12 April 2002, Volume
THE DAMOCLES NETWORK.
The Damocles Network was set up by Reporters without Borders (RSF) to try to end the impunity of killers and torturers of journalists. Funded by the European Union, it sends field-investigation teams (a legal expert and a journalist) to establish the facts of a situation and works with victims and their families through national and international legal authorities to bring offenders to trial. At a Madrid press conference on 8 April, the honorary president of the Damocles Network, Judge Baltasar Garzon (who issued a warrant to arrest former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1998) described the network's aims, accompanied by several Damocles board members including Paris Assize Court President Jean-Pierre Getti. Judge Garzon pointed out that for the first time judges and journalists were working together to expose people who attack press freedom and taking legal action against those responsible for the worst abuses. He proposed that the most serious attacks on journalists be dealt with as crimes against humanity under International Criminal Tribunal statutes, ratified by 60 countries. Over the past 10 years, 513 journalists have been murdered, and in 95 percent of these cases the authorities have not found or even tried to find those responsible. Damocles Network teams have gone on joint fact-finding missions to Russia (the disappearance of Vladimir Kirsanov in May last year). In Ukraine, it has joined the lawsuit being brought by disappeared journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's widow and by his mother. Judge Garzon proposed that the network protect the families of crime victims and witnesses and called on it to work closely with other international human rights networks to forge a solid front to work for the establishment of an international monitoring center against impunity. For more, e-mail: email@example.com Internet: http://www.rsf.fr (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 9 April)
OPEN MEDIA FUND LAUNCHED.
The newly formed, privately funded Open Media Fund for Afghanistan will provide grants of up to $10,000 to local and community radio and print outlets to bolster their journalistic skills and management know-how. Although the fund does not exercise editorial control, it encourages socially relevant content and balanced, fact-based reporting. Its grants focus on reconstruction, corruption, humanitarian relief work, and human rights problems and encourage education campaigns. The fund is managed by an independent board of directors, including Ahmed Rashid -- who has donated one-fourth of the royalties of his book "Taliban" to the fund -- Professor Barnett Rubin of New York University, and Askar Sayed Moussavi of Oxford University. The fund's first grant went to the production and dissemination inside Afghanistan of an official newsletter for the United Nations commission charged with convening a loya jirga (grand council) which is to meet in June to elect the country's transitional president. For more, contact JoAnne Sullivan, Internews Director of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.internews.org
THOUSANDS RALLY TO PROTEST SHUTDOWN OF INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV CHANNEL...
Tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Yerevan on 5 April convened by 14 opposition parties to protest the outcome of the public tender in which the independent TV station A1+ lost its bid for the frequency on which it previously broadcast, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Opposition leaders who addressed the rally, including former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, blamed President Robert Kocharian for ordering the closure of A1+ and warned that if measures are not taken by 12 April to enable the channel to resume broadcasting they will launch a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. In an interview with Eurasia View circulated by Groong on 8 April, A1+ Director Mesrop Movsisian again claimed that the decision to deprive the station of its frequency was a political one. Movsisian said that decision was taken in November 2001 during a meeting between Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and members of the Armenian National Security Council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)...SILENCED CHANNEL HOPES FOR 'LEGAL SOLUTION'...
A1+'s owner and director, Mesrop Movsisian, said on 4 April that he wants to avoid any politicization by unspecified forces who seek to use the decision to strip his channel of its frequency for their own political ends, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Movsisian said he hopes it is possible to find "a legal solution" to the problem, adding that unnamed government officials have hinted that a way may be found to enable A1+ to continue broadcasting. The governing board of Armenian Public Television announced later the same day that it is ready to rebroadcast A1+'s popular news programs on its own legally protected frequency. But the opposition paper "Aravot," whose editor, Aram Abrahamian, hosted an A1+ talk show, reported on 5 April that Movsisian has rejected that offer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)...WINNER OF TV FREQUENCY TENDER DECLINES TO SPECIFY DATE FOR START OF BROADCASTING...
Ruben Jaghinian, the director of Sharm TV, which acquired the right in a controversial tender to broadcast on the frequency previously used by A1+, declined on 8 April to specify when the station will begin broadcasting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Under the law on TV and broadcasting, Sharm must begin broadcasts within six months, but Jaghinian said the station still has to purchase a transmitter and has not yet been officially granted a broadcasting license. It must pay 700,000 drams ($1,240) in licensing fees by 16 April. Jaghinian again rejected claims that the tender outcome was unfair and politically motivated, and offered to recruit journalists from A1+. Whereas A1+ broadcast objective and frequently hard-hitting political commentary, Sharm will concentrate on "optimistic news." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)...PRESIDENT REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF TV TENDER.
President Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 9 April that he rejects the conclusion drawn by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan that the closure of A1+ constitutes a threat to media freedom, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian challenged journalists to cite any occasion during the past three-to-four years when he has exerted pressure on them and pointed out that the U.S. Embassy statement did not question the legality of the tender for the broadcast frequency used by A1+. Kocharian again denied having influenced the nine-man commission that decided the tender outcome and rejected the argument that the silencing of A1+ could jeopardize free and fair media coverage of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. He pointed out that the election law guarantees parties and presidential candidates equal access to the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April)
POLICE ARREST 14 JOURNALISTS.
On 5 April in Hrodna (northwestern Belarus), police arrested 14 local journalists who staged three unauthorized pickets in protest against the closure of the independent weekly "Pahonya," Belapan reported. Later the same day, a local court handed down jail sentences from three to 10 days to six journalists. Two journalists were fined, while the cases of three journalists were postponed until later this week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)COURT POSTPONES TRIAL OF TWO JOURNALISTS.
The Lenin District Court in Hrodna on 9 April postponed the trial of Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, journalists from the closed weekly "Pahonya," saying the judge who was expected to preside over the trial has been hospitalized, Belarusian media reported. Markevich and Mazheyka are accused of libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In the runup to the 9 September presidential election, "Pahonya," headed by Markevich, published an article questioning whether Lukashenka could run for re-election while being widely suspected of involvement in disappearances of people opposed to his regime. More than 100 people came to the courtroom on 9 April to watch the trial. "The regime wants to cool down the enthusiasm of the people," Belapan quoted Markevich as saying. Some 50 journalists in Bialystok (northeastern Poland) picketed the local Belarusian Consulate to protest the trial in Hrodna, which they view as political persecution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April)LONG-TIME BELARUSIAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER GOES INTO LIQUIDATION.
The state-controlled Belarusian-language newspaper "Chyrvonaya zmena" (Red Successors), which survived for 81 years, was recently ordered by the Information Ministry to merge with the Belarusian-language daily "Zvyazda" in connection with a lack of funding for issuing it as a separate publication, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. At the same time, the ministry ordered a 20 percent reduction of the "Chyrvonaya zmena" editorial staff ("Chyrvonaya zmena" appears three times a week). The Belarusian Union of Youth (BSM, known in the Soviet era as Komsomol), which acts as the founder of "Chyrvonaya zmena," has announced that it is still interested in the future of the newspaper. BSM First Secretary Ala Danilava told RFE/RL that, depending on state subsidies, "Chyrvonaya zmena" may become a weekly supplement to "Zvyazda" or simply a page in the daily. Some commentators in Belarus see the liquidation of "Chyrvonaya zmena" as yet another step in the deliberate policy of President Lukashenka's administration to wipe out all publications in the Belarusian language in the country. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 April)
RULING COALITION MOVES TO REPLACE STATE NEWS AGENCY HEAD.
The parliamentary majority of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) decided on 9 April to replace the director of the state news agency BTA, Panayot Denev, with the incumbent director of Radio Varna, Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, "Monitor" reported. The lawmakers accused Denev of not having prevented the BTA press agency from publishing stories referring to the International Monetary Fund as a "killer" and the World Bank as a "satrap." In a radio interview quoted by focus.bg, DPS Deputy Chairwoman Emel Etem said, "BTA is a state agency, which should correspond with the policy of the state of Bulgaria, its government, parliament, and all those who represent the country's institutions, the president included." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April)
'RESPEKT' EDITOR IN CHIEF APPEALS TO OMBUDSMAN.
Petr Holub, editor in chief of the weekly "Respekt," on 5 April asked Ombudsman Otakar Motejl to recommend that the government amend the Criminal Code to protect freedom of speech, CTK reported. The appeal follows a dispute that erupted in October 2001 after the government threatened to sue "Respekt" over its publication of an article alleging "corrupt behavior" in the cabinet and Holub subsequently sued the government for hindering the freedom of the media. Both complaints were eventually shelved by the Prosecutor-General's Office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)
NEW DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC TV APPOINTED.
The Estonian Broadcasting Council, in a unanimous vote on 26 March, appointed Ilmar Raag as the new board chairman of the public ETV channel, ETA reported. His term lasts until 1 March 2005. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 5 April)
NATIONAL ELECTION COMMISSION UPBRAIDS DAILY.
