
BELARUSIAN INVESTIGATORS RESUME PROBE INTO JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE
By Jan Maksymiuk
The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office on 15 December notified Svyatlana Zavadskaya that on 10 December it resumed its investigation into the disappearance of her husband, Russia's ORT camera operator in Minsk Dzmitry Zavadski, Belapan reported. "The only positive aspect [of this resumption] is that I have the right to petition for the interrogation of the persons whom I deem necessary to be questioned or who are involved in the case," Zavadskaya told Belapan, stressing that she primarily means former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. She added that she would like Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman to be questioned as well.
Zavadski disappeared on 7 July 2000 after he left home for the Minsk airport to meet ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet, his long-time colleague and friend. Two men, Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, ex-members of Belarus's elite Almaz police unit, were sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2002 on charges of kidnapping Zavadski. They were not charged with murdering him, and the trial did not give any clue as to what happened to Zavadski after he disappeared. The official theory is that Ihnatovich and Malik abducted the journalist in revenge for a newspaper report revealing that some Almaz commandos fought on the side of the militants in Chechnya.
Sheremet maintains that the motive for Zavadski's kidnapping might have been more serious. He testified at the trial in November 2001 that he learned from Bazhelka about the involvement of top-ranking Belarusian officials in the abduction. According to Sheremet, Bazhelka told him that in the fall of 2000 investigators were about to solve the case. Some of the arrested suspects purportedly admitted to Bazhelka that they had received an order from high-ranking officials with the Security Council (headed by Viktar Sheyman at that time) to kidnap Zavadski. Sheremet said, again referring to his conversation with Bazhelka, that the investigation in 2000 was put on hold by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Suspects either retracted their testimony or refused to answer investigators' questions. Some subsequently were released and one of them, former Almaz officer Anton Kobzar, died under unclear circumstances in the spring of 2001.
Sheremet told journalists in August 2001 that he suspects some top-ranking officials had dealt with deliveries of small arms and ammunition to Chechen militants via Turkey and Georgia, using Belarusian secret service officers who fought in Chechnya. Sheremet said he believes that Zavadski was kidnapped because his kidnappers wanted to find out what he knew about the deliveries. However, when questioned in 2001, former Prosecutor-General Bazhelka denied that he had ever told Sheremet what he knew about the Zavadski case.
Hungarian Television (MTV) President Imre Ragats resigned his post on 17 December, citing health reasons, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The daily alleged, however, that Ragats resigned after it was discovered that he was involved in MTV's purchase of a 10-year-old nature-film series from Ragats's stepdaughter. Ragats agreed to buy the series in late July for 55 million forints ($255,000), which the daily reported was as much as four times the going rate.
The MTV board of trustees initiated Ragats's dismissal on 11 November after learning that he had quietly concluded a dubious agreement on the sale of MTV airtime.
The board of trustees voted on 18 December not to grant severance pay to Imre Ragats. The daily "Nepszabadsag" speculated that the health reasons initially cited by Ragats for his resignation cannot have been mentioned in his resignation letter, since in that case he would have been entitled to severance pay. (Matyas Szabo)
The fourth and last public hearing on a controversial draft media law was held in Almaty on 18 December, with Kazakh and international journalism groups calling on the parliament not to adopt the government draft, gazeta.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported.
An appeal from Russia's Glasnost Defense Foundation to the Kazakh leadership described the draft law as harmful to Kazakhstan's reputation as a developing democracy. The Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, speaking for a number of Kazakh and international publications and journalism groups, said the law violates international standards of free speech, and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called on the parliament not to discuss the draft at all.
Kazakh Congress of Journalists lawyer Tamara Simakhina criticized the draft for giving officials the right to refuse or withdraw a journalist's accreditation, and denied an assertion by Deputy Information Minister Ardak Dosjan that the Congress of Journalists, which is part of a working group on the draft, is in full agreement with the government text.
Despite more than a year of government revisions, representatives of the Congress of Journalists, the Adil Soz (Free Word) International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, and individual journalists and lawyers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the draft. Lawyers complain that the text is full of inexact formulations that could be used against the media, and there are also fundamental disagreements over the meaning of the phrase "misuse of freedom of speech" and the circumstances under which sources must be revealed. Lawyer Simakhina of the Congress of Journalists said in October that journalists' suggestions for improving the draft were accepted only if they did not actually alter its basic content. (Bess Brown)
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 18 December, Vladimir Korsunskii, editor in chief of grani.ru, revealed that Moscow city prosecutors sealed the company's Internet server last month without its knowledge. Investigators visited the site's Internet service provider in late November seeking access to certain files, but the service provider didn't know the site's password. Although prosecutors place a seal on the server, it continues to function, although no one is allowed to touch it, gzt.ru reported.
Korsunskii said the prosecutor's office told him the move is part of an investigation into the kidnapping this summer of two prosecutors in Chechnya. In August and September, the site published two video appeals from one of the hostages, Nadezhda Pogosova, which it reportedly received by e-mail, according to utro.ru. Pogosova and her colleague, Aleksei Klimov, appealed to self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii to help secure their release. Grani.ru is financed by Berezovskii.
Workers from grani.ru were subsequently called as witnesses in the criminal case opened in connection with the kidnappings. The hostages have since that time been released.
According to Korsunskii, site employees were unaware for some time that the server had been sealed. However, Korsunskii said he and his staff are concerned that at any moment the server could stop functioning. A senior investigator contacted by Korsunskii suggested that in that case they should simply stop publishing.
In an interview with runet.ru that was quoted by grani.ru, Anton Nosik, editor in chief of lenta.ru, said that grani.ru is under pressure because it is financed by Berezovskii. Nosik commented that investigators have spent all month getting information that should have required only one phone call since "the editors [of grani.ru] did not refuse to cooperate."
According to Nosik, the pressure on grani.ru is not the only example of special attention on associates of Berezovskii. Nosik alleges that Israeli citizen Demyan Kudryavtsev, who founded the popular Internet provider Citiline, has been denied a permanent Russian visa, and the reason appears to be his relationship with Berezovskii. According to Nosik, Kudryavtsev is not involved with politics and comes to Russia only on business matters.
Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy correspondent Yevgeniya Ten was detained on 19 December by Federal Security Service (FSB) officers while she and other journalists were attempting to broadcast a report about a dozen or so environmental activists who gathered for an unsanctioned meeting outside the building of the presidential administration, lenta.ru reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the activists were also detained.
According to newsru.com, the protest was intended to draw attention to the State Duma's 21 November adoption of a revised Forest Code. FSB officers seized Ten's recording of the event and her recording equipment. Ten was later released and her tape recorder returned, but her tapes were not. (Julie A. Corwin)