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Media Matters: July 26, 2002

26 July 2002, Volume 2, Number 29

The next issue of "RFE/RL Media Matters" will appear on 9 August.
CONFERENCE ON JOURNALISM IMPACT OF 11 SEPTEMBER. Journalists and representatives from over 60 broadcasting outlets worldwide will gather in Slovenia on 10-11 October for a conference exploring ways the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S. have changed the practice of journalism, according to IFEX. The conference is being organized by News Xchange with financial support by the European Broadcasting Union. For more information, see or contact Managing Director Jim Gold at

COURT BATTLE CONTINUES OVER TV CLOSURE. A group of 36 supporters of independent Armenian television station A1+, which was forced to quit broadcasting in April after losing a tender for its frequency, won a minor victory on 24 July, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The group filed an official complaint on 29 May with a Yerevan district court claiming the commission that ruled on the tender violated their fundamental right to freedom of information, including the right to watch the television station of their choice. The district court on 24 July agreed to the plaintiffs' request to replace the presiding judge on the grounds that he violated legal procedure by failing to summon members of the tender commission to testify. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

PRESIDENT URGES CRACKDOWN ON 'VIOLATIONS' OF MEDIA LAW. "Top government members are clearly under attack, and the aim [of this attack] is to discredit them," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 18 July at a meeting with Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman and State Monitoring Committee Chairman Anatol Tozik, Belapan reported. Lukashenka called for a crackdown on "violations" of the country's media law. A correspondent of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service suggested on 19 July that Lukashenka's pronouncements are connected with a recent publication by the Minsk-based opposition newspaper "Nasha svaboda," which quotes an "analytical report" by Russian analysts implying that the Kremlin is working on scenarios to depose Lukashenka. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

SUPREME COURT DISMISSES APPEAL FROM FAMILY OF MISSING CAMERAMAN. The collegium of the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed on 16 July an appeal filed by the family of Dzmitry Zavadski, a cameraman for Russia's ORT television who disappeared in July 2000, Belapan reported the same day. The court also dismissed appeals filed by the four men convicted of the crime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)

FORMER FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL HELD ON SUSPICION OF CONTRACTING MURDER OF JOURNALIST... Four people, including former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba, have been arrested for allegedly plotting to have Czech journalist Sabina Slonkova murdered, CTK and international media reported on 22 and 23 July. Srba was forced to resign from his post in March 2001 after Slonkova, a journalist for the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes," wrote a series of articles describing the suspicious circumstances under which the ministry leased the Cesky Dum (Czech House) in Moscow to a private firm. Srba had submitted the lease contract to then-Foreign Minister Jan Kavan for signing. Slonkova said on 22 July that her murder was planned for 17 July and that three hired killers intended to shoot her with a pistol and slash her face to prevent identification. According to AP, Srba contracted the assassins through his girlfriend, who is also among those arrested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July)

...AS JOURNALIST WRITES ABOUT HER ORDEAL. Writing in "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 23 July, Slonkova said police took her under their protection prior to the planned murder and hid her for 10 days, CTK reported. On 22 July, CTK, quoting prosecution sources from Ceske Budejovice, reported that police were informed of the plot by one of the potential perpetrators. The man is not among the four detained suspects, who face between 12 and 15 years in prison if convicted. Sources from the Prosecutor-General's Office cited by "Mlada fronta Dnes" said the price that was to be paid for Slonkova's murder was about 500,000 crowns. A search of Srba's home led to the discovery of two guns, tens of millions of crowns in cash, and photo of Slonkova on the back of which was written "Liquidation." Srba is claiming that the inscription was prompted by his desire to become a journalist and "liquidate" Slonkova professionally, the daily reported. Srba insists he is being framed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July)

FORMER FOREIGN MINISTRY STAFF MEMBER WANTS HIS CASE REVIEWED. Vaclav Hruby, former director of the Czech Foreign Ministry's Stirin conference center, on 22 July said he wants the investigation over the so-called "Stirin affair" to be reopened, CTK reported. Hruby, who was dismissed in 1999, claimed at that time that Srba forced him to falsely testify that former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec bribed journalists. He told CTK on 22 July that he has also been threatened by people connected with Srba and that his life and his family's safety are in danger. Police shelved the "Stirin affair," and Hruby subsequently lost a lawsuit against Srba, who called him a "blackmailer." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July)

TABLOID GOES OUT OF BUSINESS. The Czech tabloid "Super" was shut down on 17 July, 15 months after it was launched, dpa reported. The paper's circulation had fallen to about 100,000 copies -- half of what it was a year ago. "Super" mixed gossip and sex with political coverage that attacked political opponents of the Civic Democratic Party, and had commercial and indirect ties to TV Nova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)

