25 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 8
INTERNATIONAL'WAGING WAR ON THE MEDIA.' Examining 176 countries, the International Press Institute's (IPI) World Press Freedom Review 2001 reveals the intense friction between the desire of governments to control information and the media's struggle to inform the public. Over the last 12 months there have been unprecedented attempts by governments to control the free flow of information and suppress the media. During this period, journalists suffered at the hands of numerous regimes, reinforcing the impression that, in many parts of the world, a war has been waged on the media. Within Europe, serious breaches of press freedom continue and there is a need for Western European countries to do more to encourage their eastern neighbors to introduce greater democratic change. In Russia, press freedom has been further eroded with the disappearance of the country's last independent broadcaster, TV-6. In the Russian republic of Chechnya, journalists are prevented from reporting freely and vicious assaults on journalists continue in Russia's provinces. IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "The overwhelming problem for the media is that many governments do not understand its role...the antidote to a critical media is not suppression but counter-argument." The World Press Freedom Review 2001 is available online at http://www.freemedia.at/. (International Press Institute, 21 February)
AFGHANISTANNEW PRESS FREEDOM LAW, NEW PUBLICATIONS. Afghanistan's interim government has signed into law a new bill guaranteeing press freedom, bringing to an end years of censorship and repression of free speech under the former Taliban regime, reports the BBC. The BBC notes that while the government still maintains control over broadcasting and most newspapers, several independent publications are now available on newsstands in the capital city, Kabul. There are now six such publications, including a weekly women's magazine, "Women's Mirror," launched two weeks ago -- the country's first publication written by women with a female perspective on news and social affairs, says the BBC. For more, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/English/world/south_asia/newsid_1810000/1810983.stm. (IFEX Comunique, 19 February)
ARMENIAPRESIDENT SEEKS TO ALLAY CONCERNS OVER NEW MEDIA BILL. Speaking in Yerevan on 20 February, Robert Kocharian said a new draft law on the media that many journalists consider poses a threat to press freedom will not be enacted unless it is approved by Council of Europe experts, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The bill envisages a new system of licensing for media outlets and requires journalists to submit written applications in advance to interview government personnel and to pay an honorarium for such interviews. Kocharian stressed that "we all need free media," but added that the media should be "responsible." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
BELARUSTWO JOURNALISTS CHARGED WITH LIBELING LUKASHENKA. Prosecutors in Hrodna on 14 February charged Mikalay Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka with defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in articles published in the opposition weekly "Pahonya" during the 2001 presidential election campaign, Belarusian media reported. In November 2001, the Supreme Court shut down "Pahonya" after the authorities previously issued two warnings to the weekly. "Pahonya," of which Markevich was editor, wrote about the disappearances of opposition figures in Belarus and allegations that those disappearances were organized by a government-sponsored "death squad." If convicted, Markevich and Mazheyka face up to five years in prison. "I have no illusions about my trial and the verdict I may get. But I made my choice," Markevich told Belapan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
CROATIACONTROVERSIAL TV PROGRAM YANKED FROM AIRWAVES. A scheduled broadcast of television personality Denis Latin's long-standing program "Latinica" was not aired on 18 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. An announcer said that the program, which dealt with Croatia's fascist past, was not up to professional standards. Latin said that he was "shocked" by Croatian Television's decision, of which he was not informed in advance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)
CZECH REPUBLICNEW CIVIC ASSOCIATION TO DEFEND TV MOGUL. The Interior Ministry on 14 February registered the recently established Civic Association for Defense of Dr. Zelezny, CTK reported. The association is headed by politician Martin Schuster, businessman Jiri Slezak, and athlete Jonas Tichy, according to "Lidove noviny." In January it published a full-page advertisement in the Czech dailies in support of television mogul Vladimir Zelezny, who is being investigated on suspicion of fraud, challenging the procedure used in the investigation. Schuster is a member of the Young Conservatives organization, which is close to the Civic Democratic Party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
