14 June 2002, Volume 2, Number 24
INTERNATIONALCONFERENCE ON INDEPENDENCE OF NEWS MEDIA IN POSTCOMMUNIST COUNTRIES. From 5-8 June, some 100 journalists attended an international conference in Moscow on the "Independence of the News Media in Postcommunist Countries." The conference was sponsored by the World Press Freedom Committee, the Russian Union of Journalists, and the Glasnost Defense Foundation. It adopted resolutions on threats to press freedom in several countries of the former Soviet Union: The conference declared that "journalists from all countries [should be allowed] equal and full access to Chechnya and Ingushetia" so that they can provide fuller information to the public on the war in Chechnya; protested the 7 June court-imposed fine on the Moscow-based independent paper "Novaya gazeta," which "exceeds many times the total sum that the Russian media was ordered to pay for suits in all of 2001"; protested the trial of Belarusian reporter Mikola Markevich and editor Paval Mazhekia of the Hrodna-based paper "Pahonya"; called on the Uzbekistan authorities to investigate the death in custody of writer Emin Usman and the imprisonment of Uzbek writer Mamadali Makhmudov and journalist Madzhid Abduraimov; protested the "escalation of force against independent media outlets in Kazakhstan," which has led to the closure in the past two months of TV stations TAN, Irbis, Era, 6x6, Rika TV, the radio station Rifma, and the papers "SolDat" and "Delovoe-Obozrenie-Respublika." For more, e-mail: email@example.com or see http://www.wpfc.org.
AFGHANISTANDOMESTIC BROADCASTING INCREASES. Afghanistan's interim administration overturned the state monopoly on radio and television in late February, but so far no Afghan producer has managed to raise the funds to establish an independent network, "The Boston Globe" reported on 19 May. And the competition is getting stiffer. Radio Afghanistan resumed broadcasting to all parts of the country on 1 June, according to Mashhad radio the next day. Previously, its broadcasts only covered Kabul. There are five hours of programming daily: two hours in the morning and three hours in the early evening. A local official added that Radio Afghanistan is also available on shortwave. Radio Afghanistan's broadcasting capacity has been improved by the contribution of technical equipment and a new 500-watt transmitter by Germany, Japan, the U.S., and several international organizations. Nevertheless, the Afghan station needs more equipment, money, and technical assistance, according to Mashhad radio. There are only 100,000 television sets in the entire country, Sayed Jan Sabaoon writes in the Institute of War and Peace Reporting's "Afghan Recovery Report" on 28 May. Nangarhar TV, which recently went back on the air, is transmitting for two hours a day and most of its programming consists of music shows and war dramas. Nangarhar TV suffers from problems common throughout the entire country: a dearth of funds, equipment, and programs. Radio engineer Abdul Rawof Rodwal explained, according to the "Afghan Recovery Report," "Our salaries are not paid and we have children at home." He continued: "We work in the morning for the station and do other jobs after that. That is how we run our lives." ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 June)
PUBLICATIONS 'RUN THE GAMUT.' There are about 100 publications in Kabul now, and their coverage runs the gamut from news reporting to women's issues to satire. Hamida Usman, deputy editor of a monthly magazine for women called "Malalai," said in the 19 May "Boston Globe" that she seeks out the faces of unseen women. For example, she profiled a widow who became a beggar because the Taliban barred women from working. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 June)
AZERBAIJANREPORTER ORDERED OUT OF OWN APARTMENT. On 6 June, three policemen in Baku's Sabail district entered Makhir Mamedov's apartment and ordered him to leave. Otherwise, since he is not registered there, he faces eviction. Mamedov is a reporter for the independent paper "Yeni Musavat." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
JOURNALISTS DEMAND THAT PKK BE DECLARED A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION. Some 50 journalists staged a demonstration on 11 June outside the Baku headquarters of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party to demand that its parliament faction formally declare the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a terrorist organization, Turan and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. For the past month, the Azerbaijani opposition has called on the parliament to do so. The journalists also demanded an end to reprisals against opposition and independent newspapers that have printed articles accusing Azerbaijani officials of supporting or sympathizing with the PKK. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
BELARUSEDITOR DENIES SLANDERING PRESIDENT. Mikola Markevich, the former editor in chief of the closed weekly "Pahonya," denied the charges of defamation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that were leveled against him and journalist Pavel Mazheyka in connection with several articles published in the weekly before the 2001 presidential election, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 10 June. Markevich is standing trial in Hrodna. Prosecutors claim that the articles defamed Lukashenka by accusing him of murder and genocide. Markevich told the court that the incriminating articles express their authors' personal views rather than assert facts. "It is absurd to try people's thoughts, arguments, and convictions," Markevich said. He also argued that the articles could not in fact have defamed the president since the entire print run of the weekly that carried them was confiscated by police at the printing press. The trial has generated great interest among Belarus's diplomatic community; representatives of the French, German, Polish, and U.S. embassies were all in attendance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 June)
