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Media Matters: March 8, 2002

8 March 2002, Volume 2, Number 10
RFE/RL DOUBLES BROADCASTS TO AFGHANISTAN. On 1 March, RFE/RL doubled the number of hours per day of its Radio Free Afghanistan programs in Dari and Pashtu, from three to six hours. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine hailed the increase as "another indication of the commitment of RFE/RL and its sister organizations in U.S. international broadcasting to help build a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan through the medium of news and information." Radio Free Afghanistan's programming in Dari can now be heard from 1300-1400 UTC (8 am-9 am EST), with repeats at 1800-1830 UTC (1 pm-1:30 pm EST), 1930-2000 UTC (2:30 pm-3 pm EST) and 0400-0500 UTC (11 pm-midnight EST), while broadcasts in the Pashto language will air from 1200-1300 UTC (7 am-8 am EST) with repeats at 1700-1800 UTC (noon-1 pm EST) and 0300-0400 UTC (10 pm-11 pm EST). The programs are broadcast to Afghanistan via shortwave and on a joint RFE/RL-Voice of America medium-wave broadcast stream. Live and on-demand RealAudio of the Dari and Pashto broadcasts to Afghanistan is available on RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan website, located at RFE/RL operated a Radio Free Afghanistan from 1985 until 1993, when the services were closed as part of an overall restructuring of RFE/RL operations following the end of the Cold War. Legislation approved by the U.S. Congress in December 2001 appropriated funds to resume the Afghan broadcasts as part of the post-11 September war on terrorism.

WRITERS UNION PROTESTS THE DRAFT COMMUNICATIONS LAW. On 28 February the Board of the Writers Union of Armenia discussed the draft law "On Mass Communication" developed by the Ministry of Justice and approved by the government, and adopted a statement. Emphasizing that the draft is a retreat from the achievements of freedom of speech of the recent years, the Board of the Writers Union said in its statement: "The introduction of postcensorship in the draft law means an attempt to restore the Soviet 'Glavlit,' the negative effect of which, we, the writers, have felt the most. The provision on licensing the communication activities, honoraria to the officials for interviews, [and] the inappropriate restrictions on information receipt are unacceptable." The Writers Union, which signed a joint statement issued by media and journalist associations in February, called on the government not to submit the current draft to parliament and to develop a new draft -- with the participation of journalists and concerned organizations -- in accord with democratic values. (Yerevan Press Club, 1 March)

EDITOR AGAIN CHARGED WITH SLANDER. Nicol Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," was formally charged on 1 March with slandering Hovannes Yeritsian, who heads Armenia's civil aviation agency, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In its 6 November 2001 issue the paper printed a photograph of Yeritsian with the caption "Degenerate officials recruited for the civil service." Pashinian was found guilty of similar slander charges in September 1999 and sentenced to one year in jail; that term was subsequently suspended. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPRESENTATIVES CRITICIZE NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW. At a meeting in Yerevan on 4 March with editors of Armenian media outlets, three visiting Council of Europe media experts expressed their concern over specific provisions of the government's proposed new law on the mass media, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The experts singled out for special criticism the provision ordering the creation of a government agency charged with "state oversight" of the media, and which would also issue and revoke the license without which media outlets would not be permitted to function. In a statement released last month, Armenian journalists argued that the bill poses a threat to media freedom in Armenia and should not be submitted for parliamentary debate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

WEEKLY WARNED OVER MENTIONING UNREGISTERED ORGANIZATION. The Prosecutor-General's Office has issued an official warning to the private Belarusian-language weekly "Nasha Niva" for publishing a statement by a priest of the unregistered Belarusian Autocephalous Church, Belapan reported on 4 March. Belarus's restrictive media law prohibits publications from running statements by unregistered organizations. "Nasha Niva" Editor in Chief Andrey Dynko said he is surprised by the warning, since the weekly published only a Christmas message by priest Ivan Spasyuk in the "Letters to the Editor" section, and added that it was not an official statement of the Belarusian Autocephalous Church. "Nasha Niva" is planning to contest the warning in court because two official warnings within a 12-month period could lead to a publication's closure. "It's very difficult to work in a country where most national organizations ranging from the Youth Front to Regional Belarus are unregistered," Dynko noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