POLICE CLOSE INVESTIGATION AGAINST TV DIRECTOR. Police on 25 July announced they have closed the investigation launched at the request of trade unions against Czech Television General Director Jiri Balvin, CTK reported, citing the dailies "Pravo" and "Hospodarske noviny." The investigators concluded that Balvin did not act unlawfully when he ordered that surveillance equipment be placed in Czech Television studios to monitor whether private work is conducted using the company's equipment. At the same time, police are continuing their investigation into a complaint launched by Balvin against an unknown perpetrator who allegedly erased surveillance video of the studios. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)

PUBLIC TV TO STOP RUNNING ADS. In line with a new broadcasting act, Estonia's public television ETV ended broadcasts of commercials from 1 July, ETA reported. The loss in revenue is expected to be offset by the 15-million-kroon ($900,000) broadcasting license fees the two national commercial television stations will be required to pay. Two channels of Estonia's public radio will be allowed to air commercials until 2005. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 15 July)

THUGS INJURE NGO STAFFERS, JOURNALIST. Around a dozen men stormed the Tbilisi office of the Liberty Institute on 10 July and proceeded to damage computer equipment and beat up staff members, Caucasus Press reported. Four men, including the Institute's Director Levan Ramishvili and an RFE/RL journalist, were hospitalized. Supporters of ultranationalist parliament deputy Guram Sharadze had picketed the institute the previous day to protest Ramishvili's characterization of Sharadze during a television talk show as a fascist and a former KGB agent. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze condemned the violence, saying that "such things do not happen in a normal country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)

HUNGARIAN TELEVISION PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. Hungarian Television (MTV) President Karoly Mendreczky told the network's board of trustees on 16 July that he plans to resign, citing increasing criticism from pro-government circles as the reason for his decision, Hungarian media reported. He said he does not want such criticism to further weaken MTV's already precarious financial situation. The board now has 15 days to appoint a new president. Meanwhile, it decided to entrust recently appointed MTV Deputy President Imre Regacs with running the network temporarily. Governing coalition parliamentary deputies welcomed Mendreczky's resignation, saying that during his tenure of office the network displayed bias in favor of the previous government and that he should have quit right after the elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)

COURT CONFIRMS NEWSPAPER CLOSURE, EDITOR'S SIX-MONTH SENTENCE. New York-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 24 July condemned a decision the same day by a Tehran appellate court which confirmed a ban on "Noruz," the country's main reformist daily, and a six-month sentence and four-year ban on practicing journalism for the paper's editor, Mohsen Mirdamadi. Mirdamadi was found guilty of insulting the state, publishing lies, and insulting Islamic institutions in articles that his paper published. The court ordered him to pay a 2-million-rial ($250) fine. A CPJ source in Tehran said it is doubtful that Mirdamadi, who is also a member of parliament, will go to prison. According to the CPJ, 50 Iranian publications have been closed since April 2000. At least three Iranian journalists are currently imprisoned for their work. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 July)

U.S. COLUMNIST BARRED FROM IRAN. The director for foreign correspondents' affairs in Iran's Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, Mohammad Hussein Khoshvaqt, said in the 2 July "Kayhan" newspaper that "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman would not be allowed to return to Iran. The conservative press accused Friedman of espionage after he wrote a series of op-ed articles in June about his one-week trip to Iran, and it asked why Friedman was allowed to visit the country in the first place. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July)

FOREIGN HELP NEEDED FOR JOB-CREATING INTERNET PLAN... Only 2.5 percent of Iran's population has access to the Internet, according to an Iranian state radio analyst on 4 July, and the government's information-technology-expansion plan that was announced the previous day was long overdue. The secretary of Iran's Supreme Information Technology Council, Nasrollah Jahangard, announced on 3 July that the government of Iran intends to spend 1 trillion rials ($125 million) in the current year to develop information technology as part of its emergency plan to create jobs, according to IRNA. Yet in June the Internet Networks Employers Guild complained about efforts to control Internet access and said the relevant ministries have ignored the private Internet providers' advice on this subject. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July)

...AS GRASSROOTS INTERNET PROJECTS TAKE OFF. Mohammad Ali Abbasi, the webmaster of, said in a 9 July interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that his village's 350-member association of university students and graduates is in charge of the website. Since 1999, the association has trained more than 500 village residents to use the Internet. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July)

