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Media Matters: August 23, 2002

23 August 2002, Volume 2, Number 32
TELECOMMUNICATIONS IMPROVING. Afghan Communications Minister Masum Stanakzai oversaw the 10 August opening of a mobile-telephone center in Herat, according to Mashhad radio. Locals will now be able to contact foreign countries via mobile phone. This is a notable development because, according to a November 2001 study by Pyramid Research, the Afghan analogue telephone network suffered extensive damage in the fighting of October and November. Pyramid also noted that the country's surviving wireless network covered only Kabul and Kandahar. Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), a joint venture with the government, began providing mobile-telephone service in Kabul in May. It was established in 1999 as a legal alternative to an American firm that could no longer work in Afghanistan due to sanctions. AWCC intends to provide mobile services for Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar, as well as Kabul and Herat. Ericsson, the Swedish mobile-telephone maker, operates a system for the United Nations in Kabul, the "Financial Times" reported on 23 July. AWCC also owns the equipment being used in Kabul's first Internet cafe, according to a 2 August report from the Afghan News Network. Located in the Intercontinental Hotel, the cafe charges $5 an hour for use of one of its 11 terminals. Administrators use NetNanny to block offensive websites, chat and news groups, and to monitor online activity. There are other developments in Afghan telecommunications. Kabul's Radio Afghanistan reported that under a 7 August protocol signed by the Ministry of Communications and the "U.S. Development Program" (presumably USAID), the United States will connect Kabul's underground cable network, restore machinery and equipment, and supply 75-kilowatt generators and a 5,000-line digital telephone system for Kandahar. The United States will restore communication links between the capital and Badghis, Helmand, Kapisa, Bamian, Kondoz, and Maydan Wardak provinces. The Unted States also will train personnel at the Ministry of Communications. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 August)

TELEVISION GETS FOREIGN HELP. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 26 July met with officials from the state broadcasting organization and told them that radio and television should present the public's views as well as those of officialdom, Mashhad radio reported. Karzai instructed Minister of Information and Culture Rahim Makhdum to improve programs for the public. Karzai's wish may be fulfilled with help from Iran and Germany. When Makhdum returned from an August trip to Iran, he discussed some of the assistance that his country's western neighbor will provide. He said, Mashhad radio reported on 16 August, "I had talks at the cultural center as well as at regional radio and TV studios.... The actual aim of the trip was to confer on cultural cooperation in press and cultural matters." Makhdum described the signing of two agreements, including one with Ali Larijani, the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcasting service, is helping Afghan broadcast media, too. Kabul TV on 12 August began broadcasting 10 minutes of world news daily. The broadcasts are prepared in Germany with Afghan presenters speaking Dari and Pashto and are transferred to Kabul via satellite. Moreover, Deutsche Welle will prepare 1 1/2 hours of additional television programming every week, and these programs will reach Kabul by courier. Although there are no restrictions on the content of the programs, DW-TV will use a culturally sensitive approach, according to television Director Christophe Lanz. DW-TV sees this as emergency help until Kabul TV can produce the world news on its own, according to a 13 August Deutsche Welle press release. Germany already funds an FM radio station in Kabul called the "Voice of Freedom." ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 August)

GERMAN 'VOICE OF FREEDOM' RADIO ON THE AIR. Afghan Minister for Public Information and Cultural Affairs Saeed Makhdoom Rahim, together with the commander of Kabul's Multi-National Brigade (COMKMNB), Brigadier General Manfred Schlenker, launched the German-funded radio station "The Voice of Freedom" on 4 August; broadcasting began at noon local time. Members of the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) attended the opening ceremonies, including Minister for Reconstruction Sayed Amin Farhang and Minister for Women's Issues Habiba Sorabi, the director of Radio Kabul, and the head of the committee for human rights. The first live program was a series of interviews with those attending the opening ceremonies. (Deutsche Welle, 4 August)

MEDIA GIVEN GREEN LIGHT TO COVER REFERENDUM. Azerbaijan's Supreme Court ruled on 19 August that an 8 July decision by the Central Elections Commission (CEC) requiring media outlets to submit by 15 July lists of journalists who wish to cover the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments refers only to those journalists who wish to monitor the voting, Turan reported. The court said there are no restrictions on journalists wishing to cover the referendum. Opposition parties complained that the CEC's decision constitutes a violation of media freedom. Also on 19 August, President Heidar Aliyev chaired a three-hour meeting at which he ordered the presidential administration and government to ensure that the voting on 24 August is transparent and democratic, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

TV MAIN NEWSCAST CONTINUES TO AIR PRO-INDEPENDENCE MESSAGES. Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal last week to hold referendums in Belarus and Russia on Belarus's possible merger with the Russian Federation, "Panarama," the main evening newscast of Belarusian television, has regularly aired messages in favor of Belarus's sovereignty and quoted different Belarusian officials protesting Putin's integration plan. The 19 August "Panarama" issue was no exception. "[Putin's proposal] means the liquidation of [our] state.... Belarus's Election Code does not provide for a referendum with questions that affect the territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus," Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich said. "Such proposals [as Putin's] are made only for a state forced to sign an act of capitulation," a "Panarama" moderator commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

