10 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 19
INTERNATIONALOSCE REGION HAS MIXED PICTURE ON MEDIA FREEDOM, BUT HUMAN RIGHTS AGAIN 'AREA OF CONCERN.' Speaking in Vienna on 2 May, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve, said that the OSCE region has a mixed picture on media freedom. "The initial chilling effect felt by journalists who were pressurized by their governments, both in the East and the West, has faded, with human rights issues again becoming areas of concern, and rightly so." He said, "Some concerns have not materialized, with the media in many OSCE-participating states continuing to vigilantly keep government in check." According to Duve: "In other countries the 11 September tragedy became a catalyst for employing strong-arm tactics against independent journalists and for generally clamping down on free media. Reporters have also died covering the war on terror." He continued, saying, "Some of [the OSCE] members introduced draconian measures against journalists, arrested and harassed those reporters who took a critical approach, often branding them 'supporters of terrorists.'" One of Duve's concerns was the current media climate in the Central Asian states. He urged OSCE-participating states to ensure that: No new legislation is adopted that will curb the right of citizens to freedom of expression and that any legislative acts that are passed are in line with OSCE commitments; Any restrictions on information must be narrowly defined and in full compliance with national laws and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights; The right of journalists to investigate government should not be restricted under the pretext of "national security" or "protection of state secrets" unless such measures are justified because of relevant (and again narrowly defined) intelligence and military considerations. For more, see http://www.osce.org/news/.
CPJ: WORLD'S 'WORST PLACES' FOR JOURNALISTS. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) marked World Press Freedom Day by naming the world's worst places to be a journalist -- 10 areas whose dangers and restrictions represent the full range of current threats to press freedom -- including Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Kyrgyzstan. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 3 May)
UNESCO CONFERENCE ISSUES RESOLUTION ON MEDIA AND TERRORISM. On 2 May, 10 international journalists' organizations joined participants at a UNESCO conference on Media and Terrorism in adopting a resolution stating that any long-term solutions to the problems of terrorism must involve open public debate and the free flow of information. "The media has both a right and a duty to report fully on terrorism in the interest of the public's right to know and to promote open, informed debate about terrorism," the resolution states. At the same time, the resolution noted that media outlets, journalists, and civil society organizations should take measures to enhance the media's ability to report professionally on terrorism and to promote tolerance. This includes providing more training and opportunities for discussing ethical issues related to reporting on terrorism. For the full text, see http://www.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=10561.
IPI: GOVERNMENTS SHOULD RESPECT PRESS FREEDOM. On World Press Freedom Day, the International Press Institute (IPI) called on all governments to respect press freedom in light of serious curbs on free expression in many parts of the world. The organization also said governments should be more transparent and allow the media to carry out their professional duties. The organization expressed great concern that in the wake of 11 September, some governments had hastily introduced antiterrorism legislation to "severely curtail the ability of the media to report on issues of import." IPI said governments should heed UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura's World Press Freedom Day statement in which he said, "I emphatically reject the view that to obtain security, we must abandon our freedoms." (International Press Institute, 3 May)
RSF ISSUES ANNUAL REPORT, NAMES 'PRESS FREEDOM PREDATORS.' Reporters Without Borders (RSF) celebrated World Press Freedom Day with a range of activities including the release of its annual report "Freedom of the Press Throughout the World" and a new list of "Press Freedom Predators" -- individuals around the world who hold the power to jail, kidnap, torture and kill journalists." RSF's report, publicly released on 2 May, surveys 150 countries and concludes that press freedom experienced a sharp decline worldwide in 2001. According to RSF, the number of journalists arrested increased by almost 50 percent, to 489, between 2000 and 2002, while attacks and threats against journalists surged by more than 40 percent, to 716. Incidents of censorship rose 28 percent to 378. Meanwhile, at the end of 2001, 110 journalists were in prison, up from 74 in 2000. Even in established democracies, the situation is getting worse, says RSF. In several countries, threats to pluralism and freedom of information increased. Also, in the wake of 11 September, antiterrorism laws passed by various states have restricted the free flow of information. News media are being pressured to take sides and propaganda is taking precedence over the truth, RSF says. On a positive note, the number of journalists killed did not increase, says RSF. The organization counted 31 deaths last year, compared to 32 in 2000. In some countries, press freedom conditions improved. RSF has named 39 leaders to its list of "press freedom predators," including Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. To see RSF's 3 May activities in full, see http://www.rsf.org.