TV REPORTER BANNED FOR 10 DAYS. On 23 July, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested Iraqi authorities' 10-day ban on Al-Jazeera television journalist Diar al-Umari. The Qatar-based satellite TV station said Iraq had barred the journalist from working as of 20 July "as a punishment for certain words in his dispatches, which the Information Ministry has deemed harmful to Iraq" such as the use of the term "ruling party" instead of "Arab Socialist Party" to describe the Baath Party. Al-Jazeera's editor in chief said the station "vigorously contested" the ministry's suggestion that it harmed Iraq in its reporting. The station will close its Baghdad office during the 10-day ban and will reopen depending on the regime's future attitude toward Al-Jazeera and its correspondent. (Reporters Without Borders, 23 July)

TWO MEN CHARGED WITH FIREBOMBING OPPOSITION PAPER. Two unemployed men have been arrested and charged with an arson attack in May that destroyed the editorial offices of the opposition weekly "Respublika-Delovoe obozrenie," Interfax reported on 11 July, quoting senior Almaty Interior Ministry official Nauryzbai Kyrgodjaev. Kyrgodjaev said the two suspects say that Muratbek Ketebaev, one of the cofounders of the paper, promised them $500 each to commit the attack. Ketebaev has rejected those allegations as absurd. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)

COURT ORDERS CLOSURE OF OPPOSITION PUBLISHING HOUSE. An Almaty court on 24 July ordered the closure of the firm PR-Consulting on the grounds that it failed to comply with an earlier court suspension -- for two months from April -- publication of "Respublika-Delovoe obozrenie," Interfax reported. PR-Consulting plans to appeal that verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

OSCE: JOURNALISTS IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe published a study showing that 78 percent of the journalists in Kosova fear reprisals if they do investigative reporting, the weekly Internet-based magazine IFEX reported on 23 July. Some 40 percent of ethnic Albanian respondents and 35 percent of Serbs said they have already been threatened because of something they have written. Journalists based in Prishtina tended to feel more endangered than those in other areas. The study added that the journalists are in need of an organization to protect their interests, and that the current Journalists' Association is too small to be effective. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)

FUNDS EARMARKED FOR EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. The Latvian cabinet adopted a decree on 23 July on allotting 547,000 lats ($875,000) from privatization revenues to Latvian State Television (LTV) for launching the organization of next year's Eurovision song contest, LETA reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

GOVERNMENT APPROVES PRESIDENTIAL DRAFT ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA... The Moldovan government on 20 July approved President Vladimir Voronin's draft on setting up a "Teleradio Moldova public company," Flux reported. Justice Minister Ion Morei said the company's denomination is in line with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Morei urged the government to forward the draft to parliament with the recommendation that it be debated under urgency procedure. The cabinet approved an amendment to the draft proposed by Culture Minister Ion Pacuraru that obligates Teleradio Moldova to promote "the authentic values of national culture and of the cultures of national minorities." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

...AS COUNCIL OF EUROPE MAKES RECOMMENDATION. The Council of Europe recommended that the Moldovan parliament approve a law transforming Teleradio Moldova into a public company, mainly based on the draft worked out by the Braghis Alliance and the Association of Electronic Media, Flux reported on 25 July because it is "the most democratic" draft, providing for monitoring of Teleradio Moldova's performance by nongovernmental organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)

NEW POLITICAL ALLIES WANT CHANGES IN MEDIA AND ELECTION LAWS. Montenegro's strange political bedfellows -- the pro-independence Liberal Alliance (LSCG) and the pro-Belgrade Together for Yugoslavia coalition -- agreed in a parliamentary working group to call for legal changes in anticipation of early parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 16 July. The allies want a shortening of the pre-election media blackout, as well as the possibility to replace chief editors in the state-run media by a simple parliamentary majority vote in place of the current two-thirds majority rule. The LSCG and the coalition also demand that state and private media report only on the foreign-policy activities of incumbents, not their domestic activities. Representatives of President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists walked out of the session, while the Social Democrats voted against the proposed changes. Ethnic Albanian legislators were absent. Representatives of the Council of Europe and independent electronic-media journalists objected to the changes, noting that the LSCG previously sought to bring Montenegrin media legislation in line with European standards instead. On 24 July, RFE/RL reported that President Djukanovic said he will not approve the changes to the media and election laws passed by the LSCG and the Together for Yugoslavia coalition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 24 July)

TWO RADIO STATIONS LOSE THEIR LICENSES. On 24 July, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested the 17 July decision by the Polish state broadcasting authority, Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji (KRRiT), not to renew the licenses of two popular local radio stations. RSF denounced the move as an arbitrary decision, made without any warning or explanation. Unless the decision is reversed, Radio Blue in Krakow and Twoje Radio in the southwestern town of Walbrzych will have to shut down. Radio Blue, on the air for seven years, is the most popular station in Krakow, a city of 710,000. Twoje Radio ("Your Radio") broadcasts in the mining town of Walbrzych (population 140,000), where listeners have organized demonstrations to protest the KRRiT decision. According to RSF, the KRRiT was set up in 1992 and is run by nine "wise men." Four are chosen by the lower house, two by the upper house, and three by the country's president. They assign broadcasting licenses for a maximum of seven years, after which an application for renewal must be made, something Radio Blue insists it did within the deadline. The KRRiT's decisions are final. For more, see (Reporters Without Borders, 25 July)

