29 March 2002, Volume 2, Number 13
INTERNATIONALCPJ: 2001 WAS A 'PRESS FREEDOM CRISIS'... According to a 26 March report, 2001 was an "annus horribilis" -- a terrible year -- for press freedoms around the world, as repressive nations took advantage of the war on terrorism to crack down on independent media. Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan are listed as among the worst offenders. In a widely respected annual survey, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented over 500 cases worldwide in 2001 where journalists were harassed, censored, beaten, tortured, or killed. Altogether, the CPJ found that 37 reporters were killed on the job worldwide, up from 24 in 2000. The CPJ report says most of the killings were not the result of covering conflicts but reprisals for what reporters had written. Among the worst offenders were the governments of China, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Iran. And after four years of decline, the number of reporters in prison jumped 50 percent to 118 in 2001, compared with 81 in 2000. CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper maintains that the media in the entire former Soviet region is under fire, a situation that only complicates the democratic transition. She suggests that 2002 can be a better year for freedom of the press, but only if the U.S. and Western countries make it a central issue in their relations with repressive nations. (The full CPJ report can be found at http://www.cpj.org/) ("U.S.: Media Monitor Alarmed By World 'Press Freedom Crisis,'" rferl.org, 26 March)
...LINKED TO WAR ON TERRORISM? The war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of eight reporters, according to the 26 March CPJ report. Ann Cooper, the executive director of the CPJ, told RFE/RL that many governments in 2001 used the U.S.-led war on terrorism to crack down on the media, citing "national security" reasons. Cooper says the U.S. government did press freedom in many countries a disservice in October when it asked the government of Qatar to "rein in" coverage of the war in Afghanistan by Al-Jazeera, an Arab-language satellite television network. The CPJ report also mentions U.S. State Department efforts to persuade Voice of America not to broadcast an interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Cooper says these incidents send the wrong message to repressive governments worldwide, who could point to U.S. behavior in the face of critical media coverage as a way to excuse their own tough policies. Cooper believes the U.S. later adopted a better approach, having key officials such as Secretary of State Colin Powell grant interviews to Al-Jazeera. "If you're not happy about coverage, the way to deal with it is not to act to restrict it -- or ask somebody else to restrict it -- but to make yourself available and get your side of the story out." ("U.S.: Media Monitor Alarmed By World 'Press Freedom Crisis,'" rferl.org, 26 March)
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AFGHANISTANCHANGES IN BROADCAST LANDSCAPE. Commando Solo, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's EC-130 aircraft that were conducting civil affairs and psychological operations broadcast missions into Afghanistan, arrived home on 20 March, according to AP. The unit flew over 300 nine-hour missions. One day earlier, Kabul television announced the donation by the Iranian embassy of 485 videocassettes. Tehran has contributed much of Afghanistan's broadcasting equipment. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March)
ARMENIAJOURNALISTS BEATEN, DETAINED. As they were disbanding a 24 March opposition rally in Baku, the police severely beat Aidyn Huliev, editor in chief of the paper "Hurriyet," and injured Mekhman Kerimov, a photographer for the paper "Yeni Musavat." The police also detained Rei Kerimoglu of the paper "Vatandash Khamrailiyi," Mustafa Hadzhily of the paper "Rating," and Mustafa Hadzhibeili, editor in chief of the "Intibakh" newspaper. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
JOURNALISTS, PARLIAMENTARIANS DEMAND WITHDRAWAL OF DRAFT MEDIA LAW. The National Press Club and the chairmen of two Armenian parliament committees demanded on 26 March that the government withdraw its amended version of the new media law, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They argued that the changes made to it in response to earlier criticisms are merely "cosmetic" and that it "preserves censorship." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
PRESIDENT RULES OUT INTERFERENCE IN FREQUENCY TENDER. Robert Kocharian denied on 26 March that any member of his administration will "meddle" in the tender for the frequency currently used by the independent TV station A1+, Noyan Tapan reported. Two other private TV broadcasters, one of them rumored to have links with a member of Kocharian's staff, are competing in the tender for that frequency. National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian and the "Democratic Homeland" Party on 21 and 26 March, respectively, accused the Armenian authorities of planning to "silence" A1+ in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)
DISPUTE OVER TV-FREQUENCY TENDER CONTINUES. Armenia's National Press Club issued a statement on 27 March expressing its concern over the upcoming tender for the broadcasting frequency currently used by the independent TV station A1+, Noyan Tapan reported. The statement noted that A1+ has energetically defended the principle of free speech and has made "a considerable contribution" to the development of democracy in Armenia. Also on 27 March, the general director of "Sharm," which is participating in the tender, denied that his company is backed by members of the present Armenian leadership as some observers believe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