NGO WARNS OF UNFAIR TRIAL FOR JOURNALISTS. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) has warned that journalists Markevich and Mazheyka may be unfairly convicted for criticizing President Lukashenka in the 2001 election campaign, Belapan reported on 11 June. "The trial has shown that the court does not intend to abide by the generally recognized principles of justice such as independence, impartiality, openness, lawfulness, the presumption of innocence, the right to defense, etc.," the BHK said in a statement. The BHK said the judge denied representatives of nongovernmental organizations permission to assist the defense, thus violating Article 62 of the constitution, which guarantees the accused the right to defend themselves by all available legal means. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
PINSK NIXES INDEPENDENT PAPER. Pinsk city authorities did not give the needed approval to businessman Sergei Kastykovich to publish the paper "Zerkalo." As a result, Pinsk readers are left only with local papers which espouse official views. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
NGO APPEALS FOR SATELLITE TV. The Belarusian Language Society (TBM) has appealed to European organizations to support a project to create a satellite television channel to broadcast in Belarusian to Belarus, Belapan reported on 8 June. In particular, TBM urged UNESCO to assist in launching a broadcast on the preservation of Belarus's cultural heritage and language on the Discovery Channel. TBM expressed concern about the domination of Russian broadcasters in Belarus, noting that broadcasts in Russian account for 97 percent of television programs available in the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
CZECH REPUBLICCOALITION DECRIES EXCLUSION FROM TV DEBATES. The Coalition electoral bloc has complained about its exclusion from some televised debates, CTK reported on 6 June. The Coalition is an electoral alliance between the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union. KDU-CSL leader Cyril Svoboda and Freedom Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova said their bloc has been continuously excluded from debates on TV Nova's weekly debate program "The Seven," TV Prima's "Nedelni partie" (Sunday Match), and Czech Television's "Naostro" (Live Ammunition). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
GEORGIAPRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE DENIES ACCUSING ARMENIA OF TERRORISM. In a statement released on 6 June, the Georgian presidential press service rejected the allegations contained in an article published on 27 May in "The Georgian Times" that the paper claimed were based on a Georgian intelligence document detailing Armenian involvement in terrorism directed against Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian intelligence service has already denied that such a report exists. The press statement affirmed that materials published in the independent press do not reflect the policies of the country's leadership, and asked foreign governments not to construe them as such. It noted that "The Georgian Times" "provides negative information about the Georgian authorities and the stable situation in the country." Meanwhile, in its 6 June issue "The Georgian Times" reported the reactions its earlier article had triggered and reaffirmed that its claims are based on authentic documents. It further claimed that Armenian guerrilla organizations operating in the South Georgian region of Djavakheti under the sponsorship of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun use the infrastructure of the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
IRANMASHHAD RADIO REPORTING ON U.S. SHOWS CHANGES... Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Mashhad station broadcasts the news in Dari twice a day. Each show is 30 minutes long. In all, Mashhad radio transmits for 11 hours a day. A survey of the 44 news broadcasts from 14 May-5 June shows some changes in the pattern of anti-American and anti-Israeli items and reports on Iranian activities in Afghanistan. There were 69 reports or commentaries that were hostile to the U.S. Some of these were fairly straightforward. In the 5 June evening broadcast, a report that the U.S. had referred to Iran as part of an "axis of evil" was followed immediately by a commentary criticizing allegations that Tehran supports terrorism. In the morning of 3 June, Mashhad radio reported that more than 5,000 Afghans have been killed by U.S. bombing. And on 29 May, there was an item about Amnesty International's report regarding losses sustained by Afghan civilians as a result of U.S. bombing. There were reports about civilian casualties in Khost Province during the 18 May and 17 May broadcasts, and on 15 May, it was reported that a cleric was killed by the bombings. A 14 May commentary said that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is responsible for explosions in Karachi. Sometimes, the U.S. was portrayed as the enemy of Islam, which is the predominant faith in Afghanistan. A 30 May report that the Afghan people oppose the U.S. military presence in their country was immediately followed by a report that the U.S. is using the Afghan issue as a pretext for maintaining a presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. A 23 May report about American bombing raids was followed by a report that the U.S. soon would establish a special military headquarters in Afghanistan. In the 14 May evening broadcast, a coalition of Pakistani clerics asked their government not to allow the establishment of U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation offices; then there was a report that American forces would be deployed in the border regions, and this was followed by a report that U.S. forces disguised as Afghans had launched operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.