FORMER HEAD OF RFE POLISH SERVICE MOVES BACK TO POLAND. Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, the longtime director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe in Munich (1952-76), returned to Poland on 21 July after 56 years in exile, PAP reported. Following his retirement in 1977, he moved to the United States. Nowak-Jezioranski, 89, termed his return an "act of optimism and faith in the future despite the hard time Poland is facing." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

CULTURE MINISTRY SPEAKS OUT AGAINST SOROKIN INVESTIGATION... The criminal case against avant-garde writer Vladimir Sorokin launched by Moscow prosecutors on 11 July received a great deal of public criticism the same day. Prosecutors allege that Sorokin's novel "Goluboye Salo" ("Blue Lard") is pornographic. According to an official statement by the Culture Ministry's press office, that ministry considers the decision to open the case "erroneous, ungrounded, and a violation of a citizen's constitutional rights," RIA-Novosti reported. "Russian history shows that criminal cases against writers Andrei Sinyavskii, Yulii Daniel, and Aleksandr Ginzburg have only discredited the ideas of personal freedom and freedom of speech," the statement went on to say, according to ITAR-TASS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)

...AS WALKING TOGETHER LEADER JUSTIFIES ACCUSATIONS... Aleksei Volin, deputy chief of the government staff, also criticized the action, saying it "elicits a mixed feeling of despondency and amazement," according to Interfax. Sorokin himself denied the allegations and said his novel "contained only two sexual scenes and was written about the death of Russian literature." "Goluboye Salo" was published over three years ago, but the investigation began only now at the initiative of the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau broadcast on 10 July, the leader of movement, Vasilii Yakimenko, said the group is trying to "transfer Sorokin into the marginal [category]" and prove that "Sorokin's publications are not books in the classical meaning of the word." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)

...AND PROSECUTOR FILES CHARGES. Meanwhile, prosecutors completed their evaluation of the novel on 11 July and determined that it is indeed pornographic, Reuters and Western news agencies reported. Formal charges against Sorokin were filed the same day. Moscow prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov rejected criticism of the investigation. "In deciding whether or not to initiate a criminal case, law-enforcement agencies cannot be guided by any one person's aesthetic tastes. We act strictly within the framework of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code," he said in an interview with Interfax on 11 July. "Let me assure you that this assessment will not depend on the personal aesthetic preferences of officials," he said before the assessment was completed. Five days later, Ekho Moskvy and Interfax reported that Moscow prosecutors are now looking into a second novel, "Led" ("Ice"), by Vladimir Sorokin and may file pornography charges against him. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 July)

PUBLIC RUSHES TO READ BELEAGUERED AUTHOR... Public interest in Sorokin novels has soared since the criminal pornography charges were filed on 11 July, Ekho Moskvy reported on 19 July. "Interest in Sorokin is enormous now," said Natalya Tyurina, deputy commercial director for Moscow's Dom Knigi bookstore. "In recent days, we have been selling more than 120 copies of [Sorokin's] 'Blue Lard' a day, while before we were lucky to sell 16." She added that copies of Sorokin's latest novel, "Led," are no longer available at all and that the store has placed a large order for all of Sorokin's novels with his publisher, Ad Marginem. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)

...BUT PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DOES NOT. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 19 July, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov commented on the Sorokin case. "Regardless of whether elements of pornography are found [in Sorokin's novels], to me it is clear that there is a problem. It is time to screen out second-rate 'art,'" Ustinov said. Asked whether he had read "Blue Lard," Ustinov said: "No, and, I must admit, I don't plan to. What I've heard about the novel hasn't made me want to take it up." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)

SOROKIN TO UNDERGO QUESTIONING. Sorokin will be summoned for questioning as early as next week, reported on 25 July, citing an interview with the author. AP reported the same day that Sorokin will be questioned on 29 July, citing one of his lawyers. Sorokin also told that Aleksandr Ivanov, general director of the Ad Marginem publishing house, was questioned on 23 July. Sorokin added that he is being represented in the case by the well-known human rights attorney Genri Reznik. Sorokin also reported that his own lawsuit against the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, in which he alleges that the group disseminated pornography by distributing excerpts from his novels to passersby during a Moscow protest, will be heard in the Taganskii District Court on 5 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