COURT UPHOLDS VERDICT AGAINST JOURNALISTS FOR LIBELING PRESIDENT. The Hrodna Oblast Court on 15 August upheld the guilty verdict passed by a district court in June on journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, who were convicted of libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported. At the same time, the court shortened the sentences of "restriction of freedom" and corrective labor -- 2 1/2 years for Markevich and two years for Mazheyka -- by one year each, saying the journalists' sentences fall under an amnesty law. Markevich called the 15 August ruling "a crime against freedom of speech, morality, and justice." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

CONTROVERSIAL TELEVISION MOGUL RUNNING FOR SENATE SEAT. Vladimir Zelezny, director of commercial channel TV Nova, will run in the autumn elections for a seat in the Senate, CTK reported on 20 August. Zelezny spokesman Martin Chalupsky told the agency that Zelezny will run on the lists of the Association of Independents for a seat representing the wine-growing South Moravian district of Znojmo. He said Zelezny has an "emotional tie" to Znojmo because in the 1990s he owned a vineyard there, though he later sold it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)

JOURNALIST BEATEN... Three men attacked journalist Artur Platonov late on 16 August as he parked his car outside his apartment, beating him up and breaking his nose, Interfax reported. The state-run television station Khabar reported the following day that three former police officers have been arrested in connection with the assault, but a police spokesman said their testimony is inconsistent with that of Platonov. Platonov, who worked for the private KTK television channel, had been threatened for his criticism of law-enforcement agencies. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Platonov is the well-known host of a weekly television show, "Portrait of the Week," which is often critical of the police and government officials. Platonov had received numerous threats in the past, CPJ reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

... AFTER 'INAPPROPRIATE' DRIVING EPISODE, POLICE SAY. Platonov provoked the attack by responding with obscene remarks to attempts to alert him to his "inappropriate" driving, a senior police officer in Almaty told Interfax on 20 August. Platonov was hospitalized with severe facial injuries after the incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)

NEW JOURNALISTS' GROUP TO INVESTIGATE POLICE ABUSES. Independent Kazakh journalists in Almaty formed a new group on 21 August that will probe reports of human rights violations and crimes committed by the country's special police units, AP reported. They will begin by investigating last week's attack on television journalist Platonov ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)

GHOST RADIO. A new, independent radio station, DAT, is on the air for a few hours a day, but the Almaty paper "Vremya" claimed the station is "taken seriously in the corridors of power," according to "The Voice of Democracy" of 21 August. The regime may see DAT as a threat to its efforts to control public access to information, but the "ghost radio" station lies outside Kazakhstan's borders, broadcasting via short wave (31m) and on the Internet. "Vremya" reported that DAT focuses on the Kazakh political situation and publicizes the names of corrupt high-ranking officials. The station takes its name from an opposition newspaper that was closed down by the government for publishing news that displeased it.,, CC

STUDENT PAPER LAUNCHED IN URALSK. The northern Kazakh city of Uralsk is the site for a new paper. "Uralsk Calling" is written mostly by students in simple English. Submissions from students -- which need not relate to Uralsk -- are encouraged. Visit or CC

FIRST ELECTION DEBATE TELEVISED. The first of a series of televised debates featuring the seven strongest political movements vying for seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections took place on 19 August, reported. The seven parties and coalitions -- New Era, For Human Rights in a Unified Latvia, Latvia's Way, People's Party, Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP), and Greens/Farmers Union -- addressed internal security issues in a fast-paced atmosphere that moderator Janis Domburs said forced the participants to respond quickly and accurately. Meanwhile, both young and old supporters of the controversial Saeima deputy and LSDSP candidate Janis Adamsons -- whose name has been stricken from the 5 October ballot because of Latvia's lustration law -- called on the community to choose between "pedophiles and Adamsons" during a demonstration outside the Riga courtroom that will decide the fate of Adamsons' candidacy, LETA reported on 19 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

NATIONAL TV LAUNCHES MULTIETHNIC CHANNEL. Macedonian National Television inaugurated a multiethnic channel on 20 August, featuring programs in the languages of the Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Romany, Vlach, and Bosnian Muslim minorities, "Dnevnik" reported. The program can be received on about 85 percent of Macedonia's territory. Programs in minority languages were broadcast previously by the second channel of Macedonian National Television five hours per day. Now there will be 12 hours of minority-language programs, nine hours of which are in Albanian. The Albanians and some other minorities also have their own private television stations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