...AS DOES ITS PRAISE OF IRAN'S CONTRIBUTIONS. There were at least 50 reports about Iran's contributions to Afghanistan during the 14 May-5 June period. Iranian contributions in the educational sector were emphasized by Mashhad radio. On 4 June, the rector of Kabul University described the presence of Afghan students in Iranian institutions of higher learning. Iran is also portrayed as a defender of the Islamic faith. On 4 June, a Lebanese official was quoted as saying that Muslims should emulate Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini if they want to live proudly, and in the morning of 3 June, the first five stories were about religious issues. On 30 May, a Pakistani official was interviewed about the Islamic unity celebrations in Iran. The extent of anti-Israel reporting was relatively limited during the 14 May-5 June period. During the 17 April-10 May period, Mashhad radio's reports about domestic Afghan themes covered: (1) refugee repatriation; (2) news about Herat Province and promotion of its governor, Ismail Khan; (3) counternarcotics news; and (4) Loya Jirga news. In the 14 May-5 June period, news about the Loya Jirga greatly increased in frequency. There were 82 reports about the Loya Jirga during the 14 May-5 June period. Mashhad radio carried at least 36 reports about refugee issues. There were seven reports about problems encountered by Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Refugees in Iran, on the other hand, were portrayed as receiving better treatment from official institutions. There was only a handful of narcotics-related reports by Mashhad radio during the 14 May-5 June period. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 June)
TEHRAN TRAINS AFGHAN JOURNALISTS. Iran is providing journalism training for its Afghan neighbors, including a four-week workshop at the Islamic Republic News Agency's (IRNA) School of Media Studies. At the 28 May closing ceremony of the workshop, IRNA managing director Abdollah Naseri told his audience that they play an influential role, and that the mass media is important in maintaining regional stability. Naseri went on to say that such workshops would promote cultural cooperation between Tehran and Kabul, and IRNA is ready to host more courses for Afghan journalists. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 June)
IRAQUDAY'S RADIO STATION 'MAKES HIM POPULAR.' London's "The Sunday Telegraph" on 26 May carried an article about what it described as Iraq's most popular radio station, VOI FM, which is run by Saddam Husseyn's eldest son, Uday. The acronym stands for Voice of Iraq FM but the newspaper commented that "eclectic, Westernized programming...makes it an unlikely national mouthpiece." The station broadcasts American and British music 24 hours a day and its disc jockeys speak in English, not Arabic, as do callers to its phone-in programs. The sole concession, the newspaper reported, to Iraq's more traditional image is when the programming is interrupted without warning by the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer five times a day. The radio station is run by Jawad al-Ali, a broadcaster brought in from Baghdad Radio. Al-Ali credits Uday Saddam Husseyn as being the inspiration for the station. "Mr. Uday persuaded his father that following the bombing in 1991, he should find a way to lift the people's spirits," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "The Sunday Telegraph" reported that ordinary Iraqis believe that Uday sees VOI FM and its sister television station, Youth TV, as important tools in his battle to succeed Saddam, "boosting his profile with their seductive, Westernized programming on the tightly regulated state broadcasting network." The newspaper said the radio station's audience was appreciative, quoting a 28 year-old man sitting in a Baghdad juice bar as saying, "It makes us think he will provide what we want in the future, too." ("RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 June)
KAZAKHSTANPOLICE DETAIN RFE/RL REPORTER. Several dozen activists and opposition leaders demonstrated in Almaty on 13 June to demand the immediate release of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and former Minister of Industry and Trade Mukhtar Abliyazov. Police detained a dozen protestors, including RFE/RL reporter Batyrkhan Darimbet, who was released several hours later. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 13 June)
NEWSPAPER THREATENED... On 13 June, Sabyr Qayirzhanov, the editor in chief of the Atyrau oblast paper "Aq-Zhayiq" told RFE/RL that on the same day he found a human skull hung over a door in the building where the paper's office is located. Last month, the paper's publishing house was destroyed by a Molotov cocktail by unknown persons. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 13 June)
...AS OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER EDITOR'S CAR SABOTAGED... Ermurat Bapi, editor of the Almaty-based opposition newspaper "SolDat," discovered on the morning of 7 June that the brake cable of his car had been professionally severed with a sharp instrument, forumkz.org reported the same day. Automobile mechanics said the damage could under no circumstances have happened accidentally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
...AND FOREIGN MINISTRY REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS. In a response to a recent EU statement of concern over repeated reprisals against independent media outlets in Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 10 June that quotes Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev as calling for objective investigations into such incidents, Interfax reported. Toqaev also reaffirmed his country's respect for human rights and its commitments to the OSCE and other international organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June)
KYRGYZSTANRFE/RL REPORTER DETAINED. On 8 June, policemen detained RFE/RL reporter Ryspai Abdraimov in the city of Tash-Kumyr in Djalalabad Oblast. He was taken to the local police headquarters, put in handcuffs, and beaten. According to human rights activist Galina Vasiyanov, Abdraimov was not released until regional Interior Ministry officials arrived. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