COURT CASE AGAINST JOURNALIST IN FAR NORTH CLOSED. The city court of Naryan-Mar in Nenets Autonomous Okrug decided on 23 July to close the criminal case launched against the editor of "Krasnyi tundrovik," Olga Cheburina, on suspicion of abuse of office and exceeding official responsibilities, Interfax-Northwest reported. Cheburina achieved national fame after she was fired following a question by Aleksei Vasilivetskii, who introduced himself as one of her correspondents at a 24 June presidential press conference. However, the board of the newspaper claimed that Cheburina's dismissal had no connection with Vasilivetskii's question. The criminal case was launched against Cheburina in August 2001. Under Cheburina's leadership, the newspaper published a series of articles about criminal cases against Nenets Governor Vladimir Butov that local journalists believe were behind the decision to dismiss Cheburina, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 July. After the court hearing, Cheburina said that her next step will be to challenge as illegal the appointment of a new editor in her place. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002)

CULTURE MINISTER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST QUOTAS ON FOREIGN MOVIES. Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi has denounced proposals to impose quotas on foreign films shown in Russian movie theaters, Russian news agencies reported on 18 July. According to Shvydkoi, the Culture Ministry is working to increase the share of domestically produced movies in the market, especially among films shown in new-generation movie theaters, where Russian films comprise as little as 2 percent of all the movies shown. However, even though imposing quotas on foreign movies is "an ideologically attractive position," "in reality, it will be a tragedy for Russian cinematography and will kill off the movie-distribution industry," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. If quotas are introduced, there won't be any films to show, Shvydkoi said, adding that imposing quotas might hinder Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. As one solution to encouraging domestic production, Shvydkoi proposed increasing state support to domestic filmmakers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)

PUTIN CALLS FOR MORE CARTOONS. President Vladimir Putin has asked Culture Minister Shvydkoi to look into ways to increase the production of films, especially cartoons, for children, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 July. At a meeting between the two officials on 16 July, Putin stressed that formerly the country produced large quantities of high-quality cartoons and that the country still has rich resources of talent in this area that need to be more actively exploited. Putin's call comes despite, or perhaps because of, the popularity of "Beavis and Butthead" among Russian youth and the country's intelligentsia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)

CHRISTIAN SATELLITE CHANNEL TAKES TO THE AIR. The first Russian-language, Christian-oriented, satellite-television channel began broadcasting on 15 July, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported the same day. The channel, called the New Life Channel (CNL), will initially broadcast for six hours each day and can be received in 74 countries including most of Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and all of Russia and Europe. "CNL is the first television channel that will transmit the good news of Jesus Christ by satellite in Russian," CNL Director Maksim Maksimov was quoted by RosBalt as saying. The project is not connected with the Russian Orthodox Church. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)

DARYAL-TV FACES LOSS OF LICENSE. A government advisory commission on broadcast licenses recommended on 24 July that the government not renew the license of the private Daryal-TV channel, ITAR-TASS and other new agencies reported. According to commission member Manana Aslamazian, the channel has received three warnings from the Media Ministry for such actions as broadcasting commercials for alcoholic beverages. Aslamazian acknowledged that the channel's ownership has changed since the warnings were issued but said the new owners "have to pay the price for other people's mistakes." The channel was founded in 1999, and Sweden's Moden Times Group AB purchased a controlling stake in it in April 2001. Aslamazian said that the new owners would be able to participate in a tender for the license, which is expected to be held in October. The commission also recommended not extending the license of ATN television in Yekaterinburg, which was accused by the Media Ministry in August 2000 of using subliminal advertising techniques. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

NORTH OSSETIA LEGISLATURE CALLS FOR CONTROL OF MEDIA... The legislature of North Ossetia has appealed to the State Duma to adopt strict new controls over the media when it debates the law on mass media in the next legislative session, reported on 25 July, citing state-run RTR television. On 24 July, the republic's parliament adopted an appeal to State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev calling for the adoption of "articles and norms forbidding direct or indirect propagandizing of cults of cruelty, profit, drugs, and pornography." The letter also characterizes the current state of the regional and national media as "moral nihilism" that threatens "to wash away the moral values [of young Russians]." Further, parliamentarians are alarmed because they believe the majority of mass media outlets, especially television, are controlled by private individuals "dictating to the entire country their own conceptions of morality." They urged the Duma to address this "socially dangerous phenomenon." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

...AND ANOTHER STATE MEDIA OUTLET OPENS. State-owned Vneshtorgbank will launch the Agency of Corporate Information in August, Prime-TASS reported on 24 July, citing "Vedomosti." The business-information agency represents a $4 million investment by the bank, its largest non-core business project. Vneshtorgbank will own 49 percent of the project, with the remainder controlled by Interfax. The move comes despite repeated statements from federal officials, including President Putin and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, that the government intends to reduce its presence in the Russian media market. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