The National Election Commission on 7 April ruled that the 6 April edition of "Magyar Nemzet" violated the requirement of media silence 48 hours before the election by printing the letters "K.O." on its front page, in an apparent reference to Premier Viktor Orban's performance in his debate with Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy. The commission said the letters could have influenced voters. Orban's FIDESZ party representative on the commission, Vilmos Bordas, was the sole member to vote against the ruling. "Magyar Nemzet" Editor in Chief Gabor Liszkay said he was "at a loss to explain the ruling," saying the caption "K.O." was a paid advertisement by ultraconservative journalist Istvan Lovas to promote his book of the same name. The daily will appeal the ruling. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)
PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MEDIA COUNCIL...
At a journalists' congress last month, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev called for establishment of a council to "protect the rights and interests of both media owners and their employees, and shield individuals from 'prejudiced and subjective' reporting." The president denounced recent press coverage, saying that industrial oligarchs used their ownership of the media "to fight each other" and pressured journalists "to support their case." Some journalists at the congress supported the president's proposal, others shrugged it off, while a third group expressed alarm. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 4 April)...WHILE MINISTER CALLS FOR MORE KAZAKH-LANGUAGE REPORTING.
The Minister for Culture, Information, and Public Agreement, Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed, said the council was also needed to check whether the press was in compliance with the requirement that at least half of its output should be in the Kazakh language. He said he believes more than half of newspapers and broadcasters carry too many reports in Russian or other languages. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 4 April)GOVERNMENT PLANS NEW BROADCAST TENDER...
Many analysts and journalists believe that a reported new tender for the sale of TV and radio frequencies is aimed at destroying the independent news sector. Culture Minister Kul-Muhammed insisted that there is nothing suspicious about the tender. He brushed aside fears that it will end up with a series of frequencies transferred to channels supporting the president. Critics, however, recalled that a similar tender in 1996 resulted in the closure of six independent TV and radio companies, including the popular broadcaster Totem, whose output was not always to the government's liking. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 4 April)...AND MOVES AGAINST MEDIA MOGUL.
Kazakhstan authorities have undertaken a campaign against the owners of opposition media outlets, especially supporters of the new Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. The DVK is backed by some prominent businessmen -- such as the ex-minister for energy, industry and trade, Mukhtar Abliyazov, who owns the papers "Vremya PO" and "Delovoye obozrenie" and the TAN TV channel. [Ed.: On 27 March, Abliyazov was detained by the financial police and remains in police custody. He faces charges dating back to the late 1990s, when he headed Kazakhstan's KEGOC national electric company (1997-98) and then served as minister of energy, industry, and trade (1998-99)]. President Nazarbaev recently declared, "The non-state mass media have fallen under the frightening weight of their owners.... People say that the state dictates, but dictatorial tendencies in the independent sector are a hundred times more worrying." The president seems to "forget" that those industrial and political groups loyal to the government control the state media. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 4 April)INDEPENDENT ASTANA TV STATION CUT OFF.
After being off the air for several days, the Era-TV station in Astana was again shut down -- two hours later. Station director Gulmira Raisova told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the Astana Radio and TV Broadcast Center had told her the station's broadcasts were stopped because of "antenna problems" and that technicians were "too busy" to repair the problem. The Astana Radio and TV Broadcast Center refused to comment, saying its spokesperson was "on a business trip." After Era-TV began to rebroadcast TAN TV programs, it was closed down two weeks ago. Last month, an Almaty court ordered the TAN TV station, which is owned by Mukhtar Abliyazov, to close its broadcast operations. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 9 April)OPPOSITION PAPER CANNOT FIND PRINTER.
Rashid Dyusembaev, the deputy editor in chief of "Vremya PO," said that "not a single printing house in Kazakhstan will produce our newspaper. When our managers talk to the printing directors they tell us about technical problems and sometimes even admit they have been ordered from above not to deal with us.... This all relates to our publication on 22 January of an article which contained a critical analysis of the internal political situation. Now, media that favor the authorities are being protected." (Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 4 April)
PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SCREEN VIDEO OF AKSY CLASHES...
Thirteen deputies from the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 4 April screened for journalists a 40-minute videotape of the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion between police and demonstrators, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Deputy Ismail Isakov said the video confirms that the demonstrators were unarmed but shows a local police official hurling stones at demonstrators. The footage, shot by local security officials, gives greater coverage to injured police officers than to injured or dead demonstrators. Interior Ministry spokesman Djoldoshbek Busurmankulov declined to comment on the contents of the tape, saying he has not seen it. The Legislative Assembly failed on 4 April to debate the report on the violence prepared by a parliamentary commission due to disagreements over whether the session should be open or closed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)...AS VOTERS APPEAL TO LEADERS TO END MEDIA CAMPAIGN AGAINST RELEASED DEPUTY.
Also on 4 April, the public committee created to support parliament Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release the Aksy demonstrators were demanding on 17 March, appealed to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev to stop the hounding of Beknazarov and his family and to end the media campaign against him and other opposition politicians, RFE/RL reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
PRIVATE BROADCASTERS CALL FOR DE-COMMERCIALIZATION OF PUBLIC MEDIA.
Top officials of six private television and radio companies sent an open letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Andris Berzins, the Competition Council, the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC), State Support Monitoring Commission, and political parties, urging changes in the existing law on radio and television and the full de-commercialization of public media, LETA reported on 8 April. The letter states that due to the state support received by Latvian State Television and Latvian State Radio, those media outlets are able to offer commercial airtime at lower prices than those of private broadcasters. The letter calls for the revision of the outdated radio and television law to bring it into line with modern requirements and EU standards. The NRTC has raised the question of introducing subscription fees to finance the public broadcasting companies, but this proposal has not yet received the support of the president or prime minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)
FINE LEVIED FOR 'ABUSE OF MONOPOLY POSITION' ON INTERNET.
Lithuania's monopoly fixed-line telephone operator, Lietuvos Telekomas (Lithuanian Telecom), has appealed a fine of 2.08 million litas ($526,000) imposed by the Competition Council for abusing its dominant position on the Internet telephone market, BNS reported on 25 March. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 6 April)
TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKERS SAY CHILDREN TAKEN INTO CUSTODY.
The strike committee of journalists at Teleradio Moldova said police have taken into custody some of their children, one of whom is barely eight years old, "for no apparent reason other than wearing badges with the [Moldovan and Romanian] national colors," which are identical. The committee said this was an obvious intensification of "base attempts" to intimidate its members, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry denied any knowledge of the incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)TELERADIO MOLDOVA RESTRICTS JOURNALISTS' ACCESS TO HEADQUARTERS.
Larisa Manole, a member of the Teleradio Moldova strikers' committee, told journalists on 4 April that the company's management has restricted journalists' access to the station's headquarters on the grounds that it must tighten security, Infotag reported. She said the management displays a list outside the headquarters every morning of personnel allowed access, and that soldiers, as well as guards, are on duty in the building's corridors. Manole also announced that two more journalists, Ana Bradu-Josanu and Aurelia Vasilache, have been sanctioned with suspension from duty for having broadcast footage on the current antigovernment demonstrations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
IPI: 'DEEP CONCERN' OVER DRAFT BROADCAST LAW...
On 8 April, the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) expressed its "deep concern" about the recent decision of the Polish government to pass a "restrictive" broadcast law. According to IPI, on 9 March the ruling Polish coalition government, led by the Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej party (SLD), informed the public that it had adopted a new draft Broadcast Law and a few days later, Prime Minister Leszek Miller signed it and sent it before parliament, where the coalition party has a majority in both houses. Reportedly, the law will pass the lower chamber of parliament by early May. Under a special "fast-track" procedure, no copy of the proposed legislation has been made available to interested parties. IPI has been informed that it contains key cross-ownership restrictions limiting broadcasters to a single TV or national radio channel, or to a single station in any local market. The draft law also contains provisions which strengthen the state-owned media and widens their scope for commercial activities. It also prohibits publishers of national newspapers from owning a national radio or TV channel but exempts the state media from the draft law's restrictions. (International Press Institute Press Release, 8 April)...AND OVER POLITICAL INTENT.
The IPI also noted that "comments made in public by government officials indicate that the draft law may have been specifically designed to weaken Agora, the owner of 'Gazeta Wyborcza,'" Poland's largest independent quality daily. On 13 March, Lech Nikolski, the prime minister's chief of staff, while speaking on public television, said that since "Gazeta Wyborcza" said "Stop SLD," "SLD will now stop Agora." IPI notes that Deputy Prime Minister Marek Pol has spoken vaguely in the press about the need to combat the "threat of excessive monopolization around a certain group of views, [a] certain editorial office." However, this view fails to take into account that the government controls four national TV channels and four national radio channels, each funded by both mandatory license fees and revenues from advertising. The Polish government also owns 49 percent of the national paper "Rzeczpospolita." Under Polish law, the state media can compete on equal terms as commercial media for ad revenues. IPI is "deeply troubled" by the government refusal to discuss the draft law with interested parties. (International Press Institute Press Release," 8 April)PREMIER FIRM ON CURTAILING MEDIA CONCENTRATION.
Prime Minister Miller told Polish Radio on 8 April that, despite criticism, the government will push to pass amendments to the law on radio and television in order to prevent the creation of media monopolies in the country. The government-proposed amendments forbid issuing more than one license for nationwide broadcasting to one broadcaster. Moreover, they ban the owner of a nationwide daily from obtaining a license for nationwide broadcasting. Some independent media outlets in Poland have slammed the proposed changes as an attempt to strengthen the government-controlled public television and radio and restrict the development of independent media. "We have to draw conclusions that were not drawn several years ago when the entire market in Polish newspapers was practically handed to two concerns. I'm talking about Polish regional newspapers: 70 percent of Polish regional newspapers are now in the hands of two Western concerns," Miller argued. President Aleksander Kwasniewski has announced that he will not sign the amended bill should it be passed in the proposed form. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)
DRAFT LAW REGARDING PROTECTION OF CLASSIFIED INFORMATION ON FAST TRACK IN SENATE.
On 8 April, the Romanian Senate adopted a draft law on the protection of classified information without amendment, Mediafax reported. The Senate's Defense and Human Rights committees, each of which discussed the draft law over the past weeks, withdrew their proposed amendments. The chairmen of the two committees suggested that the draft law be passed in the form previously passed by the Chamber of Deputies in order to speed the promulgation of the new legislation and therefore to facilitate Romania's possibilities of joining NATO. New legislation on the protection of classified information is to be presented by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase next week at a "19+1" NATO meeting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)
PUTIN SAYS FREE MEDIA MEANS INDEPENDENCE FROM OLIGARCHS...
Ahead of his official visit to Germany that began on 9 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that he considers the power of Russia's oligarchs to be obstacles to the development of a free press. "If freedom of the press is understood as the freedom of a handful of so-called oligarchs to buy journalists, to dictate their will in the interests of their groups, and to protect the way of Russia's oligarchic development that was thrust on the country over the past decade, then yes, it is in danger," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying on 7 April. Putin further stressed that Russian authorities should not "allow individuals to shape the country's strategy the way they like, [while] filling their pockets with illegally earned money." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)...AND OFFERS TO DEVELOP ECONOMIC FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.
President Putin also said he stands for a freedom of the press "that implies the ability of journalists and their groups to freely, openly, and fearlessly define their position on key problems of the development of the country and society, to criticize actions of the authorities," and to ensure the authorities react appropriately, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin emphasized that Russian media are still in the development stage and require help in developing ways to ensure their economic independence in the future. In this context, Putin said it is crucial to create the necessary conditions for the "economic freedom of the press," Russian agencies reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)MEDIA MINISTER TOES THE PUTIN LINE...
Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who is in the United States to discuss the development of free media in Russia, stressed the importance of Russian-U.S. dialogue on media matters. Speaking at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on 9 April, Mikhail Lesin defended the Russian government's policies pertaining to independent media but admitted that "developments surrounding the NTV and TV-6 companies certainly had a political background, and there is no denying it," RIA-Novosti reported. Lesin also said that Russian media law needed to be amended so as to clarify "the positions of publishers, editors in chief, owners of mass media and their responsibilities and rights" and to "reflect more the realities of [Russia's] market." While he noted that there has been a 90 percent drop in what he called "political contributions to the media," he failed to mention that the Russian government -- both on the national and on the regional levels -- often pays the piper for the media in what it sees as its "province." Lesin claimed, however, that in the regional media "local newspapers and TV stations are starting to play economic instead of political tunes." Voted as the top "Enemy of the Russian Press" by the Union of Russian Journalists in 2001, Lesin is a rich and powerful ad man "who helped mastermind former President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign," reported "The Washington Times" on 10 April. (CC)...SAYS RUSSIAN MEDIA SHOULD NOT BE HELD TO U.S. STANDARDS.
Lesin also said on 9 April that Russia's media is experiencing "growing pains" and it would be unfair to hold them to U.S. standards at this stage, Reuters reported, noting that U.S. media have been independent for more than a century. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April)STATE DUMA ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENTS TO MASS MEDIA LAW.
On its third and final reading on 5 April, the State Duma adopted amendments to the Law on Mass Media that impose additional constraints on the registration of names of mass media outlets, NTV reported. The restrictions include banning the use of words and definitions that are considered to be part of the country's historical and cultural heritage, as well as the family names and titles of historical figures without first receiving the consent of their successors. According to pravda.ru, under the measure, which passed by a vote of 249 to 19, the Press Ministry noted that the word "Russia" had been misused. Yabloko faction Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin noted that the amendments will offer the Media Ministry "extra tools to close unwanted mass media." ("RFE/RL Newsline" and pravda.ru, 5 April)COMPROMISE IN 'NOVAYA GAZETA' CASE?
"Novaya gazeta" and Aleksandr Chernov, a Krasnodar judge who won a $1 million libel suit against the paper in February, may be on the verge of a compromise, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 April. The newspaper on 12 March appealed the verdict, which threatened to force the weekly's bankruptcy. According to the agreement, the newspaper would agree to acknowledge errors in its reporting and Chernov would agree to a lower settlement. "It can be any amount that would allow the newspaper to continue publication," Chernov said. "Novaya gazeta" now plans to file an appeal asking for a lower fine, according to the paper's editor, Sergei Sokolov. A group of politicians, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and SPS head Boris Nemtsov, issued a public statement on 8 April calling for a reduced fine. Chernov sued the newspaper over a story alleging he was living well beyond his $300 monthly salary, claiming he owned a $50,000 watch and was building a $1 million mansion in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)GOVERNMENT CLASSIFIES VOLUMES OF NATURAL RESOURCES.
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a directive on 5 April classifying information on Russia's strategic resources as secret and vital to national security, regions.ru reported. Information on explored reserves of oil and gas as well as some rare and strategic metals such as nickel, cobalt, beryllium, tantalum, niobium, lithium, and yttrium are included in the directive. Data on the country's deposits of quartz will also be secret. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)FSB INVESTIGATES LEAK OF CLASSIFIED MOSCOW WATER SUPPLY MAPS.
The Moscow and Smolensk regional directorates of the Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case alleging divulging of state secrets against a group of workers of the Vazuz hydrotechnical installation that supplies fresh water to Moscow and Moscow Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 April. According to an FSB spokesman, FSB officers found in an office at the Vazuz installation classified photocopies of water-pipe maps listed by law as states secrets, because such data poses a security risk due to the threat of terrorism. The FSB is trying to find out who made the photocopies and for what reason. ("RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 8 April)GAZPROM PLANS TO SELL OFF MEDIA HOLDINGS.
Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom announced on 8 April that it has plans to restructure and sell its loss-making media holdings, Russian and international news agencies reported. Gazprom's media holdings collectively owe the company $630 million. President Putin has pressed Gazprom to rein in corruption and its loose finances. Gazprom's new management, headed by Chairman Aleksei Miller, has said it plans to make the company more efficient and sell loss-making subsidiaries. Gazprom has discussed selling its media assets with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Baker & McKenzie, and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)EES LAUNCHES TRANSCONTINENTAL FIBER-OPTIC PROJECT.
Unified Energy Systems (EES) has signed a contract with Cyprus-based FTA Enterprises Ltd., which plans to develop over the next five years a transcontinental fiber-optic telecommunications network comprising Europe and Asia and known as the Trans-Russian Optical Network (TRON), "Vedomosti" reported on 9 April. According to the $1 billion contract, FTA Enterprises, whose ownership has not been disclosed to the public, will lay telecommunication lines alongside the EES electricity grid. The first phase of the project, known as the "Baltic ring," will connect St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Ventspils, and Riga. In the next stages the project will link Russia and Europe to Japan, South Korea, and China. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April)SVYAZINVEST SALE MAY BE DELAYED.
The State Property Fund said it might delay the sale of 25 percent-minus-two-shares of state-controlled telecommunications holding Svyazinvest until 2003, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said on 5 April, Prime-TASS reported. The Russian government owns a 75 percent-plus-one-share stake in the telecommunications giant and planned to sell some shares this year. But the shares can be sold only after the company's restructuring is completed, which Reiman said is expected to take until the end of 2002. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)VIMPELCOM REPORTS PROFITS.
VimpelCom, Russia's wireless operator, has reported profits for 2001. Jo Lunder, VimpelCom's director general, said on 20 March, "We will be targeting a profitable year in 2002." The Moscow-based company posted net earnings of $47 million, or $1.41 per share, in 2001 versus a $77.8 million loss the year before, Reuters reported. Net revenues rose 54 percent to $422.6 million from $274.1 million in 2000. VimpelCom said that the profits are due to a rapid rise in subscribers and lower costs. By the end of last year, VimpelCom's subscriber base had risen to 2.11 million including 1.91 million subscribers in the key Moscow market, which represented a 153 percent annual rise. According to the firm's estimates, its Moscow market share totaled 46.5 percent. The director general reiterated that the company will tap markets with a dollar-denominated Eurobond issue in the first half of the year to finance its expansion, but he declined to say how large the issue will be. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 9 April)INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE PREPARES REQUEST TO REVOKE RFE/RL'S BROADCAST LICENSE.
Duma International Relations Committee Deputy Chairman Sergei Shishkarev announced that his committee is drafting a request to the government to withdraw RFE/RL's broadcasting license in Russia, utro.ru reported 5 April. "The broadcasting on the territory where antiterrorist operations are carried out can be considered intervention in [Russia's] internal affairs," Shishkarev said. However, Yabloko faction Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin said the "idea to revoke RFE/RL's license is nothing but persecution of free mass media." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)WOMAN COP TOPS THE CHARTS.
The detective novels of Aleksandra Marinina, the pen name of ex-policewoman Marina Alekseyeva, top the charts with sales of 30 million, Reuters reports. The key to her following among her mainly female readers (the well-off over-30 woman) is her canny fictional heroine and escape into the certainties of fiction. Her novels cover a wide range of crimes, but also present a favorable image of the Russian police. (Pravda.ru, 8 April)
GOVERNMENT APPROVES MEDIA LAW.
The cabinet has approved and sent to the Serbian parliament legislation to transform state-run radio and television into a public broadcaster, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 4 April. The legislation will also set up an independent broadcasting supervisory board to replace the government in oversight of the electronic media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
NEWSPAPER ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF STEALING JAIL VOTE.
"Ukrayina Moloda" wrote on 4 April that none of the opponents of the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc won a single vote in jails in Luhansk (eastern Ukraine). According to the newspaper, such suspicious unanimity of inmates points to vote rigging. "The intellectual level of those who organized this crude rigging is appalling, "Ukrayina Moloda" wrote, adding, "Even back in Soviet times, when nobody could control the bureaucrats, they did not risk declaring their 100 percent victory. There were always some .02 percent of 'renegades' who voted against the inviolable bloc of the Communists and the nonaffiliated. But here we have chemically pure unanimity: the criminal world is for the For a United Ukraine bloc." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)MEDIA WATCHDOG FINDS CAMPAIGN COVERAGE BIASED.
On 1 April, the European Institute for the Media (EIM), a nonprofit, non-governmental research institution, published a preliminary report on its monitoring of media coverage during the parliamentary election in Ukraine (10-31 March). This was the fourth EIM media-monitoring mission in Ukraine. The project was partly funded by the European Commission. The EIM concluded that on the whole, voters were not well served by the Ukrainian media during the election period, in terms of having access to impartial and balanced information about the parties/blocs involved in the election. Media coverage on the UT-1, Inter, ICTV, and 1+1 television channels in particular was found to be biased in favor of For a United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), and against the opposition parties. The print media tended to be partisan and not distinguish between editorial opinion and news coverage. In a positive note, the EIM said the media provided voters with a wide range and large volume of information that could have assisted them in making their political choices. (For more on EIM findings on Ukraine's most-prominent national media outlets, see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 April.)
WEBSITE FOR ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI, AND TURKISH PRESS.
The Yerevan Press Club of Armenia, the Yeni Nesil Journalists Union of Azerbaijan, and the Association of Diplomacy Correspondents of Turkey have formed the "Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey: Journalist Initiative-2002 Project" with a website at www.mediadialogue.org, with publications from the press of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey on issues of mutual concern. The latest updates on the site are also delivered weekly to subscribers via e-mail. (email@example.com, 9 April)POLAND VOICES CONCERN OVER MEDIA CURBS IN BELARUS.
The Polish Foreign Ministry has said it is concerned over restrictions on freedom of speech in Belarus, PAP reported on 8 April. "The court proceedings instituted against journalists and the private newspaper 'Pahonya' as well as earlier circumstances resulting in the closure by the Minsk authorities of this publication, clearly confirm that one of the main principles of democracy -- freedom of speech -- is systematically violated in Belarus," the ministry said in a statement. "Pahonya" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich and journalist Pavel Mazheyka are to stand trial on 9 April on charges of defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "The charges against the 'Pahonya' journalists have exclusively political motives," the Polish president's office said in a statement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April)
AN OMINOUS SIGN FOR ARMENIA'S POLITICAL FUTURE?