VARIOUS VIEWS ON THE MEDIA. The independent paper "Res Publica" published an open letter signed by a group of TV journalists raising the issue of the legitimacy of the Public Supervisory Council and calling for adoption of a Broadcast Law. The council, which reports to the Kyrgyz State TV and Radio Company, was established by presidential decree. Meanwhile, Naken Kasiev, head of the Osh Oblast administration, has demanded that Osh regional papers and the local branch of state TV and radio give more coverage to the current haymaking campaign. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
MOLDOVAEU WARNS LEADERS ABOUT STATE BROADCASTER. The leader of an EU delegation visiting Chisinau on 8 June, Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs Ramon de Miguel, warned Moldovan authorities that failure to implement resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) "will have catastrophic consequences both for the current government and the citizens," Flux reported. He added that during the delegation's talks with local authorities, he had the impression they are aware of such consequences. As a result, he said, "we must let the government assume responsibility for what it is doing." De Miguel said the delegation's visit is a "crucial moment" for the future of EU-Moldovan relations. PACE on 24 April called on the Moldovan government to transform state-owned television into public television by the end of July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER EDITOR NAMED STATE RADIO AND TELEVISION DIRECTOR. The parliament on 6 June named Ion Gonta, editor in chief of the government newspaper "Moldova Suverana," as director of the state-owned Teleradio Moldova company, Flux reported. Gonta replaced Iulian Magaleas, who resigned. Only deputies of the Party of Moldovan Communists voted, as opposition parties did not participate in the vote. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said the Communists should have begun the process of transforming the state television into a public one, in accordance with the April PACE resolution calling for such a transformation by the end of July. In a press release published the same day, the strike committee at Teleradio Moldova said that by naming Gonta, the Communist authorities are attempting to increase censorship and make the station fully subordinate to them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
ROMANIASENATE APPROVES LAW ON RIGHT TO RESPOND TO PRESS CRITICISM... The Senate approved on 6 June with 85 votes in favor to 25 against, with one abstention, a law on the right to reply to charges published in print publications, Romanian media reported. A person offended by an article can request that his or her response be published in the same publication. If the publication refuses to publish the response, it can be fined up to 100 million lei (some $3,000). In addition, the offended can seek compensation in court even if their reply is published. The law does not pertain to the electronic media. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, who sponsored the law, argued that "Romania will be more democratic with this law than without it." However, journalists consider the law an attack on free speech and announced that they will appeal the decision in the Constitutional Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
...WHILE PRESIDENT SAYS PARLIAMENT MUST PASS LEGISLATION ON JOURNALIST PROFESSION... In an apparent retreat from an earlier promise to oppose the so-called "right of reply" bill, President Ion Iliescu said parliament must approve legislation regulating the journalistic profession, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the need stems from obligations assumed by his country when it joined the Council of Europe in 1994, thus apparently linking the controversial bill to what he said were the council's recommendations on "the fundamental principles of journalism, of journalistic ethics, of respect for the truth." He said the "right of reply" is a "fundamental democratic right," but reiterated that the "moment chosen for passing the bill is inopportune" since the legislation has triggered "a fierce dispute" on matters that "must be calmly debated." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
ARTICLE 19: DROP LIBEL FROM PENAL CODE. In a 6 June letter to the Romanian parliament from the London-based media freedom organization Article 19, the NGO welcomed the Romanian government's initiation of reform of its Penal Code defamation in response to the most recent report of the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee (12 March 2002). The 23 May government order to modify certain provisions of the Penal Code and the Code of Penal Procedure seeks to address the recommendations of the Council of Europe Resolution 1123 (1997), which called for reform of Articles 205, 206, 238 and 239. Nevertheless, despite some improvements, Article 19 "regrets that the proposed reform falls short of international standards" and "urges the Romanian parliament to take this opportunity to remove libel, insult and calumny from the Penal Code." (Article 19, 11 June)
RUSSIADUMA REFUSES TO RESTRICT STATE MEDIA OWNERSHIP. The State Duma on 13 June failed to pass in its first reading a bill that would have limited state ownership of mass media outlets to 25 percent, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. The bill, which was sponsored by independent deputies Petr Shelishch and Viktor Pokhmelkin, would have required the state to reduce its ownership of any mass media organs to 25 percent within six months. During debate on the measure, deputies argued over the exact size of the state's present share in the country's mass media market. Duma Information Committee Chairman Pavel Kovalenko (Unity), who opposed the bill, asserted that the state owns just 10 percent of the country's mass media, while Deputy Boris Reznik (People's Deputy) stated that his information shows "the state is the largest monopolist in the media sector," controlling 90 percent of it. Just 41 deputies voted in favor of the bill, nns.ru reported. President Vladimir Putin's representative to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, declined to comment on the bill. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