AZERBAIJANOWNER OF AZERBAIJANI WEBSITE THREATENED. Eldar Orudzhev, the owner of the Internet site "Virtual Monitor," received an anonymous phone call at his Moscow residence. He was told that his wife's life was in danger. On previous occasions unknown men threatened to kill him and his wife, abduct their small children, or plant drugs and ammunition on their parents. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
CREDITS FOR MEDIA PROMISED. Speaking on Azerbaijan state television on 27 March, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade announced that the government will provide 17 billion manats ($3.54 million) in credits to media outlets, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
PRESIDENT ACCEPTS 'FRIEND OF JOURNALISTS' AWARD. At a lavish ceremony on 21 March, President Heidar Aliyev accepted the annual "Friend of Journalists" award for 2001, Turan reported. Explaining the choice of Aliyev as recipient, Aflatun Amashev of the Committee for the Rights of Journalists noted that, although four media outlets were closed down in 2001 and several journalists arrested, at the same time amendments were enacted to the country's media legislation making it among the most liberal in the CIS. He also praised the tax breaks Aliyev initiated for the media. Opposition media boycotted the event. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March)
BELARUSJOURNALISTS BEATEN, DETAINED. As the Minsk police "dealt with" an opposition rally, Viktor Tolochko, an ITAR-TASS photographer, was hurt. The crowd beat off police attempting to seize Reuters reporter Vasily Fedosenko. The police also detained journalist Valery Shchukin. In dispersing a similar rally in Hrodna, police detained journalists Andrei Pochebut and Alesya Sidlyarevich. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
RFE/RL REPORTER BEATEN. In Brest, RFE/RL reporter Oleg Suprunyuk, who is also deputy editor in chief of the weekly "Brestsky Kuryer," was attacked by unknown men. He was hospitalized with a broken lower jaw and numerous bruises. Although the beating took place a week before he was hospitalized, Suprunyuk did not make a complaint to doctors or to the police. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
RELATIVES OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST APPEAL VERDICT ON ALLEGED KIDNAPPERS. The wife and mother of kidnapped journalist Dzmitry Zavadski have asked the Supreme Court to drop the case against Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik connected with the kidnapping of Zavadski, Belapan reported on 25 March. They argue that prosecutors failed to produce conclusive evidence during the trial and obtained some of the evidence in violation of the law. They want a new investigation to establish what happened to Zavadski, who has been missing since 7 July 2000. The trial -- in which Ihnatovich and Malik were sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder, the abduction of Zavadski, and several other crimes -- did not give any clues as to what might have happened to Zavadski after he disappeared. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
PRESIDENT URGES BETTER BROADCASTING. Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Belarusian Television and Radio Company head Yahor Rybakou on 27 March that he is not satisfied with the quality of Belarusian broadcasting, Belarusian Television reported. "The Belarusian Television and Radio Company works in the same information field with powerful foreign broadcasters: ORT, RTR, NTV, Radio Rossiya, Radio Mayak, Radio Liberty, Radio Racja, and others. It is in a state of ideological competition with them and, speaking straightforwardly, sometimes in [a state of ideological] confrontation," Lukashenka said. He noted, however, that "Belarusian Television, as before, remains [only] an information supplement to foreign television companies." Lukashenka advised that Rybakou work "around the clock" to improve television programming. "Beginning from tomorrow, every manager in the Belarusian Radio and Television Company has to sleep with a television set," the Belarusian president added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
CPJ: 'ASSAULT' ON PRESS FREEDOM IN 2001. The CPJ report (see above) also voices concern about the "assault" on press freedom in Belarus and says there is credible evidence that high-level government officials were involved in the 2000 disappearance of Russian television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski. ("U.S.: Media Monitor Alarmed By World 'Press Freedom Crisis,'" rferl.org, 26 March)
CZECH REPUBLICPUBLISHER OF 'MEIN KAMPF' FACES JAIL TERM... Article 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, is concerned that Michal Zitko faces possible imprisonment for publishing a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." Michal Zitko was charged under Article 260 of the Czech Penal Code, after his Otakar II publishing house released a Czech-language edition of "Mein Kampf" in March 2000. Article 260 prohibits providing support to any movement which promotes national, racial, class, or religious hatred. Zitko was first given a three-year suspended prison sentence and fined the Czech equivalent of $56,500. Failure to pay the fine would result in a one-year prison term. The conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal on 25 February 2002. On 26 March, Zitko received a copy of the decision which becomes effective immediately, despite a possible further appeal. He is reportedly unable to pay the fine and hence faces the possibility of a year in prison. (Article 19, 27 March)
...DUE TO BROADLY DEFINED CZECH HATE LAW? International law requires states to prohibit statements which incite acts of discrimination, hostility, or violence on the basis of race and other similar grounds, as an aspect of the right to equality. At the same time, the right to freedom of expression protects merely offensive or disturbing statements. Striking an appropriate balance between these two competing rights requires states to limit hate-speech laws to statements which are likely to directly result in unlawful acts. Hate-speech laws which are broader than this, or which are vague, may be abused for political reasons. "Mein Kampf," which contains Hitler's political and anti-Semitic views, is easily available in democratic countries; it can be downloaded free over the Internet. The book is used as a valuable historical source by academics and others who research the history of Nazism, the Holocaust and World War II. According to Article 19, banning this book clearly cannot be justified according to the principles outlined above. For more, see http://www.article19.org. (Article 19, 27 March)