CORRECTION: In last week's issue of "RFE/RL Media Matters," in an item on the new OSCE press service, readers were referred to http://www.osce.org/subscription/media/?id=1614&code=18G/MmBcXT. The correct general reference for this service is http://www.osce.org/subscription/media/.
ARMENIAPRESIDENT NAMED 'ENEMY OF THE PRESS.' On 3 May, more than 100 people, mostly journalists, marched to the presidential palace in Yerevan to protest what they perceive as a growing threat to media freedom in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At a 3 May press conference to mark World Press Freedom Day, the National Press Club named President Robert Kocharian "Enemy of the Press" for his alleged role in the closure of the independent TV station A1+. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
OPPOSITION CONVENES PROTEST IN ARMENIA'S SECOND CITY. Fourteen opposition parties held a protest rally and press conference on 3 May in Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Speakers included "Socialist Armenia" political secretary Ashot Manucharian and Hanrapetutiun secretary Albert Bazeyan. Speakers called for the resignation of President Kocharian. On 4 May, "Iravunk" published a statement by the 14 parties pledging to cooperate "in the name of democracy" to create "a modern and strong democratic and legal state with free elections and democratic institutions and the right of citizens to live a free and worthy life in their own country." The statement accused Kocharian's administration of coopting state structures, including the law enforcement agencies, to serve their own ends; silencing the free media; monopolizing the economy; and contributing to "social polarization" and mass emigration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
U.S. AMBASSADOR AGAIN CRITICIZES CLOSURE OF TV STATION. In a 2 May interview with RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau, John Ordway again characterized the closure of the independent TV station A1+ as a setback for democracy in Armenia. On 3 April, the U.S. Embassy had issued a statement saying that the decision by a presidential commission to award the frequency on which the station broadcast to a rival station "raises serious questions about the future of free and independent media in Armenia" (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 5 April 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
BELARUSEDITOR FIRM ON LAUNCHING NEW PUBLICATION. Mikola Markevich, whose weekly "Pahonya" was closed down by court order last year, has applied to the authorities in his home city of Hrodna with a request to launch a new newspaper, "Holas" (Voice). According to Belarusian regulations, Markevich needs approval from local officials prior to applying to the Justice Ministry for registration. Since the closure of "Pahonya," he has made two unsuccessful attempts to start new periodicals. Both times, the city authorities rejected the titles he suggested: "Hazeta Pahonya" as nearly identical to the name of his closed paper, and "Muzhytskaya Prauda" (Peasant's Truth) as identical to the newspaper published in the 1860s by Belarusian anti-tsarist rebel leader Kastus Kalinouski. Markevich and former "Pahonya" journalist Pavel Mazheyka are facing charges of slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. If convicted, they may face up to five years in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
BOSNIAPUBLIC TELEVISION LAUNCHED. A public broadcaster for all Bosnia will go on the air at 7:00 p.m. local time on 7 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 5 May. Announcers will each speak "in their mother tongue," according to Lazar Petrovic, the director of the Public Radio and Television Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He added that the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets will be used on alternating days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
LEAK BY NEWSPAPER MAY SPOIL INVESTIGATION OF ISLAMIC CHARITIES. An unnamed member of the federal government's Fight Against Terrorism team said on 7 May that a planned investigation of Islamic charities may be called off before it starts, dpa reported. An article that morning in the daily "Oslobodjenje" reporting on the investigation served to tip off the charities, which will now have enough time to hide or destroy evidence before the investigators can start. The planned targets of the inquiry were the charities High Saudi Committee, Human Appeal International, Human Relief International, and the International Islamic Relief Organization. Also on the list were Active Islamic Youth, the scholarship agency NEDWE, and an organization known as Dzematu-ul-Furqan. Reuters reported later in the day, however, that the investigation will go ahead. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
MOST-RESPECTED DAILY CALLS FOR CONTINUED U.S. PRESENCE. In Sarajevo, "Oslobodjenje" wrote on 3 May that it is confident that the U.S. will remain true to its global responsibilities, including those in Bosnia. The U.S. is the one true economic and military power in the world and the only one that can make a real difference, the paper affirmed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