'NOVAYA GAZETA' ON BRINK OF CLOSURE. Dmitrii Muratov, editor in chief of the liberal weekly "Novaya gazeta," told journalists on 7 June that a court bailiff had appeared at his office earlier that day and announced that he was enforcing a Moscow court order freezing the paper's property, polit.ru reported. According to a February court ruling, the paper must pay 15 million rubles ($482,000) in damages to Mezhprombank as compensation for business allegedly lost as a result of an article printed in the paper. Muratov said that the paper, which is controlled by self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii, is appealing the verdict, but added that if the bailiff fully enforces the decision before the appeal is heard, the paper will have to close. "Novaya gazeta" is the second newspaper in recent days whose fate has become uncertain. At the end of May, journalist Yegor Yakovlev announced the sale of the weekly "Obshchaya gazeta" and the new owner immediately fired the entire staff and suspended publication until at least the fall. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
IF EMERGENCY RULE DECLARED, FOREIGN REPORTERS WILL GET NEW RULES. According to "The Moscow Times" of 11 June, the Russian cabinet has passed a new regulation on the accreditation of foreign reporters if emergency rule is declared in the country. Signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov late last week, the new regulation is related to a long-delayed law on emergency rule signed into law in the spring of 2001. That law states that press freedom may be limited "only" if emergency rule is introduced due to "an armed rebellion, a violent attempt to seize power, or regional conflicts." The Foreign Ministry department for the accreditation of foreign reporters was unaware of the new rules as of 10 June, reported "The Moscow Times." CC
MEDIA-SOTSIUM GOES ON AIR... Although the nonprofit Media-Sotsium partnership has already started broadcasting on the sixth TV channel, the Moscow Independent Broadcast Corporation (MNVK) filed an appeal with the Prosecutor-General's Office against the Moscow Arbitration Court's ruling to liquidate MNVK. Although the Prosecutor-General's Office rejected the MNVK appeal on 6 June, MNVK plans to ask the court to reconsider its ruling. MNVK confirmed its intention to challenge in court the Russian Media Ministry's decision to invite bids for broadcast licenses on the sixth channel. MNVK also hopes for implementation of a court ruling in the town of Khimki which ruled illegal the closure of TV-6 broadcasts and gave MNVK three months to resume operation. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
...AS THE PUBLIC PAYS THE PRICE? Media-Sotsium received a two-year loan from Vneshekonombank for $10 million, which, according to the bank's press service, may be increased to $40 million. In this way, Media-Sotsium broadcasts on the sixth channel are now financially dependent on the state sector. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
NTV'S NEW FIVE-YEAR PLAN. In a unanimous 3 June decision, the Federal Licensing Commission extended NTV's broadcast license for five years. NTV General Director Boris Jordan plans to set up five subsidiaries: NTV-News, NTV-Broadcasting, NTV-Production, NTV-Design, and NTV-Assets. Each of these units is supposed to operate in a cost-effective manner in order to cut $15 million in costs in the first year, Jordan said. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
TIME OF TROUBLES FOR IVANOVO DUMA ACTIVIST. Noted Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the 30 May "Novaya gazeta" about Ivanovo Deputy Sergei Valkov's recent time of troubles. A resident of Ivanovo, an industrial city near Moscow, he is a Legislative Assembly deputy and the chair of both its Local Self-Government Committee and Human Rights Committee. In April 2002, Valkov asked the Ivanovo oblast paper "Rabochy Krai" to publish his open letter to the Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov. In this letter, Valkov posed specific questions -- and demanded specific answers -- about Chechnya. "Rabochy Krai" published Valkov's letter on 30 April. On 13 May, the oblast's Legislative Assembly held an urgent special session to discuss "the behavior of Sergei Valkov and that of the paper 'Rabochy Krai.'" The Legislative Assembly characterized Valkov's open letter as "slanderous inventions" about the Russian Army, "antistate activity," and "ideological preparation for terrorist acts." The Ivanovo assembly further resolved "to condemn the [letter's] publication"; to recommend that the "media refrain from publishing materials with inaccurate and unchecked information aimed at inciting national and social intolerance and discord"; "to request that the Administration for the Press and Information of Ivanovo Oblast take measures to prevent such publications in the future"; and to propose to the Ivanovo Oblast Prosecutor-General's Office and other officials that "they examine the publication to see if it fell under legislation relating to slander in relation to the Russian Army." On the same day, 13 May, all funding for the Ivanovo Oblast Committee on Human Rights was withdrawn. On 7 June, the website "Human Rights in Russia" reported that Valkov had been removed as chairman of the Ivanovo Oblast Legislative Assembly's Committee for Public Self-Government. (Hro.org, 7 June and "Novaya gazeta," 30 May)
CHELYABINSK COURT RULES AGAINST DUMA DEPUTY IN FAVOR OF GOVERNOR'S PRESS SECRETARY. The Chelyabinsk Central Court considered the case of State Duma Deputy M. Yurevich versus S. Fatykhov, the Chelyabinsk regional government, and the regional governor's press secretary. The court ruled against Yurevich's claim that the regional radio station had broadcast false reports about his media company. These reports alleged that Yurevich's media concern tries to garner illegally beneficial contracts for him. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