RADIO EDITOR DISMISSED FOR STATION PROTEST? On 18 August, the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) strongly protested the dismissal of Slavko Mandic, the editor in chief of Radio Kotor, a city radio station that belongs to the ANEM organization. The new Radio Kotor programming board "unanimously" decided at a recent sitting to dismiss Mandic for his alleged "failure to implement its rulings." According to ANEM, the real cause is his station's involvement in a 1 August protest by members of the Association of Independent Montenegrin Media. Broadcasters interrupted programming for 30 minutes to protest the failure to adopt new media legislation prepared with international expertise. ANEM also protested the decision of Montenegro's parliamentary majority to adopt legislation that falls short of Council of Europe standards. Mandic, ANEM believes, is "the first victim of this legislation...[and] the takeover in Kotor by the Liberal Alliance and the Together for Yugoslavia coalition." CC

RADIO KOTOR SAID TO SERVE THE CITY... On 22 August, ANEM Chairman Veran Matic angrily protested Mandic's dismissal. Matic said the minutes of a meeting of the new programming board of Public Media Company Radio Kotor gave only one reason for its decision: that Matic had permitted the "arbitrary half-hour interruption of programming without consent of the programming board." Most Montenegrin broadcasters took part in this protest, with the support of international media and free-speech organizations, along with 50 ANEM members from Serbia. According to Matic, "Radio Kotor is an example of how a local radio broadcaster should operate." Rather than focusing on "political infighting," public "bickering," or "squabbling" in the Montenegrin government, the radio station called attention to issues of concern to local citizens, such as garbage collection or the local carnival route, Matic added. Indeed, "Whenever there was an electrical-power failure or disruption of water supply, listeners would call this radio station instead of the public-utilities officials," Matic asserted. The station also promoted dozens of cultural events in Kotor, including a music festival two years ago. Radio Kotor became a local political force to be reckoned with and is the "only city broadcaster on whose program the local mayor was rather reluctant to appear" because he was worried about likely "straightforward questions." CC

...TRAIN JOURNALISTS... The most important role of Radio Kotor and Slavko Mandic, according to Matic, was four years of journalism training courses in Kotor, organized with American organizations, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and ANEM. CC

...AND GET TOP LISTENERSHIP. Under Mandic's leadership, Radio Kotor has had the highest listenership ratings in Montenegro. In December 1999, the average listener stayed tuned to the station for over 130 minutes a day, for the best TSL index (Time Spent Listening) in the Association of Independent Electronic Media. CC

LAW ON PUBLIC RADIO, TV TAKES EFFECT. With its publication in the official gazette "Monitorul oficial," a law approved by the parliament on 31 August on setting up Teleradio Moldova as a "national public institution" has gone into effect, Flux reported on 15 August. Deputies representing the opposition boycotted the final debates on the law, stressing that the legislation disregards the recommendations of European Council experts. As passed by deputies of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on President Vladimir Voronin's recommendation, the law stipulates a three-tier managerial hierarchy for Teleradio Moldova: a supervisory board, an administrative council, and the director-general. The board will have 15 members appointed for five-year terms by the country's president, the parliament, and the government. The board will also appoint the general director of Teleradio Moldova, who must then be approved by parliament. All current Teleradio Moldova employees are to be dismissed under the new law, although they are eligible to apply for re-employment at the company when the new administrative council chooses new employees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

RSF: STATE TV EQUIPMENT CONFISCATED IN CHECHNYA. According to a 21 August statement by the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Russian soldiers confiscated accreditation documents and equipment belonging to journalists of the public television stations ORT and TV Tsentr on 16 August. The incident occurred as the television reporters were interviewing Chechens who were fleeing their village. The reason given was that the reporters were not accompanied by a Russian Army representative. Since 1 October 1999, journalists are officially barred from moving about Chechnya unless they agree to be accompanied by Russian armed-forces representatives. For more, contact or see CC

A MILD-MANNERED MOSCOW MEDIA MEETING. Writing in the 13 August issue of "The Moscow Times," Russian media analyst Aleksei Pankin noted the business-like meeting on 9 August, held at the Soros Foundation's Moscow offices, between Russian media officials and representatives of various Western foundations. The meeting included Media Minister Mikhail Lesin and such Western organizations as USAID, Tacis, the World Bank, the Eurasia and Ford foundations, the Dutch Matra/KAP, and others. According to Pankin, the purpose of the meeting was "how the [Media] Ministry and foreign donors can coordinate their efforts to improve training for people working in the media sector and to improve the business culture in the sector." CC

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION WANTS MEDIA LAW AMENDED. Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), has called for stiffer penalties against the media for the violation of electoral agitation rules. He said media licenses should be suspended for those media outlets that violate the law, adding that current penalties of 10,000 roubles ($300) are "ridiculous" when compared to election-advertising budgets of "tens of thousands of dollars." In August and September, the CEC will submit amendments to the media law, according to a 24 July Veshnyakov statement. According to one CEC-proposed amendment, if a media outlet receives three CEC warnings during an election campaign, the media outlet's license will be suspended till the end of the campaign. The CEC also would like courts to consider media-related cases during election campaigns within six days rather than the current 30 days. Veshnyakov stressed that publications and reports related to elections should be unbiased and should devote attention to various registered electoral candidates. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