GEORGIARUSTAVI-2 UNDER FIRE -- LITERALLY. According to a news report on Russia's ORT television on 19 February, a bullet was fired through the 16th floor window of the office of Rustavi-2's "60 minutes" anchorman, Akaky Gogichaishvili. The office was empty at the time. The management of the Rustavi-2 television channel believes that the shot was aimed at intimidation of the reporter. (ORT, 19 February)
HUNGARYRADIO, TV BOARD 'ADMONISHES' PRO-MIEP STATION AGAIN. The National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) on 19 February "admonished" Pannon Radio for its failure to report changes to its ownership structure. The board discovered that the Istvan Bocskai Foundation for an Open University, an organization founded by Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka, obtained a 26 percent stake in the radio station's operator, Gido Media Ltd., in August 2000. The Media Law bans political parties from obtaining direct influence in a broadcaster. Gido Media's statute stipulates that decisions can only be made with the agreement of at least 75 percent of the owners, therefore the Bocskai Foundation's 26 percent stake gives it veto power. The station was given 30 days to rectify the situation. The ORTT's decision follows recent protests by some 60 leading Hungarian musicians against what they call the station's "openly racist and anti-Semitic tone." MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori has recently referred to Pannon as "MIEP radio," and the ORTT declared in January that the station promotes ideas advocated by MIEP, "Nepszabadsag" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)
MEDIA CHIEFS REJECT ALLEGATIONS OF POLITICAL BIAS. Leaders of Hungarian public service media organizations on 20 February rejected allegations that state media agencies lack objectivity in reporting and are susceptible to political influence. The Hungarian MTI news agency released a statement in which the heads of the news agency, public television broadcasters, and the state radio rejected comments that they claimed are "aimed at discrediting thousands of public media journalists." The statement was issued following a conference organized by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), where IFJ General Secretary Aidan White cited Hungary as a country where the media continues to be "unduly influenced by political forces." The IFJ had earlier published a report that harshly criticized the Hungarian authorities, accusing them of "improper political influence" on the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
KYRGYZSTANMOLOTOV COCKTAIL THROWN AT EDITORIAL OFFICE. On 19 January, unidentified perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails at the editorial office of the "Agym" newspaper in Bishkek. Melis Eshimkanov, the paper's editor in chief, believes that the attack was related to the paper's articles about the arrest of the Kyrgyz parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov. The director of the Lenin district of the Bishkek Ministry of Internal Affairs characterized the attack as hooliganism. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," January)
PARLIAMENT REJECTS NEW MEDIA LAW AMENDMENT. On 16 January, the parliamentary Committee for Public Associations and Information Policy rejected a draft media law submitted by the Ministry of Justice. The draft proposed legal restrictions on the registration procedure for media outlets and would have permitted the ban of periodicals which had not been properly registered. The draft law also stipulated that printers would have been forbidden to print non-registered publications. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," January)
LATVIAPUBLIC TV CHIEF FIRED. The Latvian National Radio and Television Council decided on 14 February by a vote of six to one with one abstention to dismiss Rolands Tjarve as the director-general of Latvia's public Latvijas Televizija (LTV), BNS reported. The main reason for the dismissal was Tjarve's approval of a trilateral agreement between LTV, Hansa Lizings, and Media Bridge media agency under which LTV was to be a guarantor to a 354,000 lats ($553,000) bank loan taken by the media agency. This agreement was considered to be a direct violation of the law "On Radio and Television," which bans the pledging or sale of LTV assets. LTV news service chief Gundars Reders was appointed as acting LTV director-general. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