NIZHNII NOVGOROD COURT REVOKES PAPER'S LICENSE. On 7 June, the Nizhnii Novgorod district court ruled in favor of the Volga Territorial Interregional Directorate of the Media Ministry to revoke the registration of the paper "Leninskaya Smena Plyus" and to discontinue the paper's publication. The paper's Editor in Chief V. Barinov told IF-Region news agency, "We witness an era of censorship when neo-Nazism and neo-Stalinism are reborn.... [There is now] a precedent for closing a newspaper.... This is only the beginning. I am afraid...[for] the future of Nizhnii Novgorod media." The paper plans to appeal the court ruling in the near future. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 3-9 June)
PHOTOGRAPHERS ATTACKED DURING MOSCOW SOCCER RIOT. Several journalists were injured during soccer riots in Moscow on 9 June, reported RIA-Novosti the next day. Vladimir Gerdo, a photographer for the paper "Vechernyaya Moskva" told the news agency that hooligans had beaten him, along with photographers for the EPA photo agency and "Kommersant." Gerdo was hospitalized with a concussion and a spinal injury. Gerdo claims he was beaten up because rioters saw him taking photographs of them setting cars on fire near the Moskva hotel. CC
TEENS PAY FOR INTERNET ACCESS BY SELLING WEED(S). At an Internet cafe in the town of Oktyabrskoe in Chuvashia, adolescents are paying for time on computers with medicinal herbs that they gather in the surrounding countryside, ntvru.com reported on 11 June, citing ITAR-TASS. According to the site, the initiative has generated interest in other towns in the republic because the low pay offered for such painstaking work no longer attracts pickers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
BOOK ON 1999 APARTMENT-BLOCK BOMBINGS WINS NATIONAL AWARD. Ardent anti-Western author and publisher Aleksandr Prokhanov won on 31 May the prestigious 2002 National Bestseller Prize for his controversial book "Gospodin Geksogen" (Mr. Gexogen), Russian news agencies reported. The book, which is posted on the Internet at http://www.geksogen.ru, is a thinly fictionalized account that maintains the 1999 apartment-block explosions in Moscow and other cities, the renewal of fighting in Chechnya, and the election of Vladimir Putin as president were all the result of a security-organs conspiracy led by veterans of the KGB. The book features characters closely based on former President Yeltsin, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, KGB General Fillip Bobkov, and mass-media magnates Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii. Putin appears in the book under the name "Chosen One." Accepting his $10,000 prize from jury chairman and St. Petersburg banker Vladimir Kogan, Prokhanov said that he will donate most of the money to the defense of his "national-patriotic" comrade, Eduard Limonov, whose trial on charges of illegal arms possession and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order is expected to get under way in Saratov in the near future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
'UNSYSTEMATIC DICTIONARY.' Mikhail Gorbachev's interpreter, Pavel Palazchenko, is the author of the recently published book, "My Unsystematic Dictionary,'' the AP reported on 11 June. The book treats Russian bureaucratic turns of phrase plus American political correctness, and serves to help improve translation as well as cultural understanding. CC
SERBIAEDITOR'S DISMISSAL PROTESTED. On 3 June, the Association of Serbian Journalists protested the dismissal of "Borba" Editor in Chief Dragana Cabarkapa. The association noted that it was not the first time the editor had been dismissed over editorial policy and also observed that the federal daily was the only paper which remained closed to leading journalists who had been dismissed under the Milosevic regime. ("ANEM Media Update," 1-7 June)
EDITOR RESIGNS, CITING POLITICAL PRESSURE. On 6 June, the editor in chief of the Pozarevic daily "Rec Naroda," Miodrag Kuzmanovic, resigned after one year on the job, citing "intolerable political pressure" by municipal officials. ("ANEM Media Update," 1-7 June)
JOURNALISTS' COURT TROUBLE? In February of this year, journalists from the Kragujevac weekly "Nezavisna svetlost" have appeared in court 20 times on libel charges, the paper reported on 7 June. Most of the charges relate to articles presenting "negative phenomena" in a critical light or which bring "suspected abuse of authority" to light. Most often, charges against journalists are brought by prominent local figures. ("ANEM Media Update," 1-7 June)
SERBIAN MEDIA GIANT 25 PERCENT CROAT-OWNED? According to the 3 June Zagreb daily "Nacional," Croats Ninoslav Pavic and Ivic Pasalic own 25 percent of Serbia's largest media company. In the spring of 1999, Pavic signed a contract with the German media concern WAZ under which he owns half the shares of WAZ media projects in the Balkans. ("ANEM Media Update," 1-7 June)
ARE SOME REPORTERS MORE EQUAL? Professor Miroljub Radojkovic, stated on 6 June that journalists from the paper "Nacional" are not allowed to attend Serbian government press conferences. Radojkovic, a professor at the faculty of political sciences of Belgrade University, is also a member of the committee drafting new information legislation. He asked whether such an approach to public information was compatible with democracy. ("ANEM Media Update," 1-7 June)