LAWYER IN KIDNAPPING TRIAL CHARGED WITH SLANDER. Prosecutors in Minsk have brought a charge of slander against lawyer Ihar Aksyonchyk, who represented the family of abducted journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in the ongoing trial of Zavadski's alleged kidnappers, Belapan reported on 5 March. In a statement issued to the media on 13 February, Aksyonchyk said the four defendants were "nothing but tools" in the abduction of Zavadski. He linked the Zavadski case to the disappearances in 1999 of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. Aksyonchyk accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "illegal interference" with the investigation into the disappearances. He also cited testimony from former investigators saying that the abductions and subsequent murders of Zavadski, Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were ordered by Lukashenka's top aide, Viktar Sheyman, who is now Belarus's prosecutor-general. The whereabouts of Aksyonchyk have not been known since mid-February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

NGO FAILS IN EFFORTS TO SUE 'SOVETSKAYA BELORUSSIYA' FOR LIBEL. A district court in Minsk rejected a libel suit on 5 March by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the country's largest human rights organization, against the daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," which is the main press mouthpiece of President Lukashenka's administration, Belapan reported. The committee and its chairwoman, Tatsyana Protska, complained that their reputations were injured by an "analytical report" in "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" on 5 September 2001, which alleged that there was an international plot involving the Belarusian opposition, NGOs, and Western intelligence services to overthrow Lukashenka's regime. The daily mentioned the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Protska among the plotters. "[The report] was a dispute within the framework of political topics...It does not contain any assessment of the business or professional qualities of plaintiff Tatsyana Protska, or an assessment of the economic performance of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee as an entity of economic relations," the court said in dismissing the suit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

NEW STATE TELEVISION CHIEF. The Council on Electronic Media appointed Kiril Gotsev as the new director of state television on 4 March, AP reported. Gotsev has been in charge of state television since December 2001, when the council dismissed Lilyana Popova from the post because she did not meet the legal requirements stipulating that the state TV director must have at least five years of experience as a television journalist. Popova had long-term experience as a radio journalist when she was appointed to the post. At that time, the law did not include the requirement, which was added to the legislation after the June 2001 elections and the victory of Simeon Saxecoburggotski's National Movement Simeon II. Popova was considered to be a supporter of former Premier Ivan Kostov. Gotsev has worked in state television for more than two decades, mainly in administrative positions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE CREATES UPROAR. Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said on 4 March that he is confident that U.S. officials will deny claims published the same day in an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" by columnist Jackson Diehl, Hungarian media reported. Diehl wrote that U.S. officials are disappointed with Hungary and the Czech Republic's evolution following their admission to NATO. He said Prime Minister Viktor Orban has "embraced a nationalist agenda worthy of the 1930s while tacitly allying himself with anti-Semites," and that Czech Premier Milos Zeman has "become notorious for his attacks on the free press and connections to gangsters." Diehl also said that because of his "toxic talk of Lebensraum for Hungarians," Orban "has been refused a White House visit." Horvath said that attributing to Orban the term "Lebensraum" (living space), which he said Orban never used, was "unacceptable," and that during a telephone conversation with the premier on 14 February while Orban was visiting Boston, U.S. President George W. Bush said nothing that revealed any dissatisfaction with Hungary's record following its NATO admission. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

MEDGYESSY CHALLENGES ORBAN TO DEBATE -- ON COMMERCIAL TV. On 4 March, Socialist Party prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy sent an open letter to Premier Orban challenging him to an audience-free debate on 26 or 28 March. Citing what he called his loss of confidence in recent years regarding the impartiality of the public service media, Medgyessy said the debate should be broadcast on commercial television and should include discussion of topics such as social inequality, the economy, poverty, the government's record on health care and agriculture, and the country's current "tense" foreign relations. "Nepszabadsag" reported that in his reply, Orban is expected to insist that the debate be conducted in front of a live audience and be broadcast on public media. Cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai said Orban will stick to traditional protocol and will first relay his answer to Medgyessy before informing the general public. Borokai said he "found it strange" that Medgyessy's letter reached the press before arriving at the prime minister's secretariat. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

JOURNALISTS CONDEMN PEARL MURDER. In a 26 February interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, the Association of Iranian Journalists (AIJ) condemned the killing of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, which was confirmed on 21 February. AIJ spokesman Ahmad Zeidabadi said that all the Iranian journalists, along with their international colleagues, feel the same pain over this horrifying incident. An AIJ statement added, IRNA reported on 26 February, "The abduction and murder of journalists who are struggling for the cause of informing the public of world events is a flagrant violation of all human rights." The U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service's Rewards for Justice program is offering up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for Pearl's kidnapping and murder. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 March)