OUTRAGE OVER PLANS TO SHOOT PORNO FILM AT THERESIENSTADT. Jan Munk, director of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Memorial, told dpa on 25 March that he was "horrified" over a report published in the tabloid "Super" that Czech porno actor/producer Robert Rosenberg intends to film a pornographic movie at the site of the former concentration camp. AP cited Munk as saying he has banned all cameras from the site in response to the report. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" quoted Rosenberg as confirming the report in "Super," which said the film will show Nazis having sex with female prisoners. The film is intended for the German market. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
ESTONIARUSSIAN-LANGUAGE PAPER ADVOCATES LOCAL OFFICIAL USE OF RUSSIAN. The local Russian-language newspaper "Narvskaya gazeta" in the border city of Narva -- which has a 90 percent Russian population -- is continuing its editorial campaign against the law, passed on 4 December, establishing Estonian as the language in which local governments must conduct their business, BNS reported on 15 March. The newspaper expressed its dissatisfaction with Legal Chancellor Alar Joks' statement that the law does not contradict the Estonian Constitution. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 March)
HUNGARYDEBATE OVER DEBATE LINGERS. Finance Minister Mihaly Varga and Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs showed up at Budapest's Millennium Park on 25 March to await their Socialist Party (MSZP) challengers for debates, Hungarian media reported. One day earlier, however, the MSZP confirmed that it would not participate in the debates at that venue, but said it is prepared to engage in debates on television. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni asserted that the Socialists had given "a final no" to the debates by not appearing, but added that cabinet members will continue to show up at Millennium Park for debates. In related news, FIDESZ has proposed that Pokorni debate his Socialist counterpart Laszlo Kovacs in a television studio in front of an audience of party delegates, "Nepszabadsag" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
IRANTEHRAN CUTS INTERNET ACCESS. Just days before the two-week Norouz (New Year) holiday, the Telecommunications Company of Iran (which is part of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) cut the phone lines of scores of Internet service providers. Mohammad-Amir Forughi, a Tehran-based expert on the Internet, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the ISPs would not be able to question the legality of this action because the courts will not be in session during the holiday period. When a number of Internet cafes were closed in May 2001 there was speculation that it was because young Iranians were using Internet cafes (also known as "coffee-nets") to make cheap international telephone calls, which deprives PTT of revenues. In August 2001, Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolution Council decided that the government would control Internet access and it made the Telecommunications Company and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting the main Internet distribution centers. A December article in "Aftab-i Yazd" expressed regret that President Mohammad Khatami had signed the act restricting Internet usage by people under the age of 18. The act also restricts public access to some political websites, according to the article. The article asked if the next step would be the banning of radios, since Khatami was silent on the banning of satellite reception equipment. In addition to using the Internet for international calls, some people in Iran use Internet chat rooms to communicate in real time with their counterparts in other countries. Contributors to a Persian-language "weblog" (http://www.hoder.com/i/) agreed that the major newspapers -- "Iran" and "Kayhan" -- had published reports about the interruption of telephone service for ISPs. They offered conflicting views on the impact of this. "Ehsan," for example, said he would not be able to send his message if the reports were true, and "Sina" said that he had used several ISPs successfully. "Alireza" and others confirmed the report about the phone cuts but said it was being unevenly enforced. "Omid" said that so far there is no problem, but "God forbid if this happens." ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March)
KAZAKHSTANFORMER PREMIER UNVEILS DEMOCRATIC MEDIA STRATEGY. In a statement posted on the website forumkz.org on 25 March, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin listed three priorities for forcing democratic change in Kazakhstan with the support of the international community. He argued that there is no longer any point in seeking cooperation with the present leadership, whose aim, he said, is to retain unlimited power for an unlimited period of time. Kazhegeldin included among his points the creation of independent supervisory boards to oversee the functioning of all mass media outlets financed by the taxpayer from the national budget. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
EDITOR OF ALMATY PAPER PRESSURED, THREATENED. The Almaty financial police opened a case of illegal entrepreneurship against Russian citizen Irina Petrushova, editor in chief of the independent paper "Respublika." Six men entered the paper's office, claiming to be financial policemen, and removed editorial documents without providing any receipt. Petrushova, who had to sign a pledge not to leave Almaty, denies the charges. Petrushova, was also sent funeral wreaths with the inscription "To Dear Irina Albertovna from Her Colleagues" delivered to her home and office. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
GOVERNMENT BEHIND NEWSPAPER'S LIBEL CAMPAIGN? Following publication of a 22 March article "abounding in unproven accusations" about the Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan -- such as that members of the Hare Krishna community distribute free ritual food, videos, and audio cassettes about meditation in order to recruit new members, without telling people that they are members of the Krishna community. As a result, the local Krishna Consciousness society is taking the "Kazakhstanskaya pravda" newspaper to court, the society's spokesman Bashir Damir Maratuly told Keston News Service on 26 March. The Kazakh government owns more than 90 percent of the paper's shares, Ninel Fokina the head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee told Keston, adding that she views accusations against the Krishna community as "yet another clear example of the Kazakh authorities' real attitude to freedom of conscience." According to Fokina, the paper has, on government instructions, been conducting a campaign against religions that are nontraditional for Kazakhstan. (Keston Institute News Service, 27 March)
PAVLODAR PAPER NOT PRINTED. In Pavlodar the printing press would not print an issue of the independent paper "Novoye Vremya" due to "technical reasons." Editor in Chief Irina Chernikova believes that authorities were behind the refusal to publish the issue. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
KYRGYZSTANTHE RIGHT TO WRITE: THE MEDIA VERSUS THE STATE. A temporary new legal provision, "The Order of Publishing Activities in the Kyrgyz Republic," restricts publishers' rights. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF AN UZBEK PAPER. "Mezon," the first independent Uzbek-language newspaper in Kyrgyzstan, was founded in 1996. Now it is closed due to debt, the lack of good management and staff -- and intra-office intrigue. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
HIZB-UT-TAHRIR THROUGH REPORTERS' EYES. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement is getting stronger in the Kyrgyz Republic and shapes public perception. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
LATVIANEW BOOK ON VICTIMS OF COMMUNIST TERROR. Events were held throughout Latvia on 25 March to commemorate the victims of communist terror, BNS reported. On that day in 1949, some 40,000 people were deported from Latvia to Siberia. The same day at the Occupation Museum, the book "Nation in Captivity" was released. Based on archival documents of Russia, Germany, and other countries, it states that Latvia lost some 325,000 people, or 17 percent, of its population from 1940-59. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)
POLANDNEW POLISH TV CHANNEL TO START BROADCASTING IN APRIL. Tele5, a new Polish television channel run by the Fincast media company, will start broadcasting around 15 April, PAP reported on 27 March, quoting Tele5 spokeswoman Edyta Gnojewska. Fincast is a Polish subsidiary of the Italian Eurocast Italia corporation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
ROMANIAIS ROMPRES TO BE AGERPRES AGAIN? The Senate's Cultural Commission on 26 March began debating a draft bill under which Romania's official news agency Rompres would again be called Agerpres --its name under the communist regime, Mediafax reported. The bill also stipulates that the Agerpres director would be appointed by the country's president, subject to parliamentary approval. The draft was submitted by Greater Romania Party Senator Eugen Constantinescu. A government-sponsored draft stipulates that the director of the official news agency is to be appointed by the premier. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)
RUSSIATV-6 JOURNALISTS SUCCESSFULLY SWAP OLIGARCHS... The Media Ministry announced on 27 March that the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights was won by Media-Sotsium, a nonprofit partnership founded by Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Yevgenii Primakov and Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) head Arkadii Volskii. According to Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, the tender commission's vote was unanimous, Russian media reported. Media-Sotsium also includes the Channel Six group, which was formed by former TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev and other former journalists at the channel. Kiselev, who is now Media-Sotsium's general director, told Interfax that the group plans to resume broadcasting in May. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov commented on the group's victory, noting that it "completes the redistribution of television property in Russia from one oligarch who was not loyal to the authorities to others that are." He added that the TV-6 journalists were originally taken off the air for political reasons and are now returning to it for political reasons. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
...AS GORBACHEV EXPRESSES DOUBTS ABOUT GROUP'S INDEPENDENCE. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also commented on the tender's results, saying he doubts that Media-Sotsium will be capable of creating "a genuinely free, independent, and honest channel," Interfax reported. He added that Kiselev's team "got so deeply involved in the squabble that they forgot about fundamental principles.... That is why they will not be able to create a channel that is needed for Russia," he continued. Earlier, Gorbachev headed NTV's General Council, and his foundation competed in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. In addition to Volskii and Primakov, Media-Sotsium was made up of 12 prominent Russian businessmen, such as Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Unified Machine Building Plants Group head Kakha Bendukidze, MDM-group head Andrei Melnichenko, former MDM-group Aleksandr Mamut, Russian Aluminum General Director Oleg Deripaska, former Metalloinvest Chairman Oleg Kiselev, and Sistema Chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov, "Gazeta" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