SLOVAKIAPREMIER SAYS PRIVATE TV STATIONS LACK IMPARTIALITY. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on Slovak Television on 11 June that he is concerned about freedom of speech in his country, CTK reported. He said that Markiza TV -- whose former co-owner, Pavol Rusko, heads the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) party -- is biased in favor of ANO and that Rusko's wife is head of Markiza TV's news desk. Dzurinda denied that his views are influenced by polls that show ANO's influence growing at the expense of his own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. Dzurinda was reacting to a recent dispute between the management of Slovak Television and several journalists who objected to an invitation extended to Rusko to participate in a talk show and accused Slovak Television Director Milan Materak of backing Rusko. Three of the journalists resigned in protest. In related news, License Council Deputy Chairwoman Maria Hradiska said on 11 June that while Slovak Television coverage is objective and balanced, Markiza TV favors ANO, and the recently established private TV Joj "focuses on sensationalism" and hardly covers Slovak affairs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
TAJIKISTANFELLOWSHIP AWARDED TO JOURNALIST. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the University of Toronto's Massey College have awarded the first Donner/CJFE Journalist-At-Risk Fellowship to Tajik journalist Konstantin Parshin. Parshin will spend an academic year at Massey College as one of seven journalists in its Journalism Fellowship Program. He helped launch Radio NIC, the first private radio station in the country to receive a broadcast license. Earlier this year, the Tajik government suspended the station's license for no apparent reason, according to Internews. (IFEX communique, 11 June)
UZBEKISTANCPJ URGES UZBEKISTAN TO FREE LOCAL PRESS... On 10 June, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) completed a nine-day mission to Uzbekistan by calling on President Islam Karimov to free three jailed journalists and to change government policies that severely restrict press freedom in the country. In recent weeks, Uzbek officials formally abolished prior censorship. But local newspaper editors have been warned that they will be held personally accountable for what they publish, limiting the impact of this step. Uzbek authorities also encourage self-censorship by threatening critical journalists with imprisonment. Other tactics include lawsuits in politicized courts, harassment by police and security forces, arbitrary implementation of media regulations, and politically motivated tax inspections. CPJ found that the government's harsh policies have succeeded in creating a culture of self-censorship in the country. Local journalists rarely cover official corruption, human rights abuses, or the activities of opposition political parties and Islamic organizations. CPJ met with Uzbekistan officials, local journalists, foreign reporters, Western diplomats, and human rights activists in Samarkand and Tashkent. (CPJ, 10 June)
...AND MAKES RECOMMENDATIONS. The CPJ delegation made recommendations to the Uzbekistan government to help improve press freedom: Release three Uzbek journalists jailed for their work -- Muhammed Bekjanov and Iusuf Ruzimuradov, of the banned opposition paper "Erk," and Madzid Abduraimov, of the national weekly "Yangi Asr"; Provide official assurances that independent broadcaster Shukhrat Babadjanov, forced to flee into exile due to threats of imprisonment on false charges, will be able to return to Uzbekistan and reopen ALC Television, a TV station shut down for political reasons in the northern city of Urgench; Provide assurances that the government will halt the use of politically motivated lawsuits to harass independent publications such as the Samarkand paper "Oyna"; Officials should no longer fear punishment for granting on-the-record interviews to journalists and providing them with information about state policies; Reform or abolish the State Press Committee and the Interagency Coordination Committee (MKK), responsible for licensing and regulating the local press; Grant international broadcasters such as the BBC and Radio Liberty access to FM frequencies to allow them to reach a wider audience; Set up an independent commission of legal experts and local journalists to review laws on slander, libel, access to information, status of journalists, the mass media, and other applicable regulations. For more, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.cpj.org/. (CPJ, 10 June)
REGIONALESTONIA HOSTS, LATVIA WINS, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. The 47th annual Eurovision Song Contest took place in Tallinn on 25 May, ETA reported, marking the event's debut in Eastern Europe. The contest was watched by hundreds of millions of television viewers in Europe and the United States and was broadcast live over the Internet for the first time ever. The winner was Marie N. (Marija Naumova), a singer of Russian descent from Latvia, for the song "I Wanna." Latvia was an unexpected participant in the contest this year after finishing 18th last year (only the first 15 countries receive automatic invitations for the following year). The Eurovision contest is traditionally held in the winner's home country, and both Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins and Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars confirmed that Riga will prepare to host the 48th Eurovision Song Contest next May. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 7 June)
END NOTEBANDITRY AS USUAL?
By Robert Coalson
"It's only business" was the mantra of the Russian government and its apologists throughout the dismembering of oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's media empire in 2000-01. That process ended with the closing in April 2001 of the daily "Segodnya" and the weekly news magazine "Itogi" -- although a publication under that name continues to appear on newsstands -- and the death of the popular television channel NTV, although a channel continues to broadcast under that name.
Even those who believed the whole thing was "only business" -- if there were any such people -- would have to admit that the public was poorly served by the loss of these three media outlets, which, for all their faults, demonstrated as much potential for competent, independent, and popular journalism as any in post-Soviet Russia. By attributing these losses to "market forces," the Russian government may be undermining public support for reform and bolstering antimarket sentiment over the long term: The public knows very well who won and who lost from this particular business deal.
