6 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 18
INTERNATIONALUN CONFERENCE CALLS ON GOVERNMENTS TO RESPECT PRESS FREEDOM. An international media forum sponsored by the UN on 2 May called on governments to refrain from restricting journalists' rights in the name of the war on terrorism and national security. A statement at the end of the two-day meeting in Manila also asked governments to protect reporters from being attacked and to investigate violence against them. About 120 journalists and freedom-of-speech activists from around the world gathered to discuss the duties and problems journalists face in covering terrorism-related issues after the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. The conference was sponsored by UNESCO -- the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. ("UN: Conference Calls On Governments To Respect Press Freedom," rferl.org, 2 May)
DEBATE ON MEDIA AND TERRORISM. The organization Article 19 will be one of the featured speakers at a 3 May debate on "Journalism and Terrorism" organized by the UNESCO U.K. National Commission. The debate will cover topics ranging from pressures facing journalists who report on terrorism to media safety and press freedom. Article 19, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, the International Press Institute, and Reporters Without Borders are among the groups helping to organize the event.
IFJ SOUNDS ALARM ON GLOBALIZATION AND MEDIA SAFETY. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) marked 3 May World Press Freedom Day by highlighting continuing threats to journalists working "in the shadow of terrorism and war" and pressing for national campaigns to minimize risks to media workers. The organization says 103 journalists and media workers died in 2001 -- the highest in six years. At the same time, IFJ says the creation of global networks is leading to more media concentration, new attacks on workers' rights, and "dangerous complacency" over the mixing of political and media interests. IFJ issued a 3 May statement at http://www.ifj.org/hrights/wpfd2002/wpfd2002.html.
OSCE LAUNCHES NEWS SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE. The Press and Public Information Section of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has launched a new subscription service for journalists. For more, visit: http://www.osce.org/subscription/media/new.php3. The new subscription service will replace the OSCE's traditional press distribution system, slated to end on 15 May.
ARMENIAOPPOSITION CONVENES FOURTH WEEKLY PROTEST DEMO For the fourth consecutive Friday, 13 Armenian opposition parties convened a march through Yerevan on 26 April to protest the closure, which they claim was ordered by President Robert Kocharian, of the independent television station A1+, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The number of participants was estimated at approximately 5,000, fewer than attended the first such demonstration on 5 April. Former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, appealed to demonstrators to convene outside the parliament on 30 April to prevent a planned vote on amendments to Armenia's election law that would enable Kocharian to name up to half the members of election commissions, Noyan Tapan reported. Bazeyan also announced that further Friday protests are scheduled for 3 and 10 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
AZERBAIJANEDITOR OF REFUGEE PAPER DISMISSED. The Shusha district chief executive, Nizami Bakhmanov, ordered the dismissal of Kerim Kerimli, the editor in chief of the paper "Shusha" and the disbanding its editorial board. In this way, the only Azerbaijani-language newspaper for Karabakh refugees has stopped being issued. Kerimli says that his dismissal is for political reasons. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
BELARUSPEN CENTER SLAMS MERGER OF LITERARY MAGAZINES. The Belarusian PEN Center has condemned as "absurd" and "illegal" the recent merger of several literary magazines into a state media holding called Litaratura i mastatstva (Literature and Arts) and subordinated to the Information Ministry, Belapan reported on 25 April. "It is clear that the establishment of this 'literary collective farm' was motivated by political, not economic, considerations. The regime is trying to force national democratic literature out of the last islets these publications represented, make the literary magazines a base of its ideological support, and turn them into its mouthpiece," the PEN Center said in a statement. The new media holding -- which includes the literary magazines "Polymya," "Maladosts," "Krynitsa," "Neman," and the weekly "Litaratura i mastatstva" -- is headed by lawmaker Syarhey Kastsyan, who has no experience whatsoever in either publishing or editorial work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)
REPORTERS SUFFER IN AFTERMATH OF PROTEST MARCH. During the week journalists were persecuted for attending a protest march under the slogan "We Cannot Go On Living Like This." Valery Shchukin, an organizer of the protest march whom the police had beaten during the protest, was moved from an intensive care ward to the city police remand center. Shchukin, along with human rights activist Dzmitry Bandarenka and journalist Mikhalay Khalezin, were sentenced to 15 days and film director Yury Khashchavatski to 10 days in jail. Khashchavatski's health seriously deteriorated while he was in detention. Khalezin was so ill that he was moved home for medical treatment. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
RSF ISSUES NEW REPORT ON PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS. On 29 April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a report about attacks on press freedom in Belarus, which it has described for several years now as among the most serious in the world. The RSF report, based on accounts gathered in Minsk this March, describes the country's media situation, lists the main attacks on press freedom, and discusses reform prospects as part of a dialogue between Belarusian and European organisations. (ReportersWithout Borders, 29 April)
ESTONIABROADCASTING DEVELOPMENT PLAN APPROVED. The government endorsed on 16 April the development plan for merging public television and radio into one public broadcasting unit and sent it to the parliament for approval, ETA reported. According to the plan, the state radio and TV would be merged into a common media group, which will cover broadcasting, publishing, organization of concerts, production of audio and video recordings, and Internet business. It calls for state support of 234.4 million kroons for 2003-05. The plan for 2003-05 calls for increasing the length of Russian-language TV programs from the 55 hours this year to 96 hours in 2005 by increasing the time for news in Russian and developing new bilingual broadcasts. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 April)
GEORGIAFATHER OF MURDERED JOURNALIST SAYS IT WAS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. Vakhtang Sanaya, whose son Georgy, a journalist, was killed last summer, said he does not trust the investigators and is sure that his son was killed for political reasons. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
HUNGARYPRIME-MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE ACCUSED OF 'SLANDER.' Hungarian newspapers quoted prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy as saying in an interview with the German newspaper "Die Welt" on 30 April: "It was not simple for [Prime Minister Viktor Orban]. Hungary is small, he is small, and it seems that sometimes people wish to climb too high." Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David and FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Tamas Deutsch took exception to Medgyessy's description of Orban, saying that such a remark is unworthy of the future prime minister of Hungary. Deutsch told reporters on 1 May: "I say on behalf of many millions of Hungarians that Medgyessy should be ashamed. As a member of the Hungarian parliament, he is slandering not only the physical size of Hungary's prime minister, but also making fun of the entire nation in a foreign newspaper by slandering the common achievements of Hungary." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
IRANJOURNALIST SENTENCED, BANNED FROM WORK. On 29 April, Reporters without Borders (RSF) protested the sentencing of pro-reform journalist Ahmad Zeid-Abadi to 23 months in prison and a five-year ban on "all public and social activity, including journalism." According to the RSF secretary-general, "The conservatives who control the Judiciary are taking advantage of the United Nations Human Rights Commission's recent failure to condemn Iran to resume their attacks on journalists and the media." Although eight journalists have been released since early 2002, 12 others remain imprisoned in Iran and at least five more are free on bail. On 17 April, Judge Said Mortazavi, head of the Tehran court, sentenced Zeid-Abadi for "propaganda against the Islamic regime and its institutions". The journalist works for the pro-reform daily paper "Hamchahri" and the monthly "Iran-e-Farda". The court said he had taken "provocative positions that threatened national security." In recent articles, the journalist had defended Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and condemned suicide bombings, a line which differs from the Iranian government's position. Zeid-Abadi plans to appeal his sentence. Zeid-Abadi was arrested at his home on 7 August 2000 due to his alleged refusal to appear before a court. He was released on bail on 8 March 2001. (Reporters Without Borders, 30 April)
ANOTHER REPORTER STANDS TRIAL. Said Afsar, a journalist with the government daily "Iran," went on trial before the Tehran court on 28 April for "insulting Islam" in three articles he wrote about the religion. During the trial, he said that as a Muslim, he would never insult Islam. The verdict will be announced at a later date. (Reporters Without Borders, 30 April)
KAZAKHSTANALMATY TV TO BE CLOSED? The authorities continue to persecute the Almaty-based independent television TAN-TV. The Transport and Communication Ministry had said that it intends to revoke its broadcast license. The official explanation is that the company had failed "to remedy offenses and shortcomings." The TAN-TV staff said that the authorities have done their utmost to destroy the company as an independent media outlet. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
PAVLODAR TV STATION FACES NEW OBSTACLES. Irbis-TV station Director Amangeldy Zhaqsybaev, told RFE/RL on 2 May that his station faces new problems. After the station tried to cover a demonstration in support of Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, former governor of Pavlodar Oblast, a court in the northern Kazakh city of Pavlodar ruled late last year that Irbis-TV must suspend its operations for three months. The channel was set to go back on the air on 19 May, but Zhaqsybaev said he had received a notice from local authorities saying that a local architect has decided that the station's TV antenna should be removed. According to Zhaqsybaev, this is a politically motivated decision. ("RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 2 May)
JOURNALIST'S TREATMENT PROTESTED. The Association of Independent Mass Media of Central Asian Countries and the nongovernmental foundation Journalists in Trouble protested to Interior Minister Kaibek Suleimenov the detention and beating of Kanat Tusupbekov of the Irbis television station. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
LATVIAOFFICIALS DISCUSS E-GOVERNMENT PROJECT WITH MICROSOFT CHIEF. Parliament deputy Valdis Birkavs and Minister for State Administrative Reform Janis Krumins held a meeting with Microsoft head Bill Gates in Seattle on 18 April and invited him to visit Latvia, LETA reported. They discussed the development of Latvia's e-government project and problems concerning Internet technology. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 April)
MOLDOVATELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKERS COMPLAIN OF INTENSIFIED CENSORSHIP... The strikers' committee at Teleradio Moldova said on 25 April that on the very day that PACE approved the resolution calling for respecting democratic rights, Teleradio Moldova's management intensified censorship, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. According to the committee, News Department Director Victor Tabarta on 24 April forbade the broadcasting of reports in both "Moldovan" and Russian on the forthcoming PACE resolution, as well as three other reports covering activities of organizations opposed to the government. "Massive control by the government of state media continues against the background of the government's insistent claims that there is no censorship" in these media, the committee said, adding that Moldova's population is "subjected to an information blockade." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)
...AS OFFICIAL SAYS CENSORSHIP COMPLAINT IS UNJUSTIFIED. Igor Prigorskii, a member of the Moldovan Coordination Board for the Electronic Media, said on 29 April that the committee representing striking journalists at Teleradio Moldova "often mistakes routine editing with censorship, claiming that this is an encroachment on democracy and the freedom of the press," Infotag reported. He said the committee is complaining against "communist censorship" every time a chief editor rejects materials or programs, "even though the reason is that they are obviously primitive and poorly prepared." Prigorskii also said that the strikers are violating the Electronic Media Law, which prohibits promoting positions of political parties and joining a political formation. According to Prigorskii, the strike was scheduled to coincide with the Popular Party Christian Democratic demonstrations against the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
POLICE CHIEF 'INVESTS' IN WEEKLY CRITICAL OF HIM. In Chisinau, Colonel Vladimir Maiduk, deputy chief of the criminal police, bought nearly the entire print run of over 6,000 issues of the weekly "Aktsenty" which ran a report critical of his activities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
RUSSIANEWSPAPER EDITOR KILLED IN TOGLIATTI. Valerii Ivanov, editor of the paper "Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye" in the southern Russian city of Togliatti, was shot dead outside his home on 29 April, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. At about 11 p.m., Ivanov, 32, was shot eight times in the head at point-blank range while entering his car, Ivanov's colleague told CPJ. Eyewitnesses saw a 25- to 30-year-old man walk up to Ivanov's car and shoot him, according to local press reports and CPJ sources. The killer then fled the scene on foot. Local police have opened a criminal investigation and are considering several possible motives for the murder. Ivanov's colleagues believe the crime was connected to his work. "Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye" is known for its reports on local organized crime, drug trafficking, and official corruption. Ivanov also served as a deputy in the local Legislative Assembly. For more, visit http://www.cpj.org or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 April)
VOLGOGRAD JOURNALIST KILLED. In Volgograd, L. Shevchenko, a reporter with the paper "Pervoye Chteniye" -- director of the paper's culture and education section -- was killed. His colleagues think that most likely the murder was not connected to the reporter's professional activities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
PETERSBURG EDITOR BEATEN, ROBBED. In St. Petersburg A. Yezhelev, editor in chief of the human rights journal "Terra Incognita," was beaten and robbed. The city's League of Journalists believes that circumstances suggest that this was not an ordinary mugging. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
POLICE DETAIN REPORTERS AT MOSCOW PROTEST RALLY. On 15 April, the Moscow police detained journalists from the Ekho TV station, the paper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and Reuters news agency along with activists from the Ecological Protection organization who staged an unauthorized rally outside the Kremlin to protest the import of nuclear waste into Russia. Police confiscated cameras and video cassettes from a Reuters correspondent, damaged recording equipment, and exposed film taken from the camera of a "Nezavisimaya gazeta" photographer. All the detainees were taken to a central Moscow police station where reports of administrative offenses were fiiled. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
PACE RESOLUTION ON MEDIA CURBS IN RUSSIA. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg discussed freedom of expression and the media situation in Russia. It passed a resolution saying that the assembly is concerned about the media situation in Russia where the developments can be described as an attempt on the part of the authorities to curb freedom of press. The assembly regretted the closure of the sole private national channel, TV-6, which may mark an end of independent telecasting in Russia. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS DUMA AMENDMENTS TO MEDIA LAW. On 23 April, the Federation Council rejected the State Duma-approved amendments to the Russian Federation media law, proposing that a commission be set up to improve the amendments. Numerous experts have been critical of the Duma's passage of the media law amendments which ban the use of proper and popular names with prior approval of those who can make prior claim to them. Well-known legal expert professor M. Fedotov, an author of the Russian Federation media law, feels that the amendments would aggravate the confusion in the media world and create conditions favorable for dishonest competition and corruption. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
VIDEO FOOTAGE FAILS TO DISPEL DOUBTS OVER KHATTAB'S ALLEGED DEATH. On 26 and 27 April, Russian television stations screened video footage allegedly showing the corpse of Chechen field commander Khattab, and the FSB posted on its website (http://www.fsb.ru) several photographs of a man bearing a marked resemblance to him being buried. The man had shoulder-length black hair and a beard, and appeared to have lost part of his right hand. But Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev pointed out to Interfax on 27 April that there are no visible bloodstains on the clothing of the man who features in the video footage, which raises the question of how he died. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who expressed doubt when the first reports of Khattab's alleged death surfaced on 25 April, said in Moscow on 27 April that he will not be convinced that Khattab is dead until he personally sees his body. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
NEW PAPER ISSUED IN CHECHNYA. A new paper, "Voyennyi Vypusk Yuga Rossii" (Southern Russian Military Bulletin), has appeared in Chechnya. According to its editor in chief, S. Tyutyunik, the paper is the Russian government's response to RFE/RL's Chechen-language broadcasts. Although the paper is supposed to reach every Chechen family, it appears only in the Russian language due to a lack of funds and competent translators. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
MOSCOW POLICE MAY FILE LIBEL SUIT AGAINST PAPER. The Moscow police may file a libel suit against the editorial board of the paper "Moskovsky Komsomolets" for its report, "Not Daily Nazism" about a special OMON police unit and a sports training session for troubled teenagers. The Moscow police sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking for its view of the article which was described by a police commander as "lies and a provocation." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
SERBIAREPORTER RECEIVES DEATH THREATS. Vojkan Ristic, the Vranje correspondent for the Belgrade daily "Danas" and Beta news agency, received a series of phone threats on 22 April. The previous day, Ristic had written an article published in that day's issue of "Danas" with the headline, "Simpo paid 10 million without proof of receipt of goods." An unknown voice told Ristic, "Don't hide behind the initials R.D., you'll end up in a plastic bag!" This is not the first time that Ristic has received such threats: ("ANEM Media Update," 20-26 April)
PRIME MINISTER BRINGS LIBEL SUIT. According to the daily "Blic" on 24 April, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has filed libel charges against the editor in chief of the paper "Nacional." "Blic" claimed that Djindjic was seeking compensation for damage to his reputation. The charges relate to a statement by Popovic on TV B-92 that the prime minister had been "caught in a flagrant lie." ("ANEM Media Update," 20-26 April)
TOMIC SUES STATE MEDIA EDITOR FOR LIBEL. The former speaker of the Serbian parliament, Dragan Tomic, said on 25 April that he has no Swiss bank accounts and that his "name has been dragged through the mud for a year now." According to Tomic, Radio Television Serbia showed in its broadcast a bank account of someone with his surname. Tomic has filed libel charges against state media director Dragana Valijevic. (ANEM Media Update, 20-26 April)
THE STATE OF THE SERBIAN MEDIA. Some of Serbia's leading media figures discussed the state of the media in Serbia at a conference in Belgrade on 24 April. Threats and refined political pressure still are practiced against Serbian journalists, but the key problem now faced by local journalists is survival, said Milica Lucic Cavic, the head of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, who wants to set up a pension fund for media workers. Gordana Susa, the editor of Vin TV, noted that at present, pressure is being directly exerted on the most powerful media, adding that internal censorship is also present in some media. "Beta" chief Dragan Janjic said that, in association with the Interior Ministry, the Associations Committee for the Protection of Journalists had intervened in more than 50 cases of threats to media employees. RTB B-92 Editor in Chief Aleksandar Timofejev noted that his was one of the few companies covering the issue of war crime suspects. Such reporting, he said, had brought his reporters under great pressure, both from viewers and from people close to the former regime. But, Timofejev noted, negative reactions seemed to be decreasing. ("ANEM Media Update," 20-26 April)
BK TV CLAIMS FOREIGN INVESTOR. On 25 April, BK Television made public a new strategic partnership with Global Media Investment which will invest 25 million pounds in the company. The chairman of Global Media Management, Patrick Harper, will head the BK TV management committee. Harper told the press that high standards would be set by the new BK TV, modelled on European and world market standards, adding that the company is registered in Britain and mainly invests in the Serbian media. Harper also denied speculation about links between his company and Rupert Murdoch. ("ANEM Media Update," 20-26 April)
SLOVAKIACRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ROMANY JOURNALIST HALTED. The regional prosecutor in Presov has decided to halt criminal proceedings launched against Romany journalist Denisa Havrlova for having allegedly insulted a police officer, CTK and AP reported on 26 April. The prosecutor said the charges were "unlawful," giving no other details. Havrlova was accused of having called the officer a "racist" after he refused to shake her hand, demanding that she produce "hygienic proof" that she was healthy before he did so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
TAJIKISTANPOLICE HARASS REPORTERS OVER ARTICLE ON POLICE TORTURE. Law enforcement agencies are harassing Editor in Chief Turaeva and correspondent Makhmudkhanova of the paper "Krim-info" over an article on torture by the local police. The women have been repeatedly summoned for interrogation and accused of slander. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
POLICE BEAT JOURNALIST WHO ASKED FOR ID. The Tajik police stopped three journalists -- Noyebshoi Zurobek, Dodikhudo Madaminov, and Faiz Ganiev -- and ordered them to show their identity cards. Zurobek asked the police to introduce themselves. In response, the police began beating the reporter and tried to drag him into their car. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 22-28 April)
TURKMENISTANOSCE CONDEMNS 'ABSOLUTE LACK OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.' On 30 April, the OSCE condemned Turkmenistan for what it called an "absolute lack of any freedom of expression." In a letter to Turkmenistan's foreign minister, OSCE Media Freedom Representative Freimut Duve wrote that he plans to commission a special report on the media in Turkmenistan due to the government's many violations of freedoms. Duve noted that all copies of the Moscow-based newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda" had been confiscated because of an article describing the situation in Turkmenistan, and that authorities blocked access to related Internet news sites. Duve said that restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkmenistan are unparalleled in the organization's 55 member countries in North America, Europe, and Central Asia. ("Turkmenistan: OSCE Condemns Lack Of Freedom," rferl.org, 30 April)
UZBEKISTANPOET FACES NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES. Speaking at a press in Tashkent on 2 May, dissident poet Yusuf Dzhumaev said that the Uzbek authorities claim he has sold a stolen dog and may face new criminal charges, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported the same day. In December of last year, Dzhumaev was conditionally sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov and for cooperating with banned and exiled Uzbek opposition groups. Dzhumaev has also written a poem which the authorities allege was dedicated to the Islamic extremist leader Dzume Namangani. CC
END NOTESTATE OWNERSHIP OF RUSSIAN MEDIA UNNECESSARY FOR GOVERNMENT CONTROL
By Paul M. Joyal
Deputy chief of the presidential staff Aleksei Volin told Ekho Moskvy radio that technological advances would eventually make state ownership of mass media outlets inefficient and unnecessary, strana.ru reported. Volin said that if in the near future viewers have 300 digital television channels at their disposal, it would be meaningless to control only one of those channels. The state should instead employ 10 producers to develop television programming and shows. This system would allow the state to announce tenders of companies and to provide various informational programs. Volin also called for a new law on mass media to be adopted. The current Law on Mass Media, implemented in 1990, is "hopelessly obsolete," he said. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin has said that the present law does not distinguish between publishers, editors, and proprietors of the mass media.
In February, Minister Lesin appeared before the Russian State Duma to respond to questions from deputies of the Russian parliament. At that time, he admitted that there is a real threat to freedom of speech in Russia, but not from government interference. He contended that freedom of speech remains heavily dependent on the issue of ownership. He told deputies that he is convinced that the threat to press freedom emanates from private owners who conduct censorship in their media outlets. Minister Lesin believes one of the key mistakes of the past years is the failure of the state leadership to work out its own strategy of media-market development. The political interests pursued by the state in that sphere often prevailed over the economic component, he said. But, he remarked with satisfaction, now the situation has gradually improved. Answering questions from deputies critical of the state-owned television, the minister reminded them that editorial policy is defined by the chief editor of the media in question. As media minister, he has no right to interfere or to use administrative resources in dealings with an editor according to gazeta.ru on 6 February.
In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington on 9 April, Media Minister Lesin claimed that the problems of establishing an "open media" in Russia are the result of the "history of underground media" during the Soviet period. He stressed that 10 years ago there was no free media and today there are 10,000 electronic and 35,000 print media outlets in Russia. Lesin described the Soviet period and the role played by the media as political, not economic. "The training received by journalists and managers was specific." This did not prepare them for the new economic conditions. During the Soviet period, "50 percent of the budget was formed by political contributions not commercial advertising. People wanted politics. Now media barons want to play politics." Lesin stated categorically, "there is no realistic media market from an economic standpoint [in Russia]."
Mikhail Lesin speaks with a certain experience on these matters. Before joining the government, he was founder of Video International (VI). According to an opinion piece by Alexei Pankin in "The Moscow Times" of 6 November 2001, VI had a "virtual monopoly on sales of television advertising" with "up to 70 percent of the market...concentrated in its hands." According to Pankin, "when Lesin was appointed [media] minister, 2B studio -- founded by VI -- miraculously became the recipient of a huge grant to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars for production of a television series." Lesin was head of the Kremlin press service between September 1996 and March 1997 and then named deputy chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK). In July 1999, Lesin was appointed by Boris Yeltsin to head the newly created Media Ministry, the creation of which was widely seen as part of the Kremlin's preparations for December 1999 State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 14 May 2001). Last year, the Russian Union of Journalists gave Minister Lesin the dubious distinction of the No.1 spot on the list of the "Enemies of the Russian Press."
A review of the minister's remarks makes this assessment understandable. Lesin made clear that media outlets have functioned as quasi-political parties that have little economic justification for their existence. He emphasized that the government does not believe that media should exist outside of a strict economic model. Freedom of the press to print what it wants is somehow tied to the economic sphere, not to the world of ideas and political opinion. He stressed that media must have an economic justification for their existence and that the rich should not fund or support them for political purposes. Hence, he concluded that the time has come to "reform" the law on the media to better define the roles of owner, manager, and journalist. Lesin made clear in his presentation that he did not accept any dynamic role of the media for improving society, or checking abuses in government, or as a public conscience. It was an extremely narrow definition that assumed the role government had in monitoring or managing the media to government satisfaction.
Both these sensational ideas were challenged in a presentation on 23 April at the Kennan Institute by Professor Yassen Zassoursky, dean of the journalism department at Moscow State University. Professor Zassoursky pointed out that during the last 10 years the media has changed dramatically and now a new media culture and industry has emerged from the Soviet period. He rejected the notion of Lesin's that there is no media market in Russia and that the threat to free media comes from the private owners of the media. While admitting the market is limited, he described Lesin and his ministry as a "public oligarchy." The professor admitted, "newspapers can't survive without the support of some owner," but that is not necessarily bad. He described as important the unique role played by Vladimir Gusinsky's independent NTV television station. Zassoursky recalled an incident when protests in Voronezh occurred; 25,000 people stormed the mayor's office in Voronezh protesting an increase in the cost of housing and only NTV broadcast the event. He also commented that "the same is true of the Chechen campaign." NTV has since ceased operating and the last independent station, TV-6, is now being reorganized under the control of pro-Kremlin forces.