RUSSIAFSB ACCUSES POLITKOVSKAYA OF WORKING FOR SOROS MONEY IN CHECHNYA... The regional operations headquarters for the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya has accused "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya of using her reporting trips to the republic to resolve her own financial problems, ntvru.com reported on 20 February, quoting Ekho Moskvy radio. Ilya Shabalkin, a representative of the Center for Public Relations of the Federal Security Service (FSB), charged that each of Politkovskaya's trips arouses "unhealthy sensationalism." He also reported that last year "Novaya gazeta" signed an agreement with the Soros Fund to participate in a project called "Hot Spots" for which it received $55,000. According to the website, military officials in Chechnya earlier accused Politkovskaya of trying to attract the attention of the public and media to further her own celebrity. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta" Deputy Editor in Chief Sergei Sokolov explained that "various officials in the federal forces and special services have expressed hostility -- to put it mildly -- toward" Politkovskaya. He continued that "she has received various threats and even had to leave the country." Meanwhile, Soros officials told "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that Politkovskaya's journalistic activities have nothing to do with the grant. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
...AND ANOTHER NOVAYA GAZETA JOURNALIST FACES THREATS. The family of State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin has been placed under guard, Interfax reported on 19 February. Shchekochikin received threats following the 18 February publication of an article in "Novaya gazeta" (No. 12) about a recent session of the Duma's Security Committee at which Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov spoke. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February)
PASKO CASE UPDATE. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told journalists she believed that Grigorii Pasko's case would have a happy ending. "We must think it all over again and make our conclusions," she said. Matvienko stressed that a country must have "fair courts which are independent from political and institutional factors." Meanwhile, Pasko's lawyer alleged that a February broadcast of the ORT program "Man and the Law" presented Pasko in a negative light and that his lawyers will sue for slander. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
MOLOTOV COCKTAIL LOBBED AT NOVOSIBIRSK REPORTER'S APARTMENT. On 15 February in Novosibirsk unknown offenders threw a Molotov cocktail into the apartment of LIK TV studio director Tatiana Kirpichenko. Kirpichenko believes that the incident was related to the ongoing election campaign to the legislative assembly of Novosibirsk Oblast. Her station had refused to give one candidate free air time. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
MORE OLIGARCHS SOUGHT TO BUY TV-6. At their meeting on 14 February, TV-6 shareholders decided to set up a liquidation commission, Interfax reported. Igor Shabdurasulov, who represents the interests of two shareholders, said that the liquidation process could take anywhere from one month to a year. Also at the meeting, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev tendered his resignation so that he can focus on the upcoming tender for the station's broadcasting rights. Meanwhile, "Gazeta" reported the same day that Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov is no longer involved in negotiations between Kiselev's team and potential investors, reportedly because he had become too talkative about negotiations. The daily also reported that TV-6 journalists are demanding that Siberian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, Systema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and SUAL head Viktor Vekselberg, be included in the consortium of investors that already included Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, MDM-Bank head Aleksandr Mamut, Sibneft shareholder Roman Abramovich, and former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh. That way, a kind of balance would be achieved by having businessmen who are competing against each other included. According to gazeta.ru on 20 February, TV-6 journalists successfully insisted that Kokh be withdrawn from the consortium, although "Kommersant" reported that "even if Kokh is gone, it's not forever." Gazeta.ru also reported on 20 February that the TV-6 staff would retain no more than a 10 percent share in the new TV company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February; gazeta.ru, 20 February)
KISELEV SETS FORTH JOURNALISTIC PRINCIPLES... Former TV-6 Director-General Kiselev said that he and his team insist on key principles, regardless of who will gain control of the TV-6 frequency on 27 March. These principles are founded on "liberal democratic values, human rights priorities, civil society principles, market economy, and enlightened patriotism." They would also "revive news...as a profession," reporting on domestic and international news "quickly, truthfully, objectively, without omissions and propaganda," regardless of "anyone's discontent, even that of the highest authority." Kiselev vowed that his TV channel would serve as a nonpartisan "mirror" for the authorities "to see what they really look like in voters' eyes." He pledged that his channel would not serve as "an information weapon" and would stay clear of any "disputes between economic entities," even if these parties were his shareholders, creditors, or advertisers. (gazeta.ru, 20 February)