YAVLINSKII WINS SUIT AGAINST ST. PETERSBURG PAPER. In a case that began in June 1999, a St. Petersburg court upheld a lawsuit filed by Grigorii Yavlinskii, the chairman of the Yabloko party, on 4 July. The claimant asked the court to protect his honor, dignity, and business reputation after the publication of an article on 17 December 1998 in the paper "Novyi Peterburg" during the run-up to the elections for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The court held that statements such as that "the American special services have been implementing a secret project called 'Yabloko'" constituted slander. The court ordered "Novyi Peterburg" to publish a retraction and pay the claimant compensation in the amount of 5,000 roubles ($160) for moral damage. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

WALKING TOGETHER TO GO AFTER MORE WRITERS. Artem Mugunyants, a lawyer for the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, told on 19 August that the organization has filed a complaint against writer Bayan Shiryanov for dissemination of pornography and for propagandizing the use of narcotics. Bayan Shiryanov is the pseudonym of Kirill Vorobev, and the accusations stem from his 2001 novel "Low-Level Pilotage." The novel was published by Ad Marginem, the publisher of Vladimir Sorokin's novels, which are also under assault from Walking Together. Mugunyants also told "Kommersant-Daily" that Walking Together has created a list of writers against whom it intends to file complaints, but he did not specify who else is on the list. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

'CAMPAIGN' AGAINST PRIVATE TV COMPANY IN SIBERIA... On 5 July, the private NTN TV company in Novosibirsk claimed that the Russian Media Ministry is conducting a campaign against it and pointed to what it said are the ministry's discriminatory licensing practices. In addition, NTN TV representatives stated that "unidentified criminals" on 7 and 8 June vandalized the cable transferring NTN's signal to the local transmission center and that on 17 June the cable was dismounted by order of the Novosibirsk State Broadcasting Company. Police filed a criminal lawsuit to investigate the deliberate damaging of the cable, which belong to NTN. Although the staff and the management of NTN appealed for assistance to Oleg Dobrodeev, the head of National Broadcasting Corporation VGTRK, to which Novosibirsk is subordinate, they did not receive any response. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

...WHILE SIBERIAN FEDERAL DISTRICT TV TO START BROADCASTING SOON. A district TV channel created in the Siberian Federal District (SFD) is to start broadcasting on 1 September, Yakov London, director of the TV channel and chairman of Novosibirsk State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company, declared on 19 July. By the end of 2002, the new state-sponsored TV channel is expected to be in full operation. London also said the SFD TV channel will take part in all tenders for broadcasting frequencies, claiming that his station will be able to offer cost-efficient and interesting programs to the company's partners. The Siberian District TV channel comprises four regional broadcasters in Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Abakan, and Novosibirsk; these four companies will own the district TV network. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

CABLE TV REGULATIONS SET FOR ST. PETERSBURG. The St. Petersburg city Legislative Assembly passed regulations for cable television on 3 July that establishes a regulatory framework for development of the cable-TV network owned by the city and its use by third-party companies. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

RUSSIAN TV BROADCASTS TO EUROPE, MIDEAST... As of 1 July, a new Russian-language TV channel, RTR Planeta, went on air to Europe and the Mideast. The new channel transmits programs produced by the RTR and Kultura national channels as well as the Russian-language version of Euronews. The new channel, operating on the Express 3A satellite, will also broadcast soap operas and entertainment programs produced in Russia. There are plans to start broadcasts to the United States in the near future. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

...WHILE NEW TV CHANNEL BROADCASTS TO 'NEAR ABROAD.' Asteks TV, a new nongovernment television broadcaster, began airing mostly family entertainment and education shows on 15 July. The new channel will broadcast around the clock to Russia, the CIS, and the Baltic states via the Yamal 100 satellite, owned by Gazprom. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

KRASNAYA ARMIYA BRINGS BBC TO SIBERIA. As of 1 July, the Krasnaya Armiya (Red Army) radio station started transmitting BBC programs to some cities in Western Siberia, including Tyumen, Tobolsk, and Khanty-Mansiisk. Five minutes of news is aired in the morning, with musical and analytical shows at night. On weekends, Krasnaya Armiya transmits BBC programs for 12 hours. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

FSB CHARGES FBI WITH HACKING. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has opened a case against FBI Special Agent Michael Schuler, who investigated two accused Russian hackers arrested in the United States in 2000, "The Moscow Times" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 August. The two Russians from Chelyabinsk -- Vasilii Gorshakov and Aleksei Ivanov -- were indicted by the FBI for breaking into the computer systems of American banks and stealing credit-card numbers. The case against Schuler was initiated by the territorial FSB directorate in Chelyabinsk and charges that Schuler illegally accessed Russian Internet servers to gather evidence against Gorshakov and Ivanov. The two were eventually lured to the United States and arrested. According to the FSB public-relations center, the case is "a matter of principle." "If FBI agents used hackers' methods against hackers, they might also use them on other occasions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