BOSNIAN SERB DAILY DRAWS BLEAK BALANCE FOR WORLD PRESS. In an editorial marking World Press Freedom Day, the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" wrote on 3 May that politics continues to dominate the media more often than not in today's world. In Bosnia, everyone knows that leading politicians and their parties have their mouthpieces in the press, according to the daily. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
CROATIAJOURNALISTS PROTEST 'BLACKMAIL.' An unspecified number of journalists marked World Press Freedom Day by staging a warning strike in Zagreb on 3 May, charging that employers often force them to work long hours, without pay, or without social benefits, dpa reported. The journalists added that the employers -- often big publishing houses -- in effect blackmail them with the threat of being fired if they complain. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
CZECH REPUBLICFEUD OVER CZECH RADIO COUNCIL FLARES UP BETWEEN PRESIDENT, VACLAV KLAUS. Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus, in a letter addressed to President Vaclav Havel on 3 May, wrote that the president "evidently does not trust the Chamber of Deputies and wrongly interprets its role," CTK reported. Klaus was reacting to Havel's decision to veto the law on the Czech Radio Council and return it to the parliament. Klaus said, "interpreting the Chamber of Deputies as a representation of political parties is an error, as well as a sign of mistrust in the institution." Klaus was thus objecting to Havel's argument that in addition to political parties, representatives of civil society and the Senate should participate in the election of Czech Radio Council members. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek dismissed Klaus's arguments, saying it is "strange" when someone argues that the Chamber of Deputies is essentially not political. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 6 May)
IRANAN UNUSUAL PRESS FREEDOM DAY. Only in the Islamic Republic of Iran could the courts ban the official government newspaper on the day after World Press Freedom Day. The Tehran Public Court on 4 May temporarily banned the dailies "Iran" -- published by the Islamic Republic News Agency -- and "Bonyan" � which is identified with leading reformist Alireza Alavi-Tabar and whose managing editor is Seyyed Mohsen Ashrafi. The managing editor of "Iran," Abdol Rasul Vesal, said that the daily is facing some 96 complaints, IRNA reported. The previous week, seminarians in Qom demonstrated against "Iran" because it published an article that was perceived as insulting Mohammad. Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi lifted the temporary ban on "Iran," it was announced on 5 May, according to IRNA. Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the spokesman for the Association of Iranian Journalists, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that only 56 issues of "Bonyan" had been published, and although its managing editor had appeared before the court twice, "Bonyan" was closed without a warning. "Bonyan" was banned on the basis of a complaint from Ali Ansari, who is the managing editor of an Isfahan weekly called "Bonyan." According to a fax from "Bonyan" newspaper's lawyer, Gholamali Riahi, "Bonyan" of Isfahan is a student publication and the press law only applies to publications published with the permission of the Press Supervisory Board. That provision does not apply to the student weekly, Riahi said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Journalist Siamak Purzand, meanwhile, has received an eight-year prison sentence, his daughter Banafsheh Purzand told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 4 May. Purzand told his daughter that he would not appeal the sentence. "Payam-i-Qom" Editor Hojat Heidari received on 1 May a four-month suspended jail sentence and an eight-month ban from press activities. Heidari told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Qom Judiciary, and the Fatemieh medical university in Qom filed complaints against his weekly. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May)
KYRGYZSTANINDEPENDENT WEEKLY TO RESUME PUBLICATION. Zamira Sydykova, who is editor in chief of the weekly "Res Publica," told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 2 May that the paper would resume publication the following day after a three-month hiatus. Responding to a ruling by a Bishkek district court, the state-run Uchkun publishing house refused in late January to print further issues of "Res Publica" until the paper paid a 121,000 som ($2,500) fine it incurred in a libel case it lost in December 2001, according to AP. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
INTERIOR MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST. On 3 May the government newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" printed an apology by Interior Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev to Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akunov sued AkmatAliyev for slander after AkmatAliyev accused Akunov of organizing the Aksy unrest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE IN TV DISCUSSION. Ismail Isakov and Absamat MasAliyev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 6 May that they have turned down an invitation to join a televised debate with Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev and government department head Salamat Alamanov on the disputed Sino-Kyrgyz border agreements. The two deputies said they had initially been informed that the debate would be broadcast live, but then on 6 May they were told it would be prerecorded. They therefore decided not to participate, fearing that whatever they said would be cut so as to give the impression that they support the government's territorial concessions to China. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