...AND NEW INVESTORS ACCEPT THEM? Kiselev said on Ekho Moskvy that future investors of the new TV channel would have "to express their attitude towards these conditions." One of the co-founders of the consortium, Oleg Kiselev, the board chairman of Metalloinvest holding, confirmed on 19 February that the so-called "pool of investors" of TV-6 has already been formed. "We fully accept those conditions and consider the existence of an effective television that would be watched by millions of our country's citizens absolutely necessary," Oleg Kiselev told "Kommersant-Daily." (gazeta.ru. 20 February)
DUMA LEADER: KREMLIN INFORMATION POLICY 'BIG MISTAKE'... State Duma vice speaker Irina Khakamada, writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 February, observed that "the state pressures the press in any democratic society." According to Khakamada, "the transition period [in Russia] and democratic reforms have undermined civil society" and that "political parties as an institution have not yet taken shape." As a result, "authorities and the press themselves regulate their relationship rather than through public organizations." Khakamada points out that "[President Vladimir] Putin is making enormous efforts to modernize the country" -- generally via economic determinism -- and that his priorities do not generally include "information policy and press freedom." She deemed this "a big mistake." When "freedom of information gives way to propaganda," she asserted, "the nation's intellectual potential" is destroyed. The Kremlin's "information policy does not serve the nation's strategic and economic interests -- it only serves the authorities' current interests." ("Nezavisimaya gazeta," 20 February)
...BUT NOTES MEDIA'S CHRONIC PROBLEMS. Khakamada noted that the Russian press is now only "'pro' or 'anti' Putin." As a totally pro-Kremlin media outlet, she pointed to state-run TV channel RTR, but she observed that this "Soviet complex" is also widespread in the "opposition press," showing "poor professionalism and ethics." In the past decade, according to the Duma official, "the press has "become a power ministry," yet its "methods are just as primitive" as those of the government. Khakamada views economic freedom to be essential for press freedom and that journalists cannot expect official "favors." Instead, she maintains that journalists should lobby for media laws to create a "transparent, competitive climate" and attract "private investment." If the Russian media is not willing to assist civil society, it will remain "committed to Soviet-style paternalism." ("Nezavisimaya gazeta," 20 February)
DUMA CONSIDERS MORE RESTRICTIVE DRAFT MEDIA LAW... In early February, Nizhnii Novgorod legislators submitted a new draft media law for consideration by State Duma committees. The proposed revisions extend the reasons under which a court can close down an edition, to include suspension of a publication if an individual or collective entity can claim that during the previous year it repeatedly circulated information about the claimant which the court recognizes as untrue and detrimental to the honor, dignity, or business reputation of an individual or of a collective entity. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
...BUT DROPS LICENSING REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLICATIONS. A new wording of the Russian federal law "On Licensing of Particular Types of Activity" was enacted in mid-February. Publishing was deleted from the list of activities requiring a license. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
DUMA LIBERALS DRAFT LIBERAL MEDIA BILLS. A group of Duma members from the Union of Rightist Forces has submitted a list of amendments to the media law for State Duma appraisal. The amendments forbid physical and legal entities, including the government, to act as founders of more than one mass media edition of a kind. Two Duma deputies, P. Shelish from Yabloko and independent deputy V. Pokhmelkin, presented the State Duma with a draft law that protects nongovernmental broadcasting. The draft law forbids the state to be the unique holder of a media license and prohibits the issue of licenses to organizations in which the state owns a share greater than 25 percent. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
SPORT TV MEASURE NARROWLY FAILS IN DUMA. On 15 February, deputies failed to approve an appeal to the president asking the government to "examine opportunities to preserve sports broadcasting on TV-6." The appeal, which was sponsored the People's Deputy group, was supported by 203 deputies; however, 226 votes were needed in order to pass, Interfax reported. People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov reported that some 10-15 letters a day have been arriving asking that sports broadcasting be preserved on channel six. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)