TVER OBLAST FUNDS NEW INFORMATION-TRANSFER NETWORK. The Tver Oblast government decided on 2 July to allocate 10 million rubles ($320,000) to set up a new satellite-communications station that is unique for Russia. It will feature a main station and 19 receiving stations in the oblast cities and districts. The satellite-television network will augment the weak signal of the regional state broadcaster and will connect remote towns to the Internet and paging networks. The new network will be used as a base for creating a document-circulation system so that local-government decisions can be sent to the districts without delay and for developing a system of video exchange with other Central Russian regions. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

NEWS ABOUT LOCAL RADIO. The Foundation for Independent Radio (FNR) has a portal of information about local radio in Russia at

NEW 'BIZNES' JOURNAL LAUNCHED. The first issue of the biweekly journal "Biznes Zhournal" (Business Magazine) has appeared on newsstands. The 96-page publication, which is aimed at the small- and medium-sized-business sector, has a print run of 25,000. ("European Institute for the Media July Russia Bulletin," 20 August)

'HUMILIATING TREATMENT' OF JOURNALIST PROTESTED. On 10 August, the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists (NUNS) protested the arrest and interrogation of Belgrade journalist Zoran Petrovic on charges brought by media tycoon and SlobodaN Milosevic protege Bogoljub Karic. The charges relate to comments in which Petrovic accused Karic's BK TV station of "brainwashing the people" and claimed that the millionaire businessman topped Milosevic's handpicked elite. Petrovic claimed four policemen escorted him to a police station on the outskirts of Belgrade early on the morning of 10 August. He was later interrogated at the Palace of Justice in central Belgrade on charges of slander filed by Karic over statements the journalist made during a television show in Novi Sad in November 2000. NUNS condemned the police's "repressive and humiliating treatment" of Petrovic, such as the police calling for the journalist in the middle of the night, confiscating his belt and shoelaces, and keeping him in custody for several hours. ("ANEM Media Update," 10-16 August)

MAGAZINE EDITOR DISMISSED AND CHARGED. The Panonija Press managing board dismissed "Bulevar" magazine Editor in Chief Mirko Sebic on 15 August on suspicion of abuse of official position and embezzlement. The company's founder and director has filed criminal charges against Sebic, who was also barred from entering the editorial office in Novi Sad. Panonija Press has announced that the magazine will continue publication. Sebic told the Belgrade daily "Danas" that he is being accused of things he never did. ("ANEM Media Update," 10-16 August)

PARLIAMENT DISMISSES TELEVISION DIRECTOR. The country's parliament on 19 August dismissed Milan Materak as director of Slovak Television, TASR and CTK reported. However, legislators failed to elect a successor, since Marian Kleis, Kosice television director, received two votes less than the required majority. The voting came in the last session of parliament before the September general elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)

CONSORTIUM BUYS NOVA MAKEDONIJA PUBLISHING HOUSE. The Slovenian consortium Jug-uslugi has purchased the state-run Nova Makedonija publishing house (NIP), the Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" reported. Economy Minister Besnik Fetai and Vito Komac, the Jug-uslugi representative, signed the deal on 21 August. Jug-uslugi will acquire 70 percent of the company's shares for $2.25 million. Jug-uslugi will also pay off NIP's debts ($10.3 million). The deal provides that the 1,427 jobs within NIP will be guaranteed for the next five years, even though Komac said that NIP would function best with fewer than 600 workers. NIP's main publications are the Macedonian-language dailies "Nova Makedonija" and "Vecer," and the Albanian-language daily "Flaka." NIP also publishes a number of magazines. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)

PRESIDENT ASKS MEDIA NOT TO SING HIS PRAISES. President Imomali Rakhmonov has asked his press secretary, Zafar Saidov, to remind journalists of his aversion on principle to excessive adulation or similar manifestations of a cult of personality, Saidov told Interfax on 19 August. The warning, Saidov said, is intended to forestall excessive attention to the president's upcoming 50th birthday, which he regards as a "purely family affair." Rakhmonov issued a similar warning late last year against extensive and fawning media coverage of his activities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

DID A DEATH SQUAD KILL GONGADZE... Writing in "RFE/RL's Newsline" on 22 August, Taras Kuzio highlighted news on recent evidence of Ukrainian death squads and their possible involvement in the murder of Georgian-Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000. According to Kuzio, the Kyiv newpaper "Segodnya," owned by Tax Administration and Donbas clan head Mykola Azarov, published a report on 1 August claiming that death squads have existed in Ukraine since 1996. The new Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, and Interior Ministry State Secretary Oleksandr Gapon subsequently confirmed that at least one such squad exists. Gapon said the death squad comprises nine members and includes the former head of Kyiv's Interior Ministry directorate for the struggle against organized crime and another Interior Ministry colonel. The remaining members are former criminals. According to Gapon, all members of the squad are now in custody. The death squad is accused of undertaking 10 murders. According to later official information, similar death squads also existed in Odesa and Lviv. Nine former Interior Ministry militiamen are soon to go on trial in Kharkiv, accused of belonging to a death squad that operated in that city and the Donbas. That squad is accused of committing eight murders with their own service weapons. The Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating another 330 Interior Ministry personnel for a range of offenses. According to Gapon, an investigation into the activities of death squads began in 2000, but the material that was collected was only handed to the Prosecutor-General's Office this year. In 2000, the head of the Kyiv Interior Ministry department, Yuriy Smyrnov, hinted that one such death squad existed. In May 2001, then-Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko claimed that a Kyiv organized-crime boss told his office that two members of his gang had taken a Georgian, who they said may have been Heorhiy Gongadze, to a forest near Kyiv on 16 September 2000 because he owed them money. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)