MOLDOVAJOURNALISTS SAY PRESS FREEDOM NOT RESPECTED... In a resolution adopted on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, the General Conference of the Union of Moldovan Journalists said freedom of the press is not respected in Moldova, Romanian radio reported. The resolution said that although freedom of the press is stipulated in the constitution and although Moldova is a signatory to international conventions on it, the state press has "dangerously slid" into instigation to hatred and ethnic segregation and indulges in "gratuitous slandering, provocation, and instigation," contravening the Code of Professional Ethics. The union called on the authorities to "immediately cease censoring television programs" and implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe on transforming state radio and television into independent authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
...BUT COMMISSION RECOMMENDS KEEPING RADIO, TELEVISION AS STATE COMPANIES. An ad hoc commission of parliamentary deputies, journalists, and lawyers on 3 May published its recommendations for improving the functioning of Teleradio Moldova and said the radio station and national television should continue being state companies, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. While recommending ways to improve financing and purchase modern equipment, the commission stopped short of approving the 24 April recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) regarding Teleradio Moldova. Vladimir Dragomir, the Communist chairman of the parliament's Commission on Culture, Science, Youth, and Mass Media, said on 3 May that PACE did not consult Moldovan public opinion before making its recommendations and that those wishing to set up independent companies can "go ahead and do so" (presumably at their own expense). Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said the decision raises concern as to the government's intention to implement the PACE recommendations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
POLANDIFJ: 'CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE' OVER MEDIA POLICY. On 8 May, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents 500,000 journalists, called for the Polish authorities to withdraw actions against the majority owners of a leading daily "Rzeczpospolita." According to the IFJ, this is a struggle between state and private interests for editorial control. The IFJ and the European Federation of Journalists also warned Polish authorities that "they face a serious confrontation with media professionals" over two draft laws on broadcasting and journalists' rights. The IFJ is joining other international media groups at a 9 May meeting in Warsaw to express solidarity with the daily's staff and management, which is 51 percent owned by the Norwegian media company Orkla, and 49 percent held by a state-holding company, PPW. Three members of the paper's board have had their passports confiscated on vague claims of violations of fiscal law. Journalists are also concerned about a draft law on journalism, which they say may be dangerous for press freedom. "We wonder whether such a law should exist at all," says the IFJ. Another law covering broadcasting, which is now before the Sejm, does not create a proper balance between private and public interests. For more, e-mail: email@example.com or see http://www.ifj.org/ (International Federation of Journalists, 8 May)
RUSSIAHUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN CRITICAL OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN RUSSIA. Press freedom in Russia is not as well developed as it should be, 10 years after the Soviet Union's implosion provided journalists new independence, Russia's human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov said on 3 May, AP reported the same day citing Interfax. Mironov said that journalists "are persecuted, threatened," they "get killed by paid assassins" and "go missing." Mironov also said that Russian media legislation was "not working" and "was too weak," according to AP. He called on the government to adopt a federal law that would "eliminate ungrounded limitations" on information, protect citizens' privacy, and penalize officials and organizations who violate the rights of journalists. "The authorities at all levels do not want to recognize the mass media as a mediator between the citizens and authorities," Mironov said. CC