By Emil Danielyan
The de facto closure in early April of Armenia's main independent television station, widely believed to have been orchestrated by President Robert Kocharian, was a severe blow to media freedom and a wake-up call to those who hope that the country will develop into a full-fledged democracy. The most pessimistic observers see the crackdown on the A1+ television channel as a microcosm of how Kocharian will try to hold on to power during the presidential elections in early 2003. Those observers believe Kocharian, who became president four years ago in a ballot that Western monitors said did not meet democratic standards, is determined to neutralize those who could thwart his re-election. Accordingly, they see the silencing of A1+ as a blow against one of the few media outlets that might have consistently highlighted any irregularities in Kocharian's upcoming presidential campaign.
A1+, which has often aired harsh criticism of Kocharian, was forced to end its broadcasts at midnight on 3 April, only hours after losing a tender for its frequency. A state commission on broadcasting appointed by Kocharian awarded the frequency to an entertainment company with reported links to a member of the presidential administration. The commission itself is headed by the former deputy chief of Kocharian's administration, and the chief of the commission's administrative personnel is the brother of a close presidential aide who reportedly oversees the pro-Kocharian media.
Few in Armenia believe the regulatory body's assurances that it gave the broadcasting license to the company Sharm (which has pledged to feed Armenians mainly with "optimistic news") solely on a competitive basis. Interestingly, the biggest blow to the commission's credibility came from Kocharian himself, who, speaking just two hours before the announcement of the tender's results, implied that A1+ would lose its frequency. While insisting that he is against the popular channel's closure, he indicated his dissatisfaction with its news reporting and accused it of being manipulated by his political foes, specifically allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Kocharian advised them to raise money to help A1+ bid for another frequency.
A1+ was the only major Armenian television station that provided largely impartial and objective coverage of events. This meant, among other things, providing airtime to the opposition and exposing unpalatable truths about the Armenian government's actions. As a U.S. Embassy statement put it: "A1+ performed a valuable public service in offering substantial media access to a broad spectrum of opinion makers, political leaders, and those holding differing views."
True, there are several dozen other private TV companies operating in Armenia. But most of them are owned by wealthy individuals with government connections. The biggest and most-accessible private networks, Prometevs and Armenia TV, are controlled by Armenian businessmen based in Russia and the United States, respectively. Both channels are sometimes even more pro-presidential than the state-run Armenian Public Television. Prometevs and Armenia TV are also much better equipped than A1+, which could be watched only in Yerevan and surrounding regions. The latter's trump card had been its news programs and phone-in talk shows.
A1+'s effective closure has thus left a gaping void in Armenia's information market by depriving most Armenians of any alternative perspective on major developments. There are several newspapers that are highly critical of the authorities, but their impact on public opinion is limited, as their combined daily print run does not exceed 10,000 copies (Armenia's population is just over 3 million).
Those in Yerevan who are convinced that Kocharian dictated the outcome of the tender for A1+'s frequency believe that he may have gambled on the assumption that public sympathy for the channel would not result in mass demonstrations against his regime, as happened in neighboring Georgia last fall when tax police raided the independent TV station Rustavi-2.
But if so, the turnout at a 5 April opposition rally (more than 10,000 people attended it) showed that he miscalculated. The 14 opposition parties that organized the protest issued an ultimatum to the president: ensure the channel's reopening by 12 April or face a nationwide campaign of "civil disobedience." Still, Kocharian appeared untroubled by that prospect when he spoke to several journalists late on 5 April. And in an apparent retreat from his 2 April offer to meet with A1+'s staff to discuss "what solutions could be found," he indicated that he has no suggestions as to how to ensure the station continues broadcasting. Kocharian again denied any involvement in the tender and accused the opposition of exploiting the closure of A1+ for political purposes. He further claimed that the tender commission rejected A1+'s bid to retain its frequency because that proposal was "weak." Those remarks prompted A1+'s director, Mesrop Movsisian, to withdraw his agreement to meet with Kocharian on 6 April.
It remains to be seen how harshly Western governments and organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe will react if the Armenian government fails to come up with a solution to keep A1+ on the air. The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has already criticized the channel's closure, but neither the U.S. State Department nor the Council of Europe, which admitted Armenia in January 2001, have publicly commented on the issue. In some respects, the Council of Europe's legal requirements to Yerevan have proved to be counterproductive. Over the past year, the Armenian parliament has passed laws that institutionalized Kocharian's control of civil service, state television, and, as it turns out, broadcasting in general. All three spheres are now regulated by commissions appointed by the president.
(Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent.)