...AND WHY DID THIS COME TO LIGHT NOW? According to Kuzio, "there are two likely reasons why the existence of death squads is being revealed now." First, Prosecutor-General Piskun may have been instructed to clean up President Leonid Kuchma's image at home and abroad by finding a scapegoat for Gongadze's murder. Pinning the blame for Gongadze's death on organized crime would deflect attention away from the more plausible culprits in the higher echelons of Ukrainian politics. Second, when the Interior Ministry and prosecutor-general initially claimed that organized crime was behind the death of Gongadze they were ridiculed, especially after the two gangsters ("Cyclops" and "Matros") who are supposed to have abducted Gongadze produced an alibi saying they were participating in a wedding at the time of the crime, one of them as the groom. Neither of the two men are alive today. Gongadze was followed by unmarked cars for months prior to his abduction. When he reported their license plates to the police, he was told they were police vehicles. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE (SEMI-) ACQUITTED SUSPECT IN SLAYING OF UKRAINIAN TV DIRECTOR. On 20 July, Yuriy Veredyuk died in Kramatorsk in the Donetsk Oblast. Heart failure was the cause of death cited by local police. Veredyuk was acquitted and released from custody on 17 May in an appeal before the Donetsk City Court "because his guilt had not been proven" on charges he murdered the Donetsk-based TOR television company director, Ihor Aleksandrov. The Aleksandrov case has been sent for a new investigation. On 25 July -- five days after Veredyuk died -- the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruled that his case should be reexamined. The decision was taken after consideration of the appeal by the Donetsk prosecutor's office against the Donetsk appellate court decision to release Veredyuk. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

TV BOSSES DEMAND NEW LAWS. The heads of Ukrainian national television channels believe that the laws on television and advertising need to be amended and pledged that they will cooperate with the parliamentary Committee for Freedom of Speech and Information, according to a statement by the committee head, Mykola Tomenko, on 17 July. Tomenko said the group has asked his committee to consider new regulations on licensing, advertisements, copyright, and the status of cable television. While Ukraine currently requires that broadcasters have more than one license, Tomenko said his committee believes that only one license should be required and agree that legislation on advertising, particularly the provision on broadcasting commercials during films, should be changed. The head of New Channel, Oleksandr Tkachenko, said that Ukraine is the only European country that bans commercial interruption of films and lengthy TV shows. According to the chairman of the board of directors at Inter television channel, Vlad Ryashyn, last year Russian broadcasters received $3-4 in advertising income per viewer, while Ukrainian companies received only $1 per viewer. The deputy producer-general of the 1+1 Television company, Volodymyr Oseledchyk, said "the advertising market in Russia is about $1 billion today, and in Ukraine it is about $100 million." ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

REGISTRATION OF BROADCAST COMPANIES UNDER WAY. The National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting began the process of registration of the country's broadcast companies, the press service for the directorate for TV and radio programs of the Ukrainian parliamentary secretariat announced on 3 July. One week later, first licenses were awarded to the state-run Ukrainian TV and Radio companies. During the two years of its work, the National Broadcast Council has issued licenses to 364 broadcast companies -- or over half the country's broadcasting units in radio and TV. There are now more than 200 television studios producing programs in Ukraine. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

NEW MEMBERS NAMED TO UKRAINIAN BROADCAST BOARD. On 24 July, the Ukrainian government made the first appointees to the 12-member Ukrainian National TV Company's supervisory board, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Semynozhenko. The "recommendations" of the newly created supervisory board are obligatory. Other members include the presidential administration head of the Main Information Policy Directorate, Serhiy Vasylyev, who is also the board' s deputy chairman; the head of the Public Relations Directorate at the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers, Volodymyr Tkach, the board's secretary; Culture Minister Yuriy Bohutskyy; the head of the State Committee for Information Policy, Ivan Chyzh; and the head of the Information and Public Relations Directorate at the presidential administration, Andriy Chyrva. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

STATE COMMITTEE FOR INFORMATION POLICY ADDS STAFF. According to a 6 July resolution of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers, the Ukrainian government has increased the staff of the State Committee for Information Policy, Television, and Radio Broadcasting by 30, to a total of 155. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