STATE TV WARNS VIEWERS ABOUT 'GYPSIES.' A report on RTR on 24 July provides details about the Moscow police directorate's Operation Tabor, in which city police check all persons who appear to be ethnic Roma at train stations to make sure they are legally registered. According to the correspondent, a Rom began to feel his pockets during a fortune-telling session and removed a 500-ruble ($16) note from his pocket. "The [Roma] possess remarkable sleight of hand," he said, adding that "in addition to swindling, [the Roma] also sell drugs." The report concluded: "Although Operation Tabor is over, the problem remains: It does not seem that there will be fewer [Roma] in the future." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)

EXTREMIST PAPER CLOSED BY MOSCOW COURT. A Moscow court on 17 July ordered that a tiny nationalist newspaper, "Russkiye Vedomosti," be shut down for inciting ethnic hatred with stories denigrating Jews, Asians, and people from the Caucasus, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 July. The decision was the first time the Media Ministry has convinced a court to ban a publication for breaking the media law ban on fanning ethnic conflict, the paper noted. With a press run of 10,000, the four-page paper is printed four times a year. Vyacheslav Likhachev, a nationalism expert with the Panorama think tank, said that the Media Ministry could have found a paper published with greater frequency and with much larger circulation. Likhachev speculated that "Russkiye Vedomosti" may have been targeted because its publisher was highly critical of President Vladimir Putin. ("The Moscow Times," 19 July)

LOCAL MEDIA COULD COMBAT EXTREMISM. In a commentary "Getting Radical About Extremism," RFE/RL's Robert Coalson noted that: "[One] crucial factor that has allowed extremist groups to fester in the regions is the weakness of the local media. Local media, ideally, should cast light on such phenomena at the earliest stages when mere public outrage can be enough to have a decisive effect. In Russia, however, state-controlled local media have shown little interest in covering such groups, and independent media have generally been kept too weak and vulnerable to be effective. Throughout the 1990s, Russia's leading extremist group, Russian National Unity (RNE), waged an unrelenting national campaign of intimidation and lawsuits against journalists who dared to report on its activities or tag it with the label 'fascist.' In 2000, the Glasnost Defense Foundation published a book detailing typical cases from the second half of the 1990s in Voronezh, Stavropol, and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk that ranks among some of the most compelling reading to come out of post-Soviet Russia. One is equally impressed by the courage of journalists such as Voronezh's Natalya Novozhilova and aghast at the helplessness of the law to protect them from the intimidations of fascists who, as often as not, seem to be at least tacitly in league with local officials. This book makes a persuasive case for the argument that a real independent press would do far more to combat extremism in Russia than any number of laws or police officers." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)

DISSIDENT HERO DIES IN PARIS. Renowned Soviet-era dissident and writer Aleksandr Ginzburg, one of the founders of the samizdat tradition in the Soviet Union, died in Paris on 19 July at the age of 65, Russian and Western news agencies reported. In 1959, Ginzburg founded the literary journal "Syntaksis," of which only three issues appeared. [In later years, Ginzburg often appealed to the KGB for the return of his "Syntaksis" materials, "The Times" reported on 23 July. In 1995, the Russian Federal Security Service allowed him to see materials on his 1960 arrest, and Ginzburg noted in amazement that the KGB had "saved almost everything."] He was arrested and sent to a labor camp in 1960. In 1966, Ginzburg collected and published documents relating to the persecution and trial of fellow writers Andrei Sinyavskii and Yulii Danil. The next year, Ginzburg was arrested again and sentenced to another five years in the camps. After his release, he joined forces with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to organize a support fund for political prisoners that was financed largely by proceeds from the sale of Solzhenitsyn's epic "The Gulag Archipelago." This work led to Ginzburg's third arrest in 1977 and to his exile to France in 1979. In recent years, Ginzburg wrote for the emigre newspaper "Russkaya mysl" and actively campaigned against human rights abuses in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

PIONEERING JOURNALIST DIES IN BASHKORTOSTAN. Firat Valeev, editor in chief of one of the only opposition newspapers in Bashkortostan, "Vechernii Neftekamsk," has been found dead, VolgaInform reported on 20 July. According to the agency, some observers believe there might have been a political motive behind Valeev's death, although the agency provided no details about how Valeev died. Valeev's paper was known for its critical coverage of President Murtaza Rakhimov, who tried on several occasions through legal and economic pressure to close it. Most recently, the newspaper called for mayors and the heads of raion administrations to be elected rather than appointed and for the republic's laws to be brought into conformity with federal legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