Far more quietly, but also under the rubric of "business," the weekly newspaper "Obshchaya gazeta" suspended publication at the end of May. The newspaper, and its creator and editor in chief, Yegor Yakovlev, were among the few who passed through the entire post-Soviet era with their reputations unsullied. Yakovlev, it should be noted, dismissed the NTV business dispute as "plain banditry."
"Obshchaya gazeta" was created in August 1991, bringing together the editorial teams of several newspapers that were banned during the abortive coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Throughout the Boris Yeltsin era, it maintained a reputation for principled liberal criticism, reporting aggressively on the controversial issues of Chechnya, state corruption, and privatization. During the 1996 presidential election campaign, when virtually all the country's media -- including NTV and the rest of Gusinskii's empire -- thoroughly disgraced themselves in their eagerness to support Yeltsin's re-election, Yakovlev's "Obshchaya gazeta" quixotically endorsed Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii.
True to its origins as a sort of communal response to crisis, "Obshchaya gazeta" also served over the years as a rallying point whenever journalists felt the state was encroaching on the public's right to know. Seven special editions of the newspaper were published at critical moments, most recently on 7 April 2001 in reaction to the NTV crisis. That issue bore the logos of nearly 160 national and regional media outlets and public organizations. A special edition of "Obshchaya gazeta" was also issued in February 2000 in connection with the Russian government's detention of RFE/RL's Chechnya correspondent, Andrei Babitskii.
However, good journalism and a clean reputation are, it seems, hardly the ingredients for market success in Russia. Yakovlev is over 70 years old and can be excused for wanting to bow out. However, in his carefully worded final editorial comment for "Obshchaya gazeta," he cited economic factors for the paper's change of fortune: "The money ran out."
So the respected journalist sold his newspaper to a 33-year-old businessman from St. Petersburg named Vyacheslav Leibman, a man without any publishing experience who is best-known for parlaying his romantic association with the daughter of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak into success in the oil-export business. By all accounts, Leibman is someone who knows exactly what the phrase "it's only business" means in Russia. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the selling price of the money-losing paper as $3 million.
Leibman's first step as owner -- a tactic that he apparently borrowed from the takeover scenarios played out at "Segodnya" and "Itogi" -- was to fire the newspaper's entire staff. Firing the talented editorial staff wholesale at the beginning avoids the potential embarrassment of them walking out if they find that their idea of journalism and his are not compatible. Then he suspended publication of the paper until at least the fall. Whatever, if anything, emerges from this reconstruction process will certainly bear no resemblance to Yakovlev's "Obshchaya gazeta."
Why would Leibman buy the paper and then immediately discard its only real asset, its staff? On the one hand, the point could be just to quietly close down an independent paper and remove it from the hands of a journalist who is widely respected and supported throughout Russia and around the world. Three million dollars might not seem like a lot to pay to avoid an NTV-style scandal.
On the other hand, although "Obshchaya gazeta" itself had an insignificant Moscow circulation of just over 18,000 copies, it also had a well-developed network of inserts in leading regional papers in cities around the country. That network's circulation was reportedly 127,000. Getting a tailored message from the center out to the regions has been a daunting task in Russia, at least until the Kremlin's steady process of reining in the media over the last two years made it easier.
So, an aging lion of Russian journalism gets a well-earned rest, a newspaper's fate is decided according to the rules of the Russian "market," and a cantankerous voice that kept a sharp eye on the Kremlin for the last decade falls silent.
Yakovlev is, of course, far from an ideal model of an independent journalist. He is very much a product of the Soviet system in which he was formed, and throughout his long career he subscribed unabashedly to the idea that the media's job was to educate the public and to form public opinion. Despite the 1996 presidential election fiasco, Yakovlev still maintained in early 1997 that the main task of journalists is "to prepare the people for the next presidential election" and to help them choose "correctly." Responding to these comments, analyst Laura Belin wrote in "The New Presence" that "the quality and professionalism of news coverage will suffer as long as most journalists conspire to protect the public from 'dangerous' information at crucial political junctures."
Yakovlev was one of the greatest figures of the greatest phase of Soviet and Russian journalism -- the heyday of glasnost when, for a moment, all the forces of nature and politics seemed favorably aligned. The government paid all the bills, but censorship was increasingly relaxed. The public seemed to live for each new issue of the leading papers, some of which had circulations in the millions. And at that time there were no business interests -- or, more accurately, political interests posing as business interests.
However, Yakovlev was always mindful of the looming danger inherent whenever the media are financially dependent on the state. He welcomed as progress the shift toward a market-oriented media sector, even if "Obshchaya gazeta" never made the leap. "After all, in order for a monkey to become a human being," Yakovlev quipped, "it had to fall out of the tree and break its tail."
While the image of falling out of a tree and getting hurt seems apt, it is hard to imagine that what is going on in the Russian media now -- exemplified most recently by the fate of "Obshchaya gazeta" -- is anything like evolution.
Robert Coalson is an RFE/RL editor and analyst.