SUPREME COURT REINSTATES MILITARY-SECRETS ORDER. In a decision that was harshly criticized by free-speech advocates, the appeals board of the Supreme Court on 7 May reinstated a military-secrets order (Defense Ministry Decree No. 055) that had served as the basis for the espionage conviction of journalist Grigorii Pasko, Russian and Western news agencies reported the same day. In February, the court's military collegium overturned the 1996 Defense Ministry order in response to an appeal from Pasko, who is serving a four-year prison term in Vladivostok. On 7 May, the appeals board also rejected a Defense Ministry appeal of a February ruling that a 1990 order (Defense Military Decree No. 010) forbidding service personnel from having contacts with foreigners while off duty was illegal. Civil-society advocates had hoped that the previous ruling on the military-secrets order might lead to the release of Pasko, researcher Igor Sutyagin and others charged with espionage. "This is a bad day for freedom of speech and of law," said Pasko's lawyer, Yurii Shmidt, according to AP. "The court came under intense pressure from the Defense Ministry and the FSB [Federal Security Service]. They got what they wanted." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
CATHOLIC CHURCH USES TECHNOLOGY TO CIRCUMVENT RESTRICTIONS. Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur, who has been banned from entering Russia, has started conducting religious services at Irkutsk's Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by telephone from Poland, Interfax reported on 6 May. According to the agency, Mazur's services are being broadcast at the Irkutsk cathedral through loudspeakers. The Irkutsk Catholic diocese told the agency that Mazur's absence has caused the suspension of a number of social projects. Last March, the pope conducted a mass for Catholics in Moscow via a satellite television link-up. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
BASHKORTOSTAN RESIDENTS NOT IMPRESSED WITH PRESS FREEDOM DAY... In an informal survey of passersby in downtown Ufa on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, locals of all ages said that they believed that there is no freedom of speech in Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. Many of the respondents said that almost all the mass media in the republic are financed by the authorities and that they try to please their sponsors. Many also referred to the media campaign launched recently against Supreme Court Chairman Marat Vakilov, who has been accused of corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
...AS SPECULATION MOUNTS REGARDING SLAIN EDITOR IN TOLYATTI. An alleged local crime boss, Igor Sirotenko, and the leader of an ethnic Chechen organized-crime group, Suleiman Akhmadov, reportedly recently made threats against slain Tolyatti journalist Valerii Ivanov, regions.ru reported on 7 May citing the website of the newspaper "Samara Segodnya." Ivanov's newspaper, "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," had been preparing to publish an article about the alleged participation of some of Sirotenko's associates in the murder of two high-ranking police officers. In addition, the Chechen group was reportedly angered by a series of articles about them that followed the filing of a murder case against two of Akhmadov's former bodyguards. The deputy editor of "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," Aleksei Sidorov, also alleged that both he and Ivanov had also been threatened by Nikolai Abramov, an adviser of Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin, following the publication of an article about a scheme to extract funds from foreign companies run by a municipal enterprise headed by Abramov's son. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
SERBIAWORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY MARKED. On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists and the Association of Serbian Journalists were critical of the Serbian authorities because of the unsolved murders of journalists Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic, and the delay in introducing media legislation. ("ANEM Media Update," 27 April-3 May)
DAILY 'DANAS' AWARDED PRIZE. The International Press Institute (IPI), in cooperation with the Freedom Forum, will present its 2002 Free Media Pioneer Award to the independent Belgrade daily "Danas" on 12 May. Previous winners of the Free Media Pioneer Award include radio B-92, Yugoslavia (1998), and NTV, Russia (1996). For more, contact the IPI at firstname.lastname@example.org, or see http://www.freemedia.at. (IPI, 8 May)
TURKMENISTANOPPOSITION WEBSITE DESTROYED. Hackers destroyed the website erkin.net belonging to former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev on 2 May, cjes.ru reported the following day. Kuliev is inclined to attribute the attack to the Turkmen authorities, which had made the site inaccessible to Turkmentelecom subscribers in February 2002. Turkmentelecom is the only authorized Internet provider in Turkmenistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
END NOTEREPORTING FROM NIZHNII NOVGOROD, RUSSIA'S 'THIRD CAPITAL'
By Oleg Rodin
In the past decade, the news scene in Nizhnii Novgorod, Russia's third-largest city, has changed dramatically. In the 1980's, there were only a few newspapers and they were all subject to local censorship. TV viewers could see only three or four channels, which were strictly controlled by the special services. Today, there are several dozen newspapers and 15 TV channels -- plus a dazzling array of video material accessible through satellites and video cassettes.