The role of Minister Lesin, with the clear backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, clearly demonstrates how the Russian government has reasserted its influence on the media. On 6 March, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemstov was quoted on the independent website polit.ru, that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's victory in winning the licence for TV-6 "buries the idea of independent television in Russia." This station will showcase the new formula for journalism that Lesin spoke about. Namely, journalists will work under contract with the Primakov-Volskii partnership, "which will be able to fully control the editorial policy of the channel." In effect, Primakov has assumed the role of state censor. "Lesin and Primakov Broke the Oligarchs" announced gazeta.ru on 7 March and described Lesin as the "real inspirer" of the Primakov-Volskii team to ensure "loyal and manageable" leaders of independent journalists.
In his presentation at the Kennan Institute, Yassen Zassoursky pointed out that since the collapse of communism there is "more media and more pluralism than in the Soviet past." Today, about 900,000 people are employed by the media industry (TV, radio, newspapers, news agencies) and more than 2,000 advertising agencies have been established. The media industry is an approximately $5 billion industry with roughly half spent on advertising. He stated that there is a media market and a "market for news and analytical writing." He concluded that the "main achievement is the Russian public is well informed about what is happening in Russia." Today, the Russian people "know who President Putin is" and who the other players are. "This is much more than in the past. The backstage of Russian politics is well-known."
The "backstage" or the "kitchen" of Russian politics on the TV-6 controversy has been well discussed, especially on Russian websites. According to the respected business publication "Vedomosti" on 11 February, the idea is to assemble a consortium of business leaders to back those TV-6 journalists who came from the holdover from Boris Yeltsin and presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin. Reportedly, Voloshin and Mikhail Lesin did not want the St. Petersburg clan to obtain another media outlet. They thought that with Gazprom and Aleksei Miller controlling NTV that was enough. The article went on to explain how Anatolii Chubais fully supported Voloshin's idea to form the consortium. On 4 March, strana.ru revealed the names of the 12 members of the consortium and it included some who had upset President Putin. Berezovsky's publications "Kommersant," gazeta.ru, and grani.ru have reported that Lesin and Putin brought Primakov and Volskii into the TV-6 competition, after seeing the makeup of the oligarchs consortium with former TV-6 Director Yevgenii Kiselev. According to grani.ru, the list of potential investors in TV-6 displeased Putin, including Igor Linshits and Yuri Shefler who were linked with Berezovsky and, "shadowy business partners of Voloshin." This explains why Primakov and Volskii appeared at the eleventh hour.
Media Minister Lesin made clear in his Washington press conference that from the Kremlin's perspective, positive results have been accomplished. He stressed how the changes to NTV and TV-6 management have helped establish "clear rules of the game for employee and employer." Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of independent journalism and critical coverage of Russian government decisions and actions. After these events (NTV, TV-6 reorganization), "we finally saw some self-regulation in the media. The media will require establishing equal rules of the game among the media...legislation has to be changed to reflect more of the realities of today -- publishers' rights." It is unclear what the minister meant by these statements, but the implications are clear: owners have rights over journalists who work as employees. It is they who are in control of the publications and what can be written. While asserting that the Russian government had no intention of restricting freedom of the press and private media, Lesin made clear his opinion that the Russian government had an obligation to prevent the dominance of major media outlets by either oligarchs or political parties. He described how corrupt owners had a "degrading influence on election processes" according to "The Washington Times." But this did not apply to the Russian government itself.
As a backdrop to his "rules of the game" statement, Lesin mentioned an example of how one media baron attempted to "blackmail the [Russian] government" and today this would not occur. When asked to explain his statement that "the executive branch of [Russian] government was blackmailed by an oligarch-controlled media," he described an attempt by an oligarch to obtain a monetary reward. According to Lesin, during the 1998 ruble crisis the Russian government was not as strong as it is today. One oligarch, claiming to control 30 percent of the Russian media, approached the Russian government. He stated that he could play a supportive role as he had in 1996 -- and obtain something in return -- or a negative one. The oligarch said, "If you can't do this deal you can imagine what will happen." The implication of Lesin's comments is that no one would think of doing this today because everyone "knows the rules of the game."
Paul M. Joyal is the editor of "RFE/RL Business Watch."