GOVERNMENT SUSPENDS TV-CHANNEL. As of 5 March, TAN TV's operations were suspended for 6 months by order of the Kazakhstan Ministry of Communication and Transportation (KMCT), which cited technical problems and violations of the law on the use of the state language. On the same day, the Kazakhstan Democratic Choice movement and Republican People's Party staged a protest in front of the KMCT building. The protesters demanded that the decision to suspend TAN TV be reversed, claiming that the decision was politically motivated. In related news on the same day, former Minister of Industry, Trade, and Energy Mukhtar Abliyazov was removed from his position as chairman of Temirbank's Directors Council. Abliyazov, a founder of Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice movement, is also reportedly TAN TV's chief financial backer. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 5 March)

PHONE-IN WITH FORMER PRIME MINISTER DISRUPTED. A 1 March phone-in organized by the independent newspaper "Nachnem s ponedelnika" with former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin was disrupted by "technical problems," Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Kazhegeldin, who left Kazakhstan two years ago and has since lived in Europe and the U.S., heads the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. He told listeners that the time frame for his return to Kazakhstan depends not only on him but on the Kazakh people, implying that only mass popular pressure could force major political concessions out of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

TRIAL OF INDEPENDENT PAPER POSTPONED. The Bishkek City court of arbitration postponed on 1 March a trial against the state publishing house Uchkun due to illness of the Uchkun lawyer, Chynara Jolchueva. The plaintiff is the independent "Moya Stolitsa-Novosti" daily. Uchkun has not printed the paper since 19 January and its chief editor, Aleksander Kim, told an RFE/RL correspondent on 1 March that this failure to print has led to damage to the paper in the amount of 1.77 million soms (about $37,000). The same court ruled on 29 January that Uchkun must print "Moya Stolitsa-Novosti" until the investigation of the case is completed and a special court decision made. However, the court canceled its own decision on 4 February, complying with an appeal by Uchkun, and ruled that the paper should not be printed until a contract between it and the publishing house is renewed for 2002. The paper published several articles in January criticizing President Askar Akaev's son-in-law. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 1 March)

PARLIAMENT DEPUTY, JOURNALIST TRADE ACCUSATIONS. During a 2 March debate moderated by RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau, parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov accused Nyshanbek Kochkorov, a deputy with Kyrgyz National television, of unprofessional behavior. Two days earlier, Kyrgyz television aired a discussion between the two men on the issue of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, in which Kochkorov edited statements by his opponent and accused him of spreading deliberately false information. Madumarov reported after meeting with Beknazarov in custody last month that Beknazarov had been beaten. On 1 March, Tursunbek Akunov, who is chairman of the public committee to support Beknazarov, met with presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov to discuss Beknazarov's case, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Karypkulov denied at that meeting that Beknazarov was beaten in custody, or that local officials were taken hostage in Djalalabad Oblast last month by locals in protest of Beknazarov's arrest and trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

GOVERNMENT PRESSURES TELERADIO STRIKERS? Larisa Manole, a member of the Teleradio Moldova strike committee, said on 4 March that the government continues to "exert pressure" on journalists and to censor reports on the ongoing protests, Romanian radio reported, citing BASA-Press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

PRESIDENT WANTS TO SET UP COMMISSION ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA. Speaking on Moldovan television on 4 March, President Voronin proposed that a special commission be set up which would elaborate a new status for Teleradio Moldova, Infotag reported the next day. He said the commission should be made up of parliamentary deputies, government officials, and representatives of the intelligentsia. The president said that the striking journalists at Teleradio Moldova are being paid for launching the labor action. The strikers' committee the next day issued a strong protest, calling the allegations "libelous and irresponsible," Flux reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS RFE/RL HEADQUARTERS. On 4 March, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana visited RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, where he was welcomed by President Thomas A. Dine. Geoana said RFE/RL has made "perhaps the greatest contribution of all" to demolishing the communist regimes. He added that RFE/RL's task "is still not over," and that it now makes an important contribution to the process of consolidating the new democratic systems. He said he is optimistic about Romania's chances in both the NATO and EU expansion processes. Geoana said that it would be "unrealistic" to expect that his country will meet all the membership "value criteria" ahead of the NATO summit in Prague in November, among which he counted transparency, the struggle against corruption, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Roma prejudice. However, what is expected of Bucharest is that it produce a "short-term blueprint" for coping with these problems, which he said Romania intends to do. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