TV-6 COULD BEGIN BROADCASTING IN APRIL... TV-6 could begin broadcasting "in late April-early May if everything is all right," Kiselev, the head of the Media-Sotsium's team of journalists, said on 28 March, Interfax reported. "There are money resources and businessmen, who are members of Media-Sotsium and are ready for large investments," Kiselev said. "From the professional point of view, we are ready to start news programs on channel six [on 1 April] and to release an 'Itogi' news magazine program already on [31 March] if we try hard." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
...AND MUSCOVITES HOPE IT WILL BE A SPORTS CHANNEL. A plurality of Moscow residents want channel six to be a sports channel, according to a poll conducted by the ROMIR center for public opinion studies, RBK reported on 27 March. Some 22.5 percent of the respondents want the station to be a sports channel. Other preferences were for an entertainment channel (12.5 percent), a movie channel (8 percent), an educational channel (6.8 percent), and a nature channel (6.3 percent). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
SUPREME COURT REINSTATES MILITARY SECRETS ORDER. Russia's Supreme Court on 27 March overturned a lower court's ruling that invalidated a Defense Ministry order defining military secrets, Russian and international news agencies reported. Human rights activists described the Supreme Court's action as a blow to free speech. The military order contained a secret list of issues that it deemed illegal to disseminate. Rights activists say the order was the basis for a recent spate of espionage cases against journalists, academics, and others who have contact with foreigners. In September, a lower court struck down the order after an appeal from Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired naval captain and environmentalist. Nikitin spent 11 months in prison for co-authoring a report on nuclear pollution by the Russian navy. "Every researcher and journalist...is in a risk zone because he may violate a secret order without knowing it," AP quoted Nikitin's lawyer Yurii Shmidt as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
PLANNING PATRIOTIC PROPAGANDA? The editors of prominent media outlets attended a 20 March meeting in President Vladimir Putin's offices to hear the views of the deputy presidential chief of staff, V. Ivanov, who is heading up an effort to plan "patriotic education" known as "Pobeda" (Victory), reported the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Ivanov said that most media are engaged in educating the nation "in irresponsibility towards the state." ORT General Director K. Ernst, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" editor V. Fronin, and All-Russian TV and Radio Company First Deputy Chairman A. Bystritsky presented reports on their efforts in this field, complaining of "low ratings enjoyed by 'patriotic' TV programs," perhaps due to scheduling problems. General Valentin Varennikov, a committee member, called for a special agency to supervise all media and to implement a state program of genuine patriotic education. Defense Ministry officials proposed that all national media outlets hire military correspondents to improve coverage of the "military patriotic theme." In response, Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky told the meeting that on 22 March his ministry would consider up to 100 applications for appropriate broadcasts and publications on "urgent issues in military-patriotic education." CC
PRESIDENT MARKS MIDTERM AS PRESS FAWNS... As President Putin marked the midpoint of his four-year term on 26 March, media and politicians assessed his presidency. The official government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" predictably lavished praise on Putin, calling him someone "who firmly stands his ground and confidently pursues his political course." Likewise, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" marveled at Putin's sustained popularity, writing that "the Putin phenomenon has not yet exhausted itself." The daily noted that according to recent polls, not only do 70 percent of Russians support Putin, 59 percent say they were "never disappointed in any of his actions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
...AND RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN CRITICAL OF PRESS POLICY. Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov slammed continuing human rights violations under Putin's rule. "The rights and freedoms of citizens are still being violated in all areas," Mironov said in an interview published on 26 March in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Mironov directed most of his criticism on economic hardship, attacks against civilians in Chechnya, and the curtailment of press freedoms. Mironov said his office receives 2,000 complaints a month about rights violations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
NEW MEDIA LOBBYING GROUP FORMED. Heads of Russian professional media organizations met to set up a coordinating council to promote their professional interests. This association will be a lobbying organization, more powerful than its predecessors and doing this job openly, the way big businessmen do, Mediasoyuz president Alexander Lyubimov said in his keynote address. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 18-23 March)
'IZVESTIYA' TRADEMARK CONFLICT TO BE SETTLED. The conflict over the "Izvestiya" trademark will probably be resolved in an out-of-court settlement. Rospatent, the Russian Patent Office acting as the chief arbiter, has documents suggesting that the brand is the property of the state-run Izvestiya enterprise, part of the presidential property service, the service's head ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 18-23 March)