KEY PLAYER IN MEDIA-MOST AFFAIR DIES IN LONDON. Andrei Tsimailo, former deputy chairman of the board of directors of Media-Most, died in London on 23 July after a period of poor health, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported the next day. The 43-year-old Tsimailo played a key role in Vladimir Gusinskii's unsuccessful struggle to prevent gas giant Gazprom from taking over his empire. Tsimailo prepared the necessary documentation for Media-Most's ill-fated effort to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and conducted most of Media-Most's negotiations with then-Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh. According to RosBalt, Tsimailo actively tried to find Western investors to purchase shares of Media-Most in order to ward off the Gazprom takeover, but he was repeatedly prevented by the Russian authorities from traveling abroad. According to "Izvestiya," the Prosecutor-General's Office continued to seek his extradition from Britain right up until his death. Tsimailo left Media-Most in January 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

BROADCASTING ACT ADOPTED. On 19 July, the Serbian parliament adopted the Broadcasting Act at an extraordinary session. The new legislation envisages the creation of a Broadcast Agency to issue frequency licenses, regulate the work of broadcasters, and withdraw licenses for breaches of the law. It will be managed by a board of nine members, eight elected by parliament. The ninth, elected by the other eight, must be from Kosova. Four members will be nominated by the governments of Serbia and Vojvodina and the other four by the nongovernmental sector. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-19 July)

NATIONALIST THUGS BREAK UP WAR PHOTO EXHIBITION... On 15 July, a group of skinheads disrupted the opening of an exhibit by U.S. photographer Ron Haviv on the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the central Serbian city of Cacak. Organizer Ivan Zlatic suffered severe facial injuries when he was assaulted by the intruders. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-19 July)

...AND DESTROY NEWSPAPERS. Protesters from the Ravna Gora Freedom Movement on 18 July tore up copies of dailies "Danas" and "Politika" in the center of Cacak. Spokesman Vladimir Stenjajic told media that the act was a protest at what he described as the paper's anti-Serb editorial policy. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-19 July)

FEMALE PARLIAMENTARIANS PROTEST MEDIA ADVISER'S SLUR... On 16 July, female members of the Serbian parliament protested a statement by Aleksandar Tijanic, media adviser to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Tijanic, a former information minister in the Milosevic regime, described RFE/RL and "Danas" reporter Natasa Odalovic as "the call girl of Serbian journalism." ("ANEM Media Update," 15-19 July)

...AS CPJ WARNS OF CONCERN FOR JOURNALIST'S SAFETY. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 17 July expressed concern for Odalovic's safety. She believes that she has been under surveillance since 5 July, when she published an article alleging that Kostunica adviser Tijanic said Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was engaging in contracts for murders. ("ANEM Media Update," 15-19 July)

TELEVISION COUNCIL CALLS FOR DISMISSAL OF MANAGER. Slovak Television (STV) Council Chairman Jaroslav Franek told journalists on 23 July that STV has called on parliament to dismiss STV Director Milan Materak over a clause in the STV collective agreement that grants managers excessive severance pay, CTK reported. Materak said some 80 managers could benefit from severance pay as high as 600,000 crowns ($13,475). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)

INDEPENDENT RADIO STATION DENIED LICENSE. After delaying its decision for nearly four years, the Tajik government has refused to grant a broadcast license to the independent media agency Asia Plus. Asia Plus applied in August 1998 to open a radio station in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where only state-run television and radio stations operate. The agency received a brief reply from the State Committee for Television and Radio on 8 July stating that a second radio station in Dushanbe is "unnecessary." (Committee to Protect Journalists, 19 July)

TEACHER SENTENCED FOR ISLAMIC PROPAGANDA. Dushanbe schoolteacher Vakhob Khalilov was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on 18 July for heading a local cell of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, Interfax reported. Khalilov was said to have disseminated "reactionary" and "subversive" literature among young people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)

PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES CRACKDOWN ON CABLE TV. Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered more stringent controls on broadcasting by Russian cable channels, one of the few uncensored sources of information to which Turkmenistan's population still has access, Reuters reported on 23 July. He noted that the state cannot control the content of such broadcasts and derives no profit from them. Niyazov also criticized as deceptive many ads aired by Turkmen state TV and ordered the creation of an independent commission to monitor them, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL WANTS MELNYCHENKO TAPES VERIFIED ABROAD. Svyatoslav Pyskun, Ukraine's newly appointed prosecutor-general, has ordered a test abroad of secret recordings reportedly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office that seem to link the Ukrainian president to the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Reuters reported on 19 July. "The prosecutor-general has announced a full authentication in a third country, which has a high level of modern electronic technology and has not before taken part in the investigation of the tape," Pyskun said in a statement. He also ordered new genetic tests on a headless body believed to be that of Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)