GAZPROM-MEDIA AGREES TO GIVE FINAL DECISION ON ITS MEDIA ASSETS SALE... On 1 March, Ekho Moskvy shareholder and Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov met again with Gazprom-Media General Director Boris Jordan to discuss the sale of Gazprom-Media's assets, Interfax reported. Venediktov reported that Gazprom agreed to examine and decide on the procedure and timing for the sale of the media entity's assets at the next Gazprom board meeting, which is scheduled for 5 March. In an interview published in "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 13 February, Venediktov said Gazprom-Media can choose between four scenarios. The first is selling all of its assets in Ekho Moskvy to the station's employees. In this case, Ekho Moskvy journalists would get an 84 percent share in their company and take total control over the board of directors. The second scenario lies in Gazprom selling only part of its shares in the company: in this case, none of the shareholders would obtain total control over the company. In a third scenario, Gazprom would sell its assets to an affiliate. In a forth scenario, Gazprom would refuse to sell any of its assets. Venediktov then made it clear that neither the third nor forth scenario could possibly satisfy Ekho Moskvy journalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)

...WHILE THE COMPOSITION OF THE EKHO MOSKVY BOARD OF DIRECTORS IS STILL UNDER DEBATE. In addition, Venediktov and Jordan also agreed to make public a single list of directors for the Ekho Moskvy board of directors, reported on 1 March. This list will include five representatives of Gazprom-Media, three journalists/shareholders of Ekho Moskvy, and one representative of Vladimir Gusinsky. On 26 February, Venediktov said he will quit Ekho Moskvy at the end of February to head the FM radio station Arsenal, which on 26 February won the rights to broadcast on the 87.5 frequency. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)

CONSORTIUM TO SUPPORT TV-6 TEAM FINALLY REGISTERED. On 28 February, former Metalloinvest chief Oleg Kiselev, Unified Energy Systems Director Anatolii Chubais, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, MDM-bank head Aleksandr Mamut, Joint Machine Works chief Kakha Bendukidze, Vympelkom head Dmitrii Zimin, MDM Group head Andrei Melnichenko, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and Sual Holding head Viktor Vekselberg officially registered a company to support the team of TV-6 journalists headed by Yevgenii Kiselev, reported. The following day, Interfax reported that the group of businessmen, who will bid for the right to broadcast on channel 6, will be actively supported by both Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs President Arkadii Volskii and Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Applications for bidding must be submitted no later than 6 March. The contest will be held on 27 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)

KISELEV PREPARES FOR TV-6 TENDER. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 2 March, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev said founders of the new television company have agreed to limit the stake of each shareholder to 10 percent, to increase the number of investors from 12 to 30 in the first months following the creation of the new channel, and "to include Russian and foreign citizens." Kiselev said all the documents required for participation in the tender to broadcast on channel 6, set for 27 March, have been drawn up. As of 3 February, 12 investors have agreed to participate in the tender ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

PUTIN: 'CARTOONS NO LESS IMPACT THAN INTERNET.' Speaking to Russia's literary, cinema, and showbiz elite assembled at the Kremlin on 5 March for a meeting of the Culture and Art Council, President Putin called on them to create "an industry of culture serving to consolidate the nation's collective consciousness," Russian news agencies reported. "We should seek new ways to utilize the [country's] cultural potential for forming an image of Russia and establishing [Russia's] new role and place in the civilized world," the president said. Putin called on Russia's cultural figures to pay special attention to the development of television for children that, "should create an environment necessary for molding the [next] generation of full-fledged citizens." In doing so, Putin said, they should "squeeze out" primitive characters and plots in TV programs and reinforce national values, including those in Russian-produced cartoons. "One should remember that cartoons have no less impact than the Internet," Putin warned. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

LIBERALS DECRY NEAR COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF INDEPENDENT TV. In an open letter released on 5 March, Russian human rights activists and liberal politicians called on all political forces, both left and right, to come together for the "salvation of democracy, freedom, and human dignity in Russia," Interfax reported. "The current policy of the regime is not a new stage of reforms, but is its liquidation," according to the authors. "The crisis [surrounding] democratic development in Russia first became apparent in the 1990s, when the 'directed democracy' took shape, the freedom of choice gave way to competition between oligarchic clans, and civil society increasingly alienated itself from the government and the state," they said. They went on to say that the crisis has reached the point where independent television has practically been destroyed and opposition has been pushed out of politics. The appeal was signed by Elena Bonner, the widow of renowned Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov; Duma deputies Yulii Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov; writers Arkadii Vaksberg and Feliks Svetov; and political analysts Andrei Piontkovskii and Igor Yakovenkov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