FOR UKRAINIANS, MOST NEWS IS LOCAL. Most Ukrainians prefer local newspapers and do not like TV commercials, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Sociological Institute of the Ukrainian National Academy of Science. The poll showed that 28.4 percent of respondents read newspapers primarily in Ukrainian, 35.1 percent read Russian-language papers, and 34.7 percent read newspapers in both languages. Only 0.1 percent of those polled read papers in other languages. The poll also showed that 22.2 percent of respondents listen to radio in Russian, 29.5 percent- in Ukrainian, 44.1 percent in both languages, and 0.5 percent in another language. Regarding television, 18.7 percent of Ukrainians watch Russian-language TV shows, 23.4 percent Ukrainian-language programs, 55.7 percent view shows in both languages, and 0.3 percent in other languages. As for newspaper preferences, in a poll in the previous week: 33.4 percent read city newspapers, 24 percent read regional newspapers, 18 percent read district newspapers, and 15.8 percent of those polled had not read newspapers for at least a week. When it came to specific television channels, 80.2 percent of respondents watched UT2 (1+1 TV), 76 percent watched Inter and 47.4 percent watched UT1 (Era). The most popular TV news programs were "TSN" (TV News Service) on 1+1 TV, with 56.8 percent of viewers; "Podrobnosti" (In Detail) and "Novosti" (News) on Inter with 55.4 percent; and "Panorama" (Overview) and "Novyny" (News) on UT1 with 21.2 percent. In response to their attitude toward TV commercials, 39.4 percent said their attitude was very negative, 31.6 percent said it was more negative than positive, and 10.7 percent hesitated between negative and positive. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

TRUST LEVELS UP FOR FOREIGN MEDIA. Ukrainians increasingly trust the foreign media, whose standing rose from 6.8 percent to 8.6 percent in the 14 June public opinion poll of 2006 adults conducted by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies. The same poll revealed that resondents' trust of Ukrainian media decreased from 13.3 percent in May to 11.8 percent in June. The attitude of Ukrainians to the Russian media has hardly changed: 10 percent trusted them in May and 9.9 percent in June. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

CHERNIVTSI REGION JOURNALISTS CONCERNED ABOUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Public organizations and unions of creative professions, editorial boards, and individual journalists in Chernivtsi region have sent a letter to the National Committee for Information Policy asking that it protect freedom of speech in their region of western Ukraine. In particular, the letter expressed concern about two regional papers "Bukovinske Viche" (The Council of Bukovyna) and "Zorile Bukoviney" (its Romanian-language version). One of the paper's founders, the Chernivtsi Regional Council, has decided to withdraw its financing from the newspapers. According to the letter, the papers have undergone numerous groundless inspections by local authorities. The appeal claims that "Bukovinske Viche" has made a "huge contribution to securing self-administration in the Chernivtsi region" and "Zorile Bukoviney" has covered local government for 61 years. The authors of the appeal claim that "it is no secret" that Teofil Bauer, head of the Chernvtsi regional administration, "does not like criticism" and that the newly elected regional council makes decisions "in the absence of the persons concerned." In July, Bauer brought a libel suit against the independent local paper "Chas" for an article in April of this year which charged that local authorities rigged elections to the Chernivtsi regional council. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

SUIT FILED AGAINST PAPER IN CRIMEA. The Crimean branch of the Rukh movement announced on 15 July that three residents of Crimea have filed a lawsuit against the paper "Krymskaya Pravda" and the paper's editor in chief, Mykhailo Bakharyev, with the city court of Simferopol in Crimea. The claimants want the court to protect their honor and national dignity and order the newspaper to compensate them for moral damages. They were offended by an article that Bakharyev published in October 2001 in which the author wrote that there is no Ukrainian nation or Ukrainian language and that "Ukrainians are part of the Russian nation, speaking one of the Russian dialects." One of the claimants, Oleh Fomushkin, chairman of the Crimean Union of Landowners and also the leader of the Crimean branch of the Rukh movement, said such statements were dangerous since they appeared in the most popular newspaper in the Crimea. The claimants want the newspaper to publish a refutation of Bakharyev's statements and pay compensation for moral damages in the amount of 1 million hryvnyas (around $200,000) from the paper and 200,000 hryvnyas (around $40,000) from the author of the disputed article. ("European Institute for the Media July Ukraine Bulletin," 16 August)

'CONTROVERSIA' LAUNCHED. The International Debate Education Association at the Open Society Institute announced the launch of the first issue of "Controversia: A Journal of Debate and Democratic Renewal." Published semi-annually, it will feature essays by prominent scholars from around the world, book reviews, and an informal discussion forum. Selected essays will be published in both Russian and English. Contact: Nina Watkins


By Zamira Eshanova

Artur Platonov, host of the popular Kazakh political TV program "Portrait of the Week," was hospitalized in Almaty on 16 August with injuries sustained during a fight with three former Interior Ministry officers.