BRITISH GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES MEDIA INITIATIVE. The British government has launched a media-reform project aimed at boosting support for free speech and independent media in Ukraine, the Internews-Ukraine website reported on 2 July. The project will focus on "occupational groups immediately connected with the media, namely journalists, politicians, businessmen, government administrators, lawyers, judges, and leaders of NGOs," the site added. Backed by a number of educational and media institutions in Ukraine and England, plans include the establishment of a Media Reform Center at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (journalism school) of the National University and a Media Reform Club. For more, see (IJ Net, 22 July)


By John Boit

A cornerstone of democracy is an independent media that is unfettered by censorship, self-censorship, and administrative harassment. Yet a draft broadcasting law in Azerbaijan now awaiting President Heidar Aliev's signature signals a step backward in the country's progress toward that goal.

The draft "Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting" passed its third reading in the Azerbaijani parliament, or Milli Mejlis, on 25 June. It is a document rife with problems.

The largest of these is that the legislation does not define clear licensing procedures for broadcasters, long a hindrance to the growth of independent broadcasters in Azerbaijan, particularly in the country's rural areas. In addition, it allows for the members of the regulatory board responsible for such licensing to be appointed by the president. That opens up the potential for favoritism to be given to stations with pro-Aliyev stances during any licensing procedures, particularly leading up to the presidential election of 2003. And even lacking any blatant favoritism, it is the perception of favoritism that could damage Azerbaijan's image as a country attempting to embrace democracy.

Many rural television stations could be hurt by this legislation, as they do not currently hold official licenses. They have sought these licenses for years but were repeatedly turned down for vague reasons. As a result, rural broadcasters have been shut down in recent years under the government's assertion that these are "pirate" television stations, without taking into account their proven desire to legitimize themselves through legal norms.

But the stations were later given a partial reprieve. Following international pressure in 2001, President Aliyev ordered that the rural stations be reopened until new -- and, most hoped, transparent -- licensing procedures could be set in place. The stations were then issued official frequencies but not official licenses. For the most part, the rural stations have since been allowed to operate unmolested.

Now the legislation that was supposed to set forth those procedures has arrived on the president's desk, and it is far from transparent. The president has until 20 August to sign it into law.

Already the international community is raising the alarm over the current legislative landscape. On 11 July, Freimut Duve, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, stated his concern over a regulatory body whose members are appointed by the president, calling it an "apparent step backwards to state control." On 12 July, the Danish Presidency of the European Union echoed that view, stating that "the proposed non-transparent method of appointment of the membership of the National Television and Radio Council, as well as the lack of a guarantee that it will be financially and politically independent, raise a question concerning its independence with regard to the state authorities." On 17 July, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer also stated that Council of Europe experts "have some doubt" that the regulatory body will be independent of state control.

And on 26 July, a coalition of 18 media, legal, and human rights NGOs in Azerbaijan signed a letter to President Aliyev asking him not to sign the draft legislation into law.

In the face of increased criticism from the Council of Europe, President Aliyev has made attempts to recast himself as a supporter of independent media. On the afternoon of 22 July, "Journalists Day" in Azerbaijan, he held a roundtable with newspaper editors. During the meeting, he expressed his shock that a court case against "Yeni Musavat" newspaper Editor Rauf Arifoglu, accused of treason and illegal weapon possession in 2000, remains open. He offered his opinion that the case should be closed and Arifoglu's name cleared. That evening, he also made an appearance at a reception for several hundred journalists, congratulating them on their day of celebration and calling for a "free and respectful" media.

These are good steps. But at the end of the day, they are only words. If Azerbaijan is to be a "nation of laws and not men" as all democracies strive to be, then words must be set down on paper as law. At the moment, one of the most crucial reforms Azerbaijan must effect is to create legislation that protects the rights of journalists and guarantees their right to report the news without fear or favor.

As a new member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has agreed to sweeping reforms. Among them is a promise, according to Council of Europe Opinion #222, "to guarantee freedom of expression and the independence of the media and journalists, particularly to exclude the use of administrative measures to restrict the freedom of the media." Unfortunately, the "Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting" does not ensure such freedoms and paints an uncertain future for those television stations either operating today or hoping to begin broadcasts in the months or years ahead.

President Aliev, who has in the past been responsive to the needs of NGOs, businesses, and the media, should send this flawed document back to parliament for review, in cooperation with Council of Europe experts, to create a law founded solidly on democratic ideals. Failure to do so will create a chilling effect on a media whose role has never been as crucial as it is now.

(John Boit is the country director in Azerbaijan for Internews Network, an international nonprofit media development organization.)