TV NEWS BATTLE IN KRASNOYARSK. A respected independent TV station, "Afontovo," and the sensationalist TV-K news station are pitted against each other for viewers in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, the 4 March edition of "The New York Times" reported. Aleksandr Karpov, who struggled against major odds to set up the Afontovo station in 1993, is committed to news reporting which reflects the public interest, whereas his rival, Vadim Vostrov, makes no secret of his profit motive and liking for insider political influence, according to daily. Today, Afontovo is struggling to survive: its popularity ratings have dropped from second to fourth place and its advertising revenues -- never secure -- are falling, while TV-K seems impervious to free-market pressures. ("The New York Times," 4 March)

JOURNALIST BEATEN IN VLADIVOSTOK� On 28 February, two unknown assailants set upon "Moskovsky Komsomoletz-Vladivostok" reporter Marina Popova, beating her on the head and saying, "You are getting this for your work." The police claim this attack was robbery, while Popova's newspaper colleagues reject this argument. They point out that Popova was wearing gold jewelry which the "thieves" did not take and said she had just published two articles about "services of an intimate nature," to which the local police turned a blind eye. ("Glasnost Defense Fund Digest," 4 March)

�WHILE REPORTER IN VLADIMIR IS SUED. The Vladimir city procuracy has brought slander charges against Mikhail Bunyanov, the editor the local paper "Prizyv." Bunyanov's paper published an article which was critical of all the candidates for the office of the head of the city administration. Another reason for the slander charge against Bunyanov was that his paper's printing house printed leaflets which publicized materials from the court case against Valentin, the metropolitan of the Russian Autocephalic Orthodox Church. ("Glasnost Defense Fund Digest," 4 March)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICAL OF U.S. REPORT ON PRESS ACCESS TO CHECHNYA. On 6 March, speaking at a public hearing of the subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee to review the State Department's just-released Human Rights Country Reports, a representative of the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International noted that although the Russian section includes information on the crackdown on independent TV, the report downplays the Russian government's role in obstructing NGO, media, and UN special rapporteurs' access to Chechnya.

NEW PROTESTS IN PASKO'S DEFENSE. Amnesty International and Greenpeace Russia published a joint statement in Moscow in which they demanded that military journalist and ecologist Grigorii Pasko be freed, the BBC reported on 28 February. Pasko was sentenced on 25 December 2001 to 4 1/2 years in prison for "divulging military secrets." The statement said that the information made public by Pasko could not have undermined the combat readiness of the Russian Pacific Fleet, which he served in. It added that his sentencing was a political vendetta and was directed against the freedom of press. Meanwhile, on 4 March, three representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for Pasko's release during a press conference in Vladivostok. A CPJ request to meet with Pasko in prison was turned down by a local military official, who said the request would be given a written response only within the next month. Pasko is serving a four-year sentence for treason. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March; CPJ Press Release, 5 March)

CONTRADICTORY PRESS REPORTS ON BORODIN'S FATE. On 5 March, the Russian press agency Interfax -- quoting the press secretary of Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia -- announced that Swiss prosecutors had "dropped the [money-laundering] case" against Borodin. He had been under investigation for his role in laundering millions of dollars in bribes that Borodin allegedly received from the Mabetex corporation in return for granting lucrative construction contracts in the mid-1990's for Kremlin restoration when he was its chief property manager. Meanwhile, on 6 March the Swiss news agency ATI reported that Borodin had been found guilty of laundering $22 million and had been fined $175,000 by a Swiss court. At this writing, it is still unclear which press agency's reports accurately reflect Borodin's fate. ("RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch," forthcoming on 14 March)

MORE WOMEN INTERNET USERS. Women accounted for over 40 percent of the 4.2 million regular uses of the Internet in 2001, Galina Grishina, director of East-West Women's Innovative Project, told a news conference in Moscow on 4 March, Interfax reported the same day. News reports on problems women encounter are in short supply on the Internet, Grishina said. "Women name professional interests, accessing sources of new knowledge, and offsetting shortages of spiritual and cultural contacts among the basic reasons for using the web. The Internet offers them society gossip and data on shopping, cooking, cosmetics, and fashion," she said. (Interfax, 4 March)