ORTHODOX GROUP CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF NEWSPAPER. The League of Orthodox Christian Citizens has called on "all decent people" to boycott the paper "Moskovskii komsomolets" in response to an article that criticized the activities of the Orthodox Christian society Radonezh. The very attitude expressed by the paper's publications "threaten public morals" and are "inconsistent with journalistic ethics," league activists believe. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 18-23 March)
CHELYABINSK GOVERNOR WINS SUIT. On 22 March, a court in Chelyabinsk ruled in favor of oblast Governor P. Sumin, who had filed a libel suit against the "Panorama" program of YuGRA TV. A 14 January program on regional budget policy insisted that Sumin and his team intend to "ruin the city" and "strangle the city administration" by massive cuts in the Chelyabinsk budget. The court found that this and other allegations lacked substance and were false and told the defendants to refute the report. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 18-23 March)
WEB WATCHDOG IN BRYANSK. The Federal Security Service's Bryansk Oblast branch set up a Computer and Information Security Division that will look into the activities of Internet providers and electronic media, especially those sponsored from abroad. The division will be guided in its activities by the Concept of Information Security. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Report," 18-23 March)
CARTOON WEBSITE: GUILT BY ASSOCIATION? According to the 22 March "Rossiiskaya gazeta," the popular political cartoon website Masyanya may soon be shut down for reprinting a controversial article from a 21 March St. Petersburg paper. The paper ran a column about St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Northwestern federal district presidential envoy Viktor Cherkesov, and his wife The column presented Cherkesov's wife as a St. Petersburg media magnate and mastermind of a media war against the governor, arguing that Masyanya is a way to pressure the city administration. Cherkesov's press service described the column as "arrant nonsense." CC
CELL PHONE USE ON THE RISE. The number of subscribers to mobile telephone services exceeded 8 million people in Russia at the beginning of 2002, Yuri Pavlenko, Russia's first deputy minister of telecommunications, said on 26 March, ITAR-TASS reported. "The mobile sector is growing...even faster than forecast initially," Pavlenko said. There were 7.8 million mobile phone subscribers in Russia at the end of 2001, Prime-TASS reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
FOREIGN MINISTRY 'BLANKS OUT' KUCHMA'S TREATMENT OF SHAIMIEV. Kazan's "Zvezda Povolzhya" recently reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry was irked by protocol that put Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev side-by-side with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at Odessa airport, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. The weekly asserted that Kuchma demonstrated that he considers Shaimiev a state president, the paper commented, while the Russian Foreign Ministry views Shaimiev as the head of a federation entity. The ministry ordered all television channels to cut a scene of Putin's arrival at the airport, according to the paper. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
PUNISHMENTS FOR SPEAKING BAD RUSSIAN ON THE WAY? A special government council on the Russian language is preparing a draft law that may include fines for incorrect use of the mother tongue, gazeta.ru reported on 27 March. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said the bill will be modeled on similar legislation in France. He said the council has asked a group of academics to contact media executives and editors to inform them about correct Russian usage. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March)
TAJIKISTANISLAM LITTLE DISCUSSED IN THE MEDIA... Although the Party of Islamic Renaissance of Tajikistan has been integrated into governmental structures, Islam or political Islam seem to be a taboo topic in the Tajik press. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
...ALONG WITH POST-CONFLICT AFGHANISTAN. Despite the direct impact that the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan will have on Tajikistan, the country's journalists seem to ignore the topic. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
UKRAINETAX POLICE ACCUSE TYMOSHENKO PUBLISHER OF FINANCIAL MACHINATION. The State Tax Authority has accused the antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc of using "shadow" financial resources in its parliamentary campaign, Ukrainian media reported on 25 March. The administration said a publishing company controlled by the bloc is involved in money laundering, adding that prices for the bloc's printed campaign materials were kept artificially low. "This conscious lie is made for only one reason -- to withdraw the bloc from the elections, or to issue compromising materials taking into account that we have no time to tell the truth," AP quoted Oleksandr Turchynov of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