Platonov, who suffered a concussion and a broken nose, told RFE/RL he was the target of a deliberate and organized attack: "Three employees of the Interior Ministry attacked and beat me. They chased my car to the yard of my house and attacked me. I was sitting in the car at the time. Now I [am missing] two teeth and my nose is broken." A police investigation turned up the three suspects in the beating, but police quickly released them for lack of evidence. The three men, all former high-ranking police officers, argued that it was in fact Platonov who provoked the incident by attacking them with pepper spray.

Platonov, whose program is aired on the private station Kazakh Commercial Television (KTK-TV), called the story "absurd" and said the attack was clearly meant as punishment for his programs criticizing the Interior Ministry. "In this case, I think, law-enforcement bodies are definitely involved. Because it was precisely this body that I criticized most of all, although some other government departments were also subjected to criticism. But [it was] mainly law-enforcement organs," Platonov said.

Interior Ministry officials denied any involvement in the attack and said an ongoing investigation will help clarify what actually took place. But some observers say that, regardless of whatever official conclusions are made, assaults on journalists like Platonov will continue.

Harassment of the Kazakh media has been on the rise in recent months. The opposition "Soldat" newspaper and independent "Respublika" newspapers both came under attack in May. The following month, the daughter of well-respected independent journalist Lira Baisetova died under mysterious circumstances. The assault on Platonov is considered just the latest in a series of brutal attacks on journalists judged inconvenient to the government and state-run media.

Rozlana Taukina heads the independent foundation "Journalists in Danger." She said journalists are more and more often becoming the object of government hostility. But, she added, it is not only the journalists' activities that are causing the trouble: "I think all these [attacks] are being carried out for [Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev. But at the same time, I agree with those analysts who say that there are some elements other than journalistic activity involved. We all know that a fight between various clans is involved. It's clear that KTK-TV had an order to uncover negative facts about the activities of law-enforcement bodies. But I think in this particular instance, it's more a matter of law-enforcement organizations putting pressure on people it considers disloyal and inconvenient than a fight between clans."

But other observers see the alleged assault on Platonov as having greater significance. They say it reflects an intense power struggle within Kazakhstan's political elite -- specifically, a struggle between the Interior Ministry and Rakhat Aliev, a son-in-law of the president. Aliyev -- who held a top position in the country's National Security Committee and was once favored to serve as Nazarbaev's successor -- has repeatedly clashed with the Interior Ministry in the struggle for power in the country's upper political echelons. His appointment last year to serve as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria was widely seen as a kind of forced exile and a behind-the-scenes victory for his Interior Ministry rivals. But Aliyev -- whose wife, Dariga Nazarbaeva, is the president's eldest daughter -- continues to wield some power in Kazakhstan, particularly through a media holding that includes a number of newspapers as well as KTK-TV, the television station that broadcasts Platonov's "Portrait of the Week." Observers say Platonov helped fuel Aliev's struggle with the Interior Ministry by regularly airing critical reports about the ministry's work based on information provided by Aliev's circle.

Independent analyst Oleg Katsiev said Platonov may have become an indirect victim of Aliev's play for power: "In my opinion, this [assault on Platonov] is a reflection of a conflict between the person who controls the KTK-TV television station and other media groups -- by this I mean Rakhat Aliev, a son-in-law of the president -- and the Interior Ministry. It's likely that, in the course of this struggle for power and influence, [Aliev's] conflict with the leadership of the Interior Ministry became quite serious. To be honest, I do not see any clear connection to democratic processes here. In my opinion, and in the opinions of other independent observers, this is simply the result of a quarrel within the [presidential] family, within the power structures."

Dariga Nazarbaeva -- who herself chairs Kazakhstan's Congress of Journalists and the official Khabar news agency -- has rarely addressed previous attacks on journalists in her country. But her stance appeared to change dramatically last week, when the assault on Platonov was one of Khabar's top news items. On 19 August, Nazarbaeva went one step further, saying the attack on Platonov represented a political assault on the president. She blamed Interior Ministry officials for undermining peace and stability in Kazakhstan, and criticized prosecutors for failing to investigate other attacks on journalists.

"All newspapers, whether governmental or independent, are always connected to politics. I think when journalists are beaten or threatened with death, or newspapers are set on fire, it always has political motives," Nazarbaeva said. "If every single journalist who criticizes a policeman or a prosecutor in the newspapers is killed, where would it lead? I think this is bad. This is against the president's policy. I think [these attacks] are not meant to support the president, but to increase the number of his enemies."

But despite Nazarbaeva's call for the case to be resolved, Platonov said he has little hope his attackers will ever be brought to justice: "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if they [investigators] say that this is ruled to be the usual hooliganism -- as was the case in previous attacks on my colleagues -- or law-enforcement officials try to cover for their colleagues, as has been seen so many times before." But while Platonov expressed little optimism about the outcome of the ongoing investigation, he said he and other journalists in Kazakhstan have no other option but to continue their professional work.

(Zamira Eshanova is a reporter for the RFE/RL Uzbek Service.)