POPE PAYS VIRTUAL VISIT. Pope John Paul II led prayers in six cities, including Moscow, via a satellite television link-up on 2 March, Reuters reported. Patriarch of All-Russia and Moscow Aleksii II told reporters in Moscow that the Russian Orthodox Church considers the pope's link-up an "invasion" of Russia, and promised that the virtual visit will negatively impact relations between the two churches, Interfax reported. The message was also beamed to Athens, Budapest, Strasbourg, Valencia, and Vienna. The broadcast was shown in Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, but not a single Russian television channel rebroadcast the message, a Vatican representative confirmed, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

NEW NATIONAL FILM ACADEMY LAUNCHED. The National Academy of Film has been established in Russia and director Vladimir Naumov has been elected its president. The academy will take over some responsibilities from Nikita Mikhailov's Union of Cinematographers. It will hold the first annual Golden Eagle film festival on 29 May. The winning film will receive a prize of $25,000. (ORT, 3 March)

MOBILE PHONE COMPANY OWNED BY TYCOON RAIDED. Serbian police and court-appointed officials on 1 March raided the offices of 063 Mobtel Srbija, the country's largest mobile telephone operator that is majority-owned by one of Serbia's richest men, AP and Reuters reported. The acting head of Belgrade's Trade Court, Goran Kljajevic, said the firm was taken over due to "unpaid taxes." The business empire headed by Bogoljub Karic, which prospered under the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has been targeted by the reformist authorities since Milosevic was removed from power in October 2000. Karic denied on 3 March that he had ties to Milosevic. "I was never a friend with Milosevic, I never benefited from him," he said. "We never financed Yugoslav wars, nor we were involved in any shady deals." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)

HZDS SAYS ALLEGED STATEMENT BASED ON 'WRONG INTERPRETATION.' The HZDS sharply protested against criticism by Slovak President Rudolf Schuster and government officials about anti-NATO comments made by its leader, Vladimir Meciar, saying that it is based on "wrong and expedient interpretations" of Meciar's declarations carried by the daily "Sme," CTK reported. The HZDS said that "Meciar has not admitted and is not accepting any other alternative for Slovakia than integration into Euro-Atlantic structures." The party also said it intends to take "all legal steps" to force "Sme" to "correct the statements and apologize to the HZDS." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

WASHINGTON CALLS FOR COMPLETION OF GONGADZE INVESTIGATION. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a live television link between Washington and Kyiv on 4 March that the United States is watching Ukraine's election campaign very carefully in order to assess "whether Ukraine will show in a clear way that it is ready to be a member of the international community of democratic states," 1+1 Television reported. Rice also said the U.S. is interested in seeing the completion of the investigation into journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's murder, adding that a team of FBI experts will arrive in Ukraine in April to assist the investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)

PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ADDRESS ISSUE OF MELNYCHENKO TAPES. The Verkhovna Rada on 6 March failed to pass a resolution on giving the floor to lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary commission dealing with the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, who is expected to report on the results of a recent U.S. expert examination of audiotapes made in President Leonid Kuchma's office by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Lawmaker Yelyashkevych has been occupying the parliamentary rostrum since the inauguration of the current parliamentary sitting on 5 March, demanding that the parliament address the issue of Melnychenko's tapes. The motion to address this issue was backed by 191 deputies (the required majority is 226 votes). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)

DISSIDENT POET CITES FURTHER DIFFICULTIES. On 6 March, National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" ran a feature on the recently released Uzbek dissident poet, Dzhumaev. During the item, the reporter Lawrence Schutz mentioned that one of the charges brought by Uzbek authorities against Dzhumaev was that he has given interviews to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. The reporter also referred to Dzhumaev's old shortwave radio on which he listens to the Uzbek Service. Dzhumaev also mentioned that his 21-year-old daughter, who also is a poet, is being threatened with arrest by Uzbek authorities. (National Public Radio, 6 March)

PRESIDENT PROPOSES 'OPEN INFORMATION EXCHANGE' IN REGION. Following the summit of Central Asian presidents in Almaty on 28 February, Islam Karimov acknowledged to journalists that different Central Asian states have different levels of democratic and economic development, and said that Uzbekistan is ready to learn from the experiences of its neighbors, in particular Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the Kabar news agency and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. But he warned that each country must follow its own path, depending on its own history and conditions, and "the people's mentality." Uzbekistan would be studying models of bicameral parliaments in both Kazakhstan and Russia, especially the role of the upper house, Karimov said. A January referendum in Uzbekistan mandated the change from a one-chamber to a two-chamber parliament by the next elections. Saying it is important to know about "processes happening in neighboring countries," Karimov proposed an "open information exchange" in the region and the creation of "a single information space" involving, among other things, more opportunities for Central Asians to watch each others' television programs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)