PROSECUTORS ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP MEDIA INFORMED. On 8 July 1988, the Russian Office of the Prosecutor-General published Order Number 45, "On the need for prosecutor's offices to interact with mass media and improve public relations." The document has been enacted and is now obligatory to all prosecutors in Russia. Prosecutor's offices are supposed to regularly inform society -- via news agencies, the press, radio, and television -- on rule of law and order, on measures undertaken by the Prosecutor-General's Office and law enforcement agencies on its anti-crime activities, as well as on the course of all criminal cases of special public interest. According to Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) lawyer Boris Panteleev, "the new Criminal Procedure Code does not repeal the provisions of the order mentioned above; to the contrary, it requires prosecutor's offices to pay greater attention to these provisions...." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
SVERDLOVSK PROSECUTOR BANS NEWS ON MURDER. Sverdlovsk Oblast Prosecutor Boris Kuznetsov forbade law enforcement agencies to make public data on murders and other serious crimes. The Prosecutor-General's Office press service cited the Criminal Procedure Code, which stipulates that information on grave cases may only be revealed with the consent of an inquest officer or prosecutor. However, militia officers believe that the Prosecutor-General's Office merely wants to keep such information from public view. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
VORONEZH DUMA CONSIDERS HARSH NEW ACCREDITATION RULES. The Voronezh Oblast Duma is discussing a draft enactment for the accreditation of journalists. The strict draft provision states, for example, that a journalist may only attend a Duma session or meet with a Duma member after he or she has made a special written application. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
VOLGODONSK MAYOR WANTS TO 'WIN' ON TV? The VTV company in Volgodonsk, Rostov Oblast, may lose its independence if it loses its case against the mayor's office. The city administration has brought an action to cancel the TV company's registration. VTV Director Anatolii Gorbunov claims that the mayor's office wants to control local TV networks during the upcoming elections. The Volgodonsk mayor's office used to own a share in VTV, but the station became independent from the city administration some five years ago. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
MARII EL PRESIDENT TAKES PAPER TO COURT FOR REPRINTING FINNISH PRESS... Marii El Republic President Leonid Markelov has brought a slander suit against the paper "Dobrye Sosedi" for reprinting articles from the Finnish paper "Helsingin Sanomat" and publishing an interview with Volzhsk Mayor N. Svistunov. Both publications were disparaging of the Marii El government. The Marii El president has already sued "Helsingin Sanomat," but the trial was postponed because the president's representative did not appear in court. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
...AND MARII EL JOURNALISTS PROTEST MEDIA RESTRICTIONS. In the capital of Marii El, the All-Marii Council circulated an address to President Putin. It discussed administrative pressure on the press and on freedom of expression in Marii El, including increased harassment for criticism of local officials -- journals which are critical of authorities cannot be printed inside Mari-El Republic -- and broadcasts -- on state-funded TV and radio only 40 percent of the programs are in the Marii language -- are also strictly controlled. Only four out of 14 regions publish newspapers in the Marii language. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
KRASNOYARSK TV STATION UNDER A SPELL? In mid-February, various faith healers, sorcerers, magicians, and clairvoyants threatened "dire consequences" for a Krasnoyarsk TV station, Afontovo, which recently broadcast a program about hundreds of faith healers whose work in Krasnoyarsk Krai do a lot of harm to people's health. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
POLL REVEALS 69 PERCENT REGULARLY RELY ON MEDIA... According to a 10 February Public Opinion foundation survey of 1,500 urban and rural residents, 69 percent of Russians watch TV, listen to the radio, and read newspapers regularly. Sixteen percent do it three or four times a week, 8 percent once a week, and 4 percent less often. Only 3 percent of respondents said they were not interested in news reports, and 1 percent were undecided, reported RosBusinessConsulting.
...BUT VIEW MORE GOODS AS BETTER THAN FREE SPEECH... According to Mikhail Gorshkov, director of the Institute of Complex Social Research as cited by Interfax on 12 February, 53.5 percent of those polled in the 10 February survey think that fully stocked stores and the possibility of unlimited earnings are the most important post-Soviet reforms. Freedom of speech (27.7 percent) is the second-most-popular result of the reforms, Gorshkov said. (Interfax, 12 February)
...WHILE OTHERS WANT MORE TV NEWS... The 10 February survey by Public Opinion also showed that 56 percent of Russians think that TV does not cover events in the world fully enough, RosBusinessConsulting reported. Eighty-two percent said that they were interested in information and news programs, while 13 percent said they were not interested in such programs, and 5 percent were undecided.
...BUT ALMOST HALF DO NOT TRUST TV NEWS. According to the same Public Opinion foundation survey, 43 percent of those polled trust the objectivity of TV reports, while 39 percent said the information often lacked objectivity. Seventeen percent were undecided, reported RosBusinessConsulting and Interfax. (Interfax, 18 February)
SAMARA, FRAUD, AND VIDEO INTERNATIONAL? The director of the Samara state-owned broadcasting company, Aleksandr Knyazev, has been charged with murder threats and fraud involving exceptionally large amounts of property. On 13 February, the chief federal inspector in Samara Oblast Andrei Kogtev, confirmed this information. The case is being investigated by the city Prosecutor's Office. Knyazev has given a written pledge not to leave the city. Allegedly, for the past several years various organizations have contracted Samara TV to produce TV programs using its own equipment and staff, but the television company got no profit from this activity because these payments somehow "leaked" from Samara's bank accounts -- to the tune of 2.2 million budget rubles. Eventually the Prosecutor's Office arrested S. Yezhov, ex-director of Prime Time company and the current director-general of Video International Volga. "Novaya gazeta" reported that the person responsible for the leak was Samara head Aleksandr Knyazev. According to "Novaya gazeta," Media Minister Mikhail Lesin has been lobbying the Samara Prosecutor's Office on behalf of Knyazev. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," 11-16 February)
CULTURE MINISTRY CONSOLIDATES FILM COMPANIES. Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi announced on 20 February that his ministry has decided to consolidate 18 state film studios into a holding company to be known as the Russian Cinema Distributor, "Izvestiya" and RBK reported. The new holding has been created in line with this year's decision by the government to strengthen the status of the Russian film industry and its role in the country's culture, and to prevent the further plundering of film studios' assets that has been taking place for years, Shvydkoi added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February)
BOOK SWAP NETS SOME COMMUNIST CLASSICS. The pro-Kremlin political youth movement, Moving Together, completed on 14 February its exchange of books by modern authors for Russian classics, Interfax reported. The movement offered the reading public in various cities the opportunity to turn in books by modern popular authors such as Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin, which the activists deem "intellectually marginal," and receive in return Russian classics by authors such as Ivan Bunin and Anton Chekhov. Moving Together Press Secretary Denis Zaitsev told the agency that some 6,700 books were collected, including some 97 by Karl Marx. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
SERBIAGERMAN BROADCASTER REJECTS MILOSEVIC'S USE OF DOCUMENTARY ON KOSOVA. Joerg Schoenenborn, who is chief editor of the radio and television station West German Broadcasting (WDR), said on 14 February that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has no business citing a WDR television documentary from 2001 on the 1999 Recak massacre in Kosova as part of his defense, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Cologne. Schoenenborn called Milosevic's references to the broadcast "absurd and impudent," noting that the documentary represented the journalists' own point of view and nothing more. The documentary "It Began With A Lie" denies that the massacre took place and has been criticized by nearly all German Balkan experts and broadcasters as unprofessional and biased, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Many German experts suspect that some of the Serbian apologists who have taken up positions in Western media and NGOs in recent years may have played a role in producing the film. Meanwhile in Recak, villagers are "outraged" at Milosevic's allegation -- based on the film -- that the massacre never took place, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
RADIO B-92 STILL TOPS THE CHARTS. Radio B-92 has the highest ratings in Belgrade for the third consecutive year, according to survey results released on 15 February. The station is now even more popular than during the Milosevic regime, when it led independent criticism of the government. Fears that the popularity of the station would drop once democratic changes occurred have proven ungrounded. Belgrade's Strategic Marketing agency results show that ratings for prime-time current affairs programs have had a considerable audience increase. The morning news program has risen 20 percent since October 2001. During the same period, the evening and late news programs have risen by 23 and 17 percent respectively. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
REQUEST FOR BULGARIAN-LANGUAGE BROADCASTS. On 12 February local authorities in the municipalities of Bosilegrad and Dimitrovgrad asked Radio Television Serbia (RTS) to again air the TV program "Journal," the only current affairs show for the region's Bulgarian minority. The program was dropped during NATO bombing in 1999. The local authorities have asked that a 30-minute program again be broadcast four times a month on the state media first channel. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
STATE MEDIA BAN ON RADICAL PARTY? On 14 February, the Serbian Radical Party claimed that no television crew from RTS has entered its offices for over a year, nor has the state media covered any of its weekly press conferences. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
DO VIDEO RECORDINGS OF SUSPECTS IN POLICE STATIONS VIOLATE RIGHTS? Broadcasting of video recordings of statements made in police stations violates the rights of defendants, a spokesman for the Yugoslav Committee of Lawyers said on 15 February. Milan Simic was referring to a recent case in Valjevo in which police investigating a robbery arrested four young suspects and allowed two TV crews to attend their interrogation. Journalists were also allowed to question the boys. The recordings were broadcast on TV Politika that night. Under the new Criminal Code, the accused have the right to have a lawyer present during interrogation by police and the presence of media is not permitted. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
EASY COME, EASY GO. A list of over 100 names of media notables in the state-funded TV system was published in connection with alleged illegal grants of loans and apartments. Trade unions also posted these lists in the state media company. A committee set up by the new director of RTS recently reported to the RTS Management Committee that former RTS Director Dragoljub Milanovic had violated the law when he personally distributed apartments and loans. The present RTS director has given the owners of the disputed residences 30 days to explain the circumstances under which they were granted loans and apartments. If they are unable to do so, they will be required to vacate these residences or return the loans, the paper "Glas javnosti" reported on 12 February. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
RADIO SUBOTICA ON STRIKE. Radio Subotica employees have been on strike since 13 February to protest late payment of salaries, Radio B-92 correspondent Larisa Inic reports. The employees resumed the strike suspended in January when the Subotica Municipal Council, which operates the station, agreed to meet union demands. Union leaders say none of their demands have been met within the deadline agreed. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 9-15 February)
TAJIKISTANRUSSIAN-LANGUAGE JOURNAL LAUNCHED IN KHUJAND. In January, the first issue of a 12-page Russian-language weekly appeared on newsstands in the northern city of Khujand. The publication has a print run of 1,000. ("European Institute of the Media CIS Newsletter," January)
INTERNET PROJECT LAUNCHED. The World Bank announced in January that Tajikistan will be included as one of 32 countries in an Internet-based development project. A special web portal will be created under this project. ("European Institute of the Media CIS Newsletter," January)
REGIONALFERGHANA VALLEY TV INITIATIVE. In January, three television stations -- Ekho Manasa in Kyrgyzstan, SM-1 in Tajikistan and Mulokot in Uzbekistan -- initiated a 10-month program to broadcast to the Ferghana Valley. The project, known as the Voices of Ferghana Valley, is funded by the Eurasia Foundation. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," January)
END NOTEOPPOSITION DENIED EQUAL MEDIA ACCESS IN THE UKRAINIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN
By Taras Kuzio
Ukraine will hold a parliamentary election on 31 March at a time when public trust in the media is relatively low, as it is in state institutions generally. Ukrainians who fully trust the media range from a low of 11.6 to 15.5 percent, depending on region, according to a January poll by the Center for Economic and Political Studies. One reason why the media is not trusted is because it is mainly controlled by the executive and oligarchs who are preventing equal access for all 35 election parties and blocs, especially those in opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. Recognizing this problem, parliament last month approved a resolution "On Securing Citizen's Right to Information" during the elections.
The regular flouting of media legislation by parliamentary deputies and the executive is a second reason why there is a low level of public trust in the media. The honorary president of the television station Inter is Oleksandr Zinchenko, head of the oligarchic Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPU-O) parliamentary faction and chairman of the parliamentary committee on Freedom of Speech and Information. Inter, which broadcasts mainly in Russian, regularly flouts Article 9 of the law "On Television and Radio," which states that 50 percent of programming should be in the state language, Ukrainian.
At a meeting this month with the Central Election Commission, the National Television and Radio Council (NRTR) complained that the greatest number of legal violations had been undertaken by foreign (i.e. Western) media subleasing broadcasting time from Ukrainian media and warned that the licenses of these Ukrainian media outlets would be revoked. This kind of official hostility to foreign media only applies to Western -- not Russian -- media.
The election law prohibits election campaigning by foreign media, although these articles have never been applied against the extensive Russian print and television media available in Ukraine. The NRTR did not threaten Ukrainian television stations, such as Inter, which re-broadcast Russian programs. Russian TV and radio programs support pro-Kuchma and oligarchic blocs and are not favorably disposed to the anti-Kuchma opposition or to former Prime Minister Viktor Yushhenko's Our Ukraine. The main target for the NRTR are Western radio stations, such as the BBC, Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle. These stations are far more objective, more willing to expose election malpractices, and therefore less positively disposed to the "party of power" and the oligarchs.
Official media policies in general -- and especially during elections -- do not grant equal access to all political forces. Both the moderate and the radical opposition to Kuchma and to the oligarchs are at a great disadvantage in the current elections in obtaining access to the media. The authorities are using every method at their disposal to prevent Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists and the Yuliya Tymoshenko radical opposition blocs from obtaining access to the media in order to restrict popular support for these two blocs. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine faces fewer media restrictions because it is only anti-oligarch, not anti-Kuchma, but it also faces severe problems.
The executive and the oligarchs control most of the country's media. The most popular television stations in Ukraine -- which cover between 70 and 90 percent of the country -- are 1+1 and Inter on channels two and three respectively. Both television stations are controlled by the SDPU-O and its ally, the oligarchic Democratic Union. The Labor Ukraine oligarchic party controls the ICTV and Era television stations.
In addition to restricting access to the media, the executive and oligarchs have also undertaken a number of concerted actions against independent media or those sympathetic to the opposition. In Odesa, 15 journalists on the Hot Line television station were fired after they openly stated their intention of maintaining neutrality in the elections. The decision was a warning to journalists that they should only work for pro-presidential parties. In Luhansk, the Efir-1 television company was closed by the city council after it refused to endorse the dismissal of Mayor Anatoliy Yahoferov, a sympathizer of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.
In November 2001, presidential spokesman Ihor Storozhuk was appointed head of the National Television Company to ensure that the executive fully controlled this important station. The only Ukrainian-language newspaper in the Crimea, "Krymska Svitlytsia," stopped receiving state funds in November 2001 because it never hid its support for Yushchenko. Ivan Drach, a leading member of the Our Ukraine bloc, was replaced as chairman of the State Committee on Information, Television, and Radio on 7 February by Ivan Chyzh, a defector from Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists. It was important to the executive branch that Drach and the Our Ukraine bloc have no influence over the State Committee during the election campaign.
Tymoshenko and Moroz, radical oppositionists to Kuchma, have encountered the greatest difficulties in receiving media coverage of their programs. In Cherkasy, journalists on the Socialist newspaper "Rubezh" went on hunger strike on 30 January because printing facilities had suddenly stopped being available to them. Tymoshenko has been unable to place a single paid advertisement on any state or commercial television station; on 14 February the Tymoshenko bloc sent an open letter to the heads of television stations complaining of an "information blockade" because of her opposition to Kuchma. Kyiv printing houses cancelled their contracts to print Tymoshenko's "Slovo Batkivshchyny" and "Vechirni Visti" newspapers and she had to relocate their printing operation to western Ukraine. Serhiy Pravdenko, editor of the parliamentary daily newspaper "Holos Ukraiiny" and a candidate for the Tymoshenko bloc, was accused of the misuse of funds and a criminal case has been launched against him.
The STB and Novy Kanal TV stations, which cover only 23-28 percent of Ukraine's territory, are sympathetic or neutral to Yushchenko's Our Ukraine while other television stations controlled by the executive or oligarchs provide negative coverage. On a tour of Poltava, Mykolayiv, and Kirovohrad earlier this month Yushchenko was barred from appearing on oblast-level state television and radio. When he finally managed to insist on his right to appear on Mykolayiv Oblast state television, the electricity was cut off. Our Ukraine activists have been arrested for distributing and putting up leaflets "in the wrong place" by the militia in eastern Ukrainian cities. The militia does not apply these rules to the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine and SDPU-O election blocs whose posters are to be found everywhere.
All 35 parties and blocs are not being granted equal access to the media during the Ukrainian parliamentary elections campaign. Such unequal access to the media particularly applies to those election blocs which are anti-oligarch and/or anti-Kuchma. Preventing equal media access also contravenes President Leonid Kuchma's stated promise to Western governments and international organizations to allow free and fair elections.
Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for East European Studies, University of Toronto