MEDIA HARASSMENT LINKED TO ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Most cases of judicial and legislative harassment of the media have been linked to the upcoming electoral campaign. The electoral Russian Bloc has asked the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office to close down the paper "Ukrainsko Slovo" for allegedly fomenting ethnic tensions and hatred of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. The electoral headquarters of the electoral bloc For a United Ukraine asked the Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor-General's Office to require the papers "Ukraina molodaya," "Kommunist," and "Selskiye vesti" to refute inaccurate information about the bloc. In Kyiv, the Socialist Party sued 1+1 Television for publicizing "untrue" material on its leaders and for refusing to allow air time to rebut that report. A court in the Chernihiv Novozavodskoi district upheld a suit filed by parliament Chairman Ivan Plyushch against the weekly "Rubezh" published by the city branch of the Socialist Party. The court held that the paper's accusations that Plyushch had "tried to make a career at any cost and to avoid responsibility" were untrue, and ordered the editorial board to publish a refutation of the accusations and publicly apologize to Plyushch. In Lugansk, a cable TV crew was ejected from a club in the village of Verkhnesheverevki when it tried to record a speech by Valery Kolomeitsev-Rybalko, a candidate for parliament. The candidate's bodyguards injured the cameraman, insulted a woman journalist, and damaged a camera. The TV company has filed a complaint with law enforcement agencies. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
TV CHANNEL CANCELS DEBATE ON CONTROVERSIAL DOCUMENTARY. The private 1+1 Television on 27 March aired the controversial documentary "Piar" (see End Note below) but canceled a formerly scheduled live debate on it after the airing, Ukrainian media reported. A 1+1 Television presenter apologized to viewers and said that the channel decided to cancel the debate to avoid imminent confrontation in journalistic circles after a group of respected Ukrainian journalists declined an invitation to the debate. They reasoned in a statement that the film is biased and aimed at compromising certain political forces in the run-up to the parliamentary election. UNIAN reported that the journalists who signed the statement -- Yuliya Mostovaya and Serhiy Rakhmanin ("Zerkalo Nedeli"), Maryna Pyrozhuk (Radio Liberty), and Natalya Lihachova -- said the film is "an example of low-standard journalism in which facts are deliberately presented to fit only one -- controversial -- version of events." The documentary, written by a former "Financial Times" correspondent in Kyiv, Charles Clover, suggests that the U.S. took advantage of the tape scandal in Ukraine to exert pressure on President Leonid Kuchma in an effort to depose him and install Premier Viktor Yushchenko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
KYIV TV STATION SEARCHED. The office of Kyiv-based private TV company Ekspress-Inform was searched. The police did not show a search warrant, told the staff to leave the premises, denied access to telephones, and broke a TV camera, Editor in Chief Larisa Holub said. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
CPJ: GONGADZE MURDER INVESTIGATION LANGUISHES. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Ann Cooper says that she remains dismayed by the lack of progress in the case of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was murdered in late 2000 in a scandal that allegedly involved President Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, called for the creation of a special international commission to investigate the case, a request that was supported by the CPJ, as well as by the Council of Europe. The Ukrainian government has not responded, and in May of last year the Interior Ministry blamed the murder on the Mafia. ("U.S.: Media Monitor Alarmed By World 'Press Freedom Crisis,'" rferl.org, 26 March)
UZBEKISTANINTERNET REPORTER UNDER THREAT? According to the Uzbek human rights group Mazlum, there is a possible police death threat against Yevgenii Dyakonov, a free-lance journalist. He is the founder and editor in chief of the electronic version of "Zona" magazine. He has been subject to police harassment since the beginning of 2002. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
POET 'UNDER CONTINUOUS SURVEILLANCE.' According to the Uzbek Union of Independent Journalists, well-known poet and columnist Yusuf Dzhumaev, released from custody in late 2001, is under continuous police surveillance. Dzhumaev has said that an offer was made to him that if he would stop his criticism of Uzbek authorities, harassment against him would end. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Report," 18-23 March)
A UNION FOR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS. Founded in April 2001, the Uzbekistan's Union of Independent Journalists has staged a number of events in support of journalists' rights which are routinely violated. Yet media workers are not rushing to join the union. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
CENSORSHIP CREATES 'PARALLEL REALITIES?' Censorship in Uzbekistan impedes democratic progress and hinders the professional development of journalists. A journalist from Uzbekistan who works in the West believes that the country's media and society exist in parallel realities. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
REGIONALREGIONAL CONFERENCE CALLS FOR NEW TRADE UNIONS. In Kazakhstan, journalists from five Central Asian countries discussed with international experts the issue of editorial independence and reform of public broadcasting. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
ISLAM IN CENTRAL ASIAN MEDIA: A PREOCCUPYING SILENCE. Political Islam is hardly discussed in the Central Asian media. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
OBJECTIVITY IN THE CENTRAL ASIAN MEDIA. A journalist from a media center in Tajikistan, discusses the problem of lack of information on neighboring countries in Central Asia, concluding that the media is not yet in a position to provide objective information on the most important problems facing the region. For more, please see http://www.cimera.org/publications/ind_camel.htm. ("Media Insight Central Asia," Issue 22)
END NOTE'PR' (FOR WHOM?): A 'MADE-FOR-UKRAINIAN-TV' FILM
By Roman Kupchinsky
Ukrainian television viewers were introduced to a novelty on 16 March. For the first time, a documentary film allegedly made for U.S. television held its premiere in Ukraine. It was aired on the ICTV channel, a nationwide television station owned by President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk.
Written by Charles Clover, the former "Financial Times" correspondent in Kyiv, the movie portrays itself as a documentary on the murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in the fall of 2000. Yet the film seemed more intent on convincing the Ukrainian audience that the killing of Gongadze -- and the subsequent scandal around the recordings made in the presidents office by a member of his security detail, Mykola Melnychenko -- was an American plot to force Kuchma out of office and have him replaced by Viktor Yushchenko, presented in the film as a somewhat dishonest person. The film ignored the fact that Kuchma's revelations on the tapes have revealed to Ukraine and the world that corruption in Ukraine had reached the highest levels of government.
The fact that it was shown in Ukraine two weeks prior to a crucial parliamentary election -- in which Yushchenko's For Ukraine bloc is the leading opposition force to President Kuchma's election allies -- has led many in Ukraine to believe that the film was produced and screened so as to discredit Yushchenko. The film "PR" ("Piar") is slated to be aired a third time on 27 March on the channel 1+1.
Most, if not all, of the people (including the author of this article) who were asked to be interviewed in this film were told that it was being made to sell to public television (PBS) in the U.S. On that basis, many agreed to be interviewed. Yet, nobody at PBS -- neither in the national or in local affiliates -- had heard of "PR." As far as can be determined, "PR" has never been shown on PBS in the U.S.
In trying to prove their point, "PR's" producers used selective quotes from the people they interviewed. They also refused to reveal facts known to them about many events treated in the film and hid information from viewers. For example:
In presenting the authenticity of the "Melnychenko recordings", the producers "cited" the findings of a well-known American investigative company, "Kroll Inc." The movie presented Kroll's findings as proof that the recordings had been spliced together to present a damaging picture of Kuchma and his closest associates plotting the disappearance of Gongadze. Yet, the actual Kroll report on the recordings states that it could not be determined if the recordings had been spliced.
The film also fails to mention that Kroll did not have access to the actual recorder used and did not have copies of the original recordings or their clones.
The only company which did in fact have the original Toshiba recorder and clone copies was the American firm Bek Tek which authenticated the recordings more then a month before "PR" was aired on ICTV. The segments Bek Tek authenticated were those where Kuchma is discussing the removal of Gongadze. According to Bek Tek, these portions of the recordings were not edited in any way, shape or form. Had "PR" examined the content of the Melnychenko tapes and not engaged in dilettantism such as who was behind the tapings and how they were done, under a divan or under a desk; the film might have served a useful purpose.
The author of this article asked Charles Clover if he knew about the Bek Tek conclusions and if they would be included in the film. Clover replied that it was "too late" to include these crucial findings. What was the rush? The answer now is obvious: to show the film on ICTV prior to the Ukrainian parliamentary elections.
The film states that Yushchenko, while governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, conducted a number of dubious, if not illegal, transactions. In the film, there is a close-up of a copy of the "Financial Times" -- was this image meant to imply that this prestigious paper was linked to the film's "findings?" Indeed, the opposite is true: Charles Clover, while "FT" correspondent in Ukraine, wrote a series of articles claiming that Yushchenko had conducted questionable transactions. However, a PricewaterhouseCoopers audit done as a result of his articles found no wrongdoing, nor did a U.S. House of Representatives hearing. In fact, the "Financial Times" had to apologize to Yushchenko for these articles. Although the "PR" producers knew about this apology, they failed to mention it in their film. Was this by design or due to "lack of time?"
"PR" contains many such omissions and half-truths. But the biggest canard is the producers' implication that the U.S. government has tried to have Kuchma removed in the wake of the "tape scandal." The film does so by twisting facts, such as that Freedom House, a respectable U.S. civil and human rights organization, funded anti-Kuchma activities in Ukraine (Freedom House provided a grant of $21,000 for office equipment and a few brochures on democratic government) and that U.S. diplomats "attended anti-Kuchma rallies" (which is what they are being paid to do in order to tell Washington what is taking place). The film also refers to USAID grants for a free media in Ukraine as evidence of U.S. "interference" and points to the international financier George Soros's criticism of Kuchma as yet more proof that the U.S. intended to remove the Ukrainian president.
In the film, Kuchma complains that U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service broadcasts "17 hours a day" of propaganda against him and his government. In fact, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcasts 5 hours a day, most of it having nothing to do with Kuchma. Clover was informed of these facts, yet failed to include them in "PR."
Who provided direct or indirect financial backing for the film is not known. Until these various riddles are answered by Powell Productions and Charles Clover, the film "PR" will be viewed as a hatchet job on Yushchenko. Those involved in "PR's" production will be seen as dishonest journalists -- or worse.
P.S. -- A week after "PR" was aired in Kyiv, the BBC premiered a film, "Killing the Story" at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. "Killing the Story" dealt with the same events in Ukraine as "PR." But the BBC requested another security company, RipTech, to authenticate the Melnychenko tapes, which found them to be genuine and unaltered. The BBC film will be aired in England on BBC-2 on 21 April. When asked if it will be shown on Ukrainian television, the film's producers said that this is up to Ukrainian television to decide.