With a population of some 1.5 million, Nizhnii Novgorod is Russia's third-largest city. Situated high on the banks of the Volga River, the city was established in 1221 and is the site of a trade fair going back to medieval times. In recent years, the fair has prospered and attracts visitors from far and near. For most of the Soviet period, Nizhnii Novgorod was known as Gorky in honor of the beloved, though official, writer Maksim Gorky, who was born here. Some wanted to change the city's name to Sakharov to honor the Soviet Nobel laureate, who spent seven years in internal exile here.
Nizhnii Novgorod is home to several human rights organizations, which have sprung up in the past 10 years. There are local branches of the International Society of Human Rights and the Committee to Protect the Rights of Victims of Repression plus newer groups to protect the rights of migrants and refugees. The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers does a lot of important work to protect the rights of recruits and soldiers along with their parents. The Nizhnii Novgorod Society for Human Rights publishes its own newspaper, "The Right to Defense," and distributes legal documents and materials on human rights violations via the Internet.
Nizhnii Novgorod residents who want access to the Internet can go to our city libraries, schools, universities, post offices, and to the mayor's office. Many residents also have Internet access at home or at work. Nizhnii Novgorod also has websites on our city or region. For example, cityline.nnov.ru provides information on our city; innov.ru is a business news site, gubernator2001.nnov.ru provides news on regional elections, admcity.nnov.ru is the city administration's site, whoiswho.nnov.ru gives news on leading local figures, and infonet.nnov.ru/nsn is a regional news site. And there are other sites. Various businesses or even ordinary citizens have their own websites which local providers make available either free of charge or rather inexpensively. Many Nizhnii Novgorod newspapers and journals have their own websites (see http://www.sandy.ru/massmedia/papers/nnpapers), as do local politicians (see http://www.politkuhnya.ru) and the governor (his server is under reconstruction). These websites provide a lot of varied information, news, and opinions. Certainly, such websites are helpful to the journalist as sources of background information.
My work day as a journalist usually starts when I read the newspapers, watch TV, and listen to the radio. I also get press-releases via e-mail as well as talking by phone with the press services and other reporters. I may take part in press conferences, attend work sessions of the city government and listen to interviews and briefings. I think about all these materials and send suggestions for possible topics plus brief summaries via e-mail to editors. After that, I prepare reports, record them on my computer, and send sound files via e-mail. Digital radio receivers, mobile telephones, video cameras, the dictophone and fax, Internet and e-mail, and new computer programs are very helpful to more efficiently and effectively process information. My work is very intense, but interesting since I can examine many facts and opinions so as to get an objective view of life in my city and region.
During election campaigns, the local media splits into clans which back one or another political movement or candidate. Sometimes -- as during last year's election for the governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast -- local papers and airwaves are flooded with compromising materials. These materials were then aimed both at election candidates and even at local journalists. A veritable media war erupted. Probably the most vivid example was the cruel criticism directed at the journalist Gennadii Grigorev. He aired on the TV show "Marker" Sergei Kirienko's (our regional presidential envoy) private negative opinion of our previous governor Ivan Sklyarov. As a result, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii made a special visit to Nizhnii Novgorod. Yastrzhembskii declared that Grigorev had engaged in a provocation comparable to the scandal surrounding Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky in Chechnya. In this political climate, journalists had a difficult time providing objective information about regional events and so readers suffered. Not to mention that journalists had been pitted against each other.
If there are no elections or scandals to be covered, the local media usually reflects daily events, culture and sports events, lots of incidents of crime, and the "spicy" life of the business and political elite. There is, however, a widespread view that nowadays almost all local media outlets and journalists are in the pocket of various politicians and businessmen. Therefore, in order to receive more objective information on the situation in our country and region, people must turn to independent news sources.
Oleg Rodin is the RFE/RL correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod.