27 September 2002, Volume
THREE YEARS OF CHECHEN WAR TAKES TOLL ON REPORTERS.
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russia's second war in the Chechen Republic, heading into its fourth year this month, has produced numerous violations of press freedom and brutal attacks on journalists. "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 September that Roddy Scott, 31, a British free-lance cameraman working for Britain's Frontline News, a television news agency, was killed in Russia's Ingushetia Republic. Russian soldiers found his body in Ingushetia's Galashki region, near the border with Chechnya, following clashes between Russian forces and a group of Chechen fighters. The cameraman had accompanied the Chechens as they crossed from Georgia into Russia, UPI reported. Other reporters killed in the war include Vladimir Yatsina of ITAR-TASS, shot dead after being taken hostage in February 2000, and Aleksandr Yefremov of "Nashe vremya," killed when his jeep hit a mine in May 2000.
In 2000, veteran RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky was held for more than a month by a pro-Moscow Chechen group he believes to be closely connected to Russia's Federal Security Service. Babitsky was subsequently tried and sentenced on fabricated charges to a fine for carrying a forged passport and now lives abroad. In 2001, "Novaya gazeta" war correspondent Anna Politskovskaya was detained by Russian soldiers and accused of entering Chechnya without proper accreditation and of not registering her whereabouts with the Russian military. She told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Russian soldiers threatened to shoot her during her three-day ordeal. Politskovskaya received several death threats in connection with her Chechnya reports, and resided temporarily abroad, but has now continued her first-hand coverage of the war.
Fewer journalists have been killed or kidnapped in the current war than during the 1994-96 conflagration, when nearly a dozen were caught in crossfire or targeted for their investigation of human rights abuses. As many suffered kidnapping and short-term detentions. Yet part of the reason for that phenomenon is that reporters simply have not had the access to the region that they enjoyed in the first war. Prague Watchdog (http://www.watchdog.cz), a news website maintained by Czech journalists, this week published an English translation of a chronicle of abuses documented by the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Press freedom suffers in Chechnya not only due to blatant censorship and blocking of journalists' movements but due to propaganda campaigns designed to drown out the real news. In July, reporters and human rights defender along with parliamentarian Sergei Kovalev complained of renewed military censorship and disinformation claiming that international organizations were supporting Chechen rebels.
Foreign, Russian, and Chechen reporters have all been targeted throughout the war. On 17 July, for example, according to Prague Watchdog, Chechen journalist Suleiman Yunusov, formerly of a newspaper published by the Vainakh Democratic Party and a press secretary for President Aslan Maskhadov in the elections of 1997, was detained at his home during a "mop-up" of the village of Geldygen and taken to an unknown destination. On 26 July, Abdulbek Vakhaev, an employee of the press service of the head of the Moscow-backed Chechen Republic administration and correspondent for Chechnya's state television and radio company, was attacked by men in camouflage and masks who forced him on the ground and ransacked his home.
In August, Deputy Commander Podprigora of the United Military Group in the North Caucasus warned journalists of abduction, including those working for Russian national media accredited by the pro-Moscow Chechen government. He claimed kidnappers could be dressed in Russian military fatigues. That month, state television crews from ORT and TVC had their video equipment and press credentials seized by authorities in Urus-Martan when they were shooting footage of refugees leaving the village after a firefight between Chechen rebels and federal forces.
Truth has been an ongoing casualty of this war, and that has cost independent Russian media its credibility -- particularly in the last year. With heavy military censorship and the willingness on all sides of the conflict to use violence against reporters, those telling the truth of the war must be brave indeed.
FILMMAKERS STRUGGLE TO EMERGE FROM TALIBAN'S SHADOW.
Afghanistan's film industry is starting a slow recovery after being banned for five years under the Taliban regime, rferl.org reported on 20 September. Filmmakers are looking abroad for financing, but the problems are profound. All of the arts suffered under the fundamentalist Taliban regime, but none more than the visual arts, such as painting, photography, and film. The Taliban placed strong prohibitions on physical representations of any kind. An entire generation of Afghan filmmakers, many schooled in Moscow during the 1980s, ceased making films or left the country. Cinemas across the country were closed. Siddiqullah Barmak, the head of Afghan Films, the state organization in charge of promoting and producing movies, only has enough funds to pay salaries and is looking for foreign sponsors. ("Afghanistan: Filmmakers Put On Brave Face As They Struggle to Emerge From Taliban's Shadow," rferl.org, 20 September.)
UNION NEWSPAPER EDITOR SENTENCED TO TWO YEARS.
A district court in Minsk sentenced Viktar Ivashkevich, editor in chief of the Minsk-based trade union newspaper "Rabochy" (Worker), to two years of "restricted freedom" or forced labor, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reported on 16 September. Ivashkevich was found guilty of slandering Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka under Article 367 (2) and Article 368, in combination with Article 14 (1-2) of the Belarusian Penal Code. "Practicing journalism in this country has been under threat of criminal prosecution. The authorities today have once again demonstrated their harsh stance toward the independent press and made it clear that they are prepared to fall out of the public control. This is a very dangerous trend. BAJ decisively protests the ruling," BAJ President Zhanna Litvina told journalists after the trial. Commenting on the verdict, Ivashkevich called it "politically motivated." His lawyer, Tatsyana Statkevich, said prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to prove his guilt. The criminal case was opened in August 2001 after "Rabochy" carried an article titled "The Thief Must Sit In Jail" in a special issue prior to election day. Prosecutors alleged that the publication contained defamatory statements against President Lukashenka. The special issue did not reach readers, however, as on 28 August the entire print-run was seized at Magic, a commercial printing house. CAFANOTHER JOURNALIST FACES LIBEL CHARGES.
The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched criminal proceedings against Iryna Khalip, a journalist of the private newspaper "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," on libel charges, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 September. The office also issued an official warning to "Dlya sluzhebnogo polzovaniya" (For Official Use), a monthly supplement to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," in which Khalip published in June and July an investigative article alleging that Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman and other investigators may have accepted a bribe to close a criminal investigation. Three Belarusian journalists -- Mykola Markevich, Pavel Mazheyka, and Viktar Ivashkevich -- were sentenced earlier this year to confinement on libel charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)WRITERS UNION APPOINTS NEW HEAD.
Belarusian writers elected 30-year-old novelist Ales (Alyaksandr) Pashkevich the chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers (SBP) at their extraordinary congress in Minsk on 24 September, Belapan reported. Volha Ipatava, the previous chair of the SBP, said the election of Pashkevich was a "victory of the democratic forces among the literary community." Some Belarusian media suggested before the congress that the authorities planned to take control of the writers' organization by pressuring writers to elect a submissive SPB leadership. "Our realities show that it is impossible for democratic writers to cooperate with the current authorities," Ipatava told the congress prior to the election. Earlier this year, the government took control of several literary periodicals that belonged to the SBP and introduced ideological censorship in them. "Writers said today that they will be looking for nonstate support to publish their works and will not beg for money from the state, which hates the Belarusian language and does not give a damn about the national culture," translator Lyavon Barshcheuski commented on the congress. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)PRESIDENT THREATENS NEWSPAPER AT NEWS CONFERENCE.
In a vintage performance, President Lukashenka turned a press conference where he faced queries about allegations of arms sales to Iraq into a venue for threatening an independent newspaper, "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" reported on 24 September, citing Belarusian media. "If a presidential fund does exist, accumulating money from power and arms sales, as you said here, I am no longer a president tomorrow. But, if not, there will be no 'Narodnaya volya,' either," Lukashenka was reported as saying in reference to a leading independent newspaper. The president also decided to elaborate on the question of the newspaper's funding: "I would like to note: Tell, how much money has 'Narodnaya volya' received from the West, how much have you spent? If you cannot [tell], allow me [to do that], I can brief you. [We] will count tomorrow all the grants, including those in the framework of humanitarian aid. I have all this on record, that's why you fiercely objected to a legislation on controls over foreign humanitarian aid. You are aware that we track all the humanitarian aid, ranging from clothes to material means, at the border. You received thousands of dollars in grants. Someone -- that man, who was the founder -- has recently raised this issue on the television regarding 'Svobodnye novosti' [newspaper].... You have grabbed a lot of money, you are basically living on this money. How much money have you put into your pockets? What cars do you drive? What house do you live in? I know all that. I am an informed person. But I have not reproached you for that. The West is feeding you, let them feed you. You are being through hard times now, [but] Russia will not help you. Bear that in mind. Excuse me, but if you continue to provoke me and behave illegally, we will not look at your masters. You will bear responsibility under Belarusian laws. You have to realize that completely and very clearly. I am telling that to you openly in front of the whole nation: You will account for that. It is no use to put pressure on us in this regard. We will protect our law, in the first place. And we will put you in the framework of the law." ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 24 September 2002)VICTORY FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORTING OR HAPPY ACCIDENT?
Three journalists sentenced to heavy fines for traveling to the village of Pahranichny near the town of Hrodna in western Belarus to report on the authorities' bulldozing of the newly built Autocephalous Orthodox church at the beginning of August have had their sentences overturned on appeal, Keston News Service reported. Andrzej Pachobut from the Belarus-based Polish paper "Glos znad Niemna" reported that both he and his journalistic colleagues -- Irina Charniauka (from the paper "Bielaruski chas") and Andzej Pisalnik (from "Dien" and who also contributes to the Polish paper "Rzeczpospolita") -- had been completely exonerated by the court of Hrodna's Lenin District at a hearing on 30 August. "We don't have to pay the fines, but the most important thing is that we have been vindicated," Pachobut told Keston from Hrodna on 20 September. However, he said this could hardly be seen as a blow for free reporting of religious liberty violations: "It was more of a happy accident." (Keston News Service, 20 September)
LARGEST DAILY MAKES BOBETKO ITS POSTER BOY.
Croatia's largest-circulation daily, "Vecernji list," on 25 September weighed in on the international dispute over the fate of General Janko Bobetko with free color posters of the suspected war criminal for its readers, dpa reported the same day. The oversized depiction of the embattled 83-year-old former chief of Main Staff bears the words "I have decided," an apparent reference to his vow not to be taken alive for trial to The Hague. Officials have refused to comply with an indictment and request for the handover of Bobetko and insist that the majority of Croats support that decision, which is likely to draw international condemnation and perhaps sanctions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
JOURNALIST'S WOULD-BE ASSASSINS REPORTEDLY POLICE INFORMERS.
Citing a "well-informed police source," the daily "Pravo" reported on 21 September that three suspects detained in connection with the alleged plot to assassinate journalist Sabina Slonkova are registered as police informers, CTK reported. The three suspects -- Eva Tomsovicova, Michal Novotny, and Petr Volf -- are suspected of colluding with former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba in allegedly commissioning the assassination attempt. Tomsovicova is a personal acquaintance of Srba, who is also in detention. Police have refused to comment on the "Pravo" report. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)
RADIO CHAIRMAN COMPLAINS ABOUT GOVERNMENT PRESSURE.
Karoly Szadai, chairman of the board of trustees of Hungarian Radio, on 23 September said he will approach President Ferenc Madl and parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili over what he called "government pressure that could jeopardize the basic functioning of the state-owned radio network," Budapest dailies reported. Szadai said he is preparing to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether the present system, whereby the government finances the state-owned media, is legitimate. Szadai said most members of the board fear that "government control of the purse strings will create political pressure." The board consists of five opposition deputies and four representatives of the governing coalition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
PRESS WATCHDOG SLAMS NEWSPAPER CLOSURES.
In a 17 September statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based nongovernmental organization devoted to monitoring and promoting press freedom around the world, condemned the recent decision by Tehran's Press Court to suspend two more newspapers. The latest ruling brings to 54 the total number of publications suspended since a crackdown began in April 2000. According to a CPJ source in Iran, on September 15, the Press Court suspended the daily "Golestan-e-Iran," a recently opened paper, accusing it of publishing lies and rumors. In the same ruling, the court also announced the suspension of the weekly "Vaqt." The source in Iran said that the paper was accused of publishing photos and articles considered to be "immoral." Both papers are small circulation and reformist-leaning. (17 September, cpj.org)PRESS JURY FINDS EDITOR OF DAILY GUILTY.
A Tehran press jury has found the editor of the Persian daily "Hambastegi," Gholam-Heydar Ebrahimbay-Salami, guilty on a series of charges, including "libel," "publishing lies," and "inciting public opinion," payvand.com, an Iranian news site, reported on 22 September. The Tehran Justice Department issued a statement that day, saying the jury convicted the editor on charges brought by several people, including one by the head of the supervisory Guardians Council, Ahmad Jannati. Salami was also convicted on the charge of "propagating against the Islamic Republic" in his publication, but the jury exonerated him of other indictments and declared him to be deserving of leniency in punishment, the statement added. The editor faced at least 53 counts of complaints in the court, brought by several institutions, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the State Inspectorate Organization, police and the daily Kayhan. Salami, who is also a Majlis representative from the northeastern constituency of Khaf and Roshtkhar in Qorasan province, is now awaiting sentence. He had another suit lodged against him at the court by Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi who retracted it later. Salami was first called to appear in court in July for publishing articles which complained of the lack of security in Iranian universities and the presence of prostitution gangs as well as alleged restrictions imposed by the Guardians Council and the arbitrative Expediency Council on the parliament. (payvand.com, 22 September)
JOURNALIST ACQUITTED OF LIBEL CHARGE.
In a one-day court hearing in Atyrau on 18 September, Saghynghaliy Khafizov, who is editor of the local newspaper "Altyn ghasyr," was found not guilty of insulting President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 19 September. Khafizov rejected a presidential award earlier this year, saying he could not accept an award from someone he believes is guilty of taking bribes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)
OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ACQUITTED OF SLANDER CHARGES.
A Bishkek district court on 19 September found parliament deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov not guilty of slandering residents of a Bishkek hostel, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)
PARTY LEADER FOUND GUILTY OF SLANDERING WALESA.
A court in Gdansk ruled on 18 September that Law and Justice leader Lech Kaczynski has to apologize to former President Lech Walesa and his former aide Mieczyslaw Wachowski on Radio Zet and in "Gazeta Wyborcza," as well as to pay 10,000 zlotys ($2,400) in damages, PAP reported. Walesa and Wachowski sued Kaczynski for a statement he made on 18 June 2001 on Radio Zet in which the then-justice minister echoed his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski's claims that Walesa committed criminal offenses and that Wachowski was a criminal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)
COURT REJECTS NATIONALIST TV CHANNEL'S APPEAL.
On 18 September, the Bucharest Court of Appeals rejected on procedural grounds the Oglinda TV channel's appeal against the National Audiovisual Council's (CNA) decision to revoke its license, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Supporters of the extreme nationalist channel, headed by Greater Romania Party Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the same day demonstrated against the decision in front of the Senate and near the presidential palace in Bucharest. Oglinda TV Director Dan Diaconescu said the broadcasts will be resumed, "possibly from abroad," while Tudor said that he will launch his own television station "before Christmas," according to the daily "Ziua." The daily also reported on 19 September that the CNA has launched a judicial complaint against Tudor, accusing him of having incited readers in his "Romania mare" weekly to physically attack the council's members. The CNA members were summoned on 18 September by Senate Cultural Commission Chairman Adrian Paunescu to explain their decision to the commission. Media reports say the commission, and Paunescu in particular, criticized the decision as infringing on the freedom of expression. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)
WHISTLEBLOWER TRANSFERRED TO PRISON.
Former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, sentenced to four years in prison for illegally passing state secrets to Japanese journalists, was transferred on 18 September to a prison camp near the Siberian city of Ussuriisk, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Pasko has already spent more than half of his sentence in a Vladivostok jail as his case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. According to strana.ru, Pasko will be in quarantine for one month, during which time he will not be able to see any visitors. The report cited the camp commandant as saying, "The convict has a pen and paper, but he is not writing anything." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)COURT UPHOLDS 'LIMONKA' BAN.
The Moscow Municipal Court on 20 September upheld a lower-court ruling annulling the registration of the National Bolshevik Party newspaper "Limonka," Ekho Moskvy reported. According to "Limonka" Editor Aleksei Volynets, the paper will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Lenta.ru quoted Volynets as saying that "Limonka," as of 9 September, has been registered as a Russian-language publication in Ukraine and will continue publishing from Kyiv. Volynets also said that the party has registered two other newspaper titles in Moscow, one of which is "The General Line." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)PSYCHIATRIST SUGGESTS HOLDING TV JOURNALISTS RESPONSIBLE FOR BEING DEPRESSING.
Data suggest that the mental health of Russians has worsened in recent years, and Yurii Polishchuk, director of the clinical department of the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Psychiatry, believes that the press and television have played a significant role in this process by increasing the flow of "negative information," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 19 September. At a recent meeting at Moscow's House of Journalists, Polishchuk called for "enforcing the articles in the law on mass media that assign responsibility for inflicting damage to people's health." "The Russian Constitution has articles that confirm the right of Russians to protect their health, not only their physical but also their psychological and spiritual, moral and intellectual well-being," he said. However, Tamara Naumenko, a sociologist at Moscow State University, suggested that if the actual number of crimes in the country declined, then the coverage of crime in the media would also decline. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)NEWSPAPER SECURITY CHIEF MURDERED IN PENZA.
The head of the security department for the newspaper "MK v Penze," part of the "Moskovskii komsomolets" group, was murdered on 21 September, Regnum reported on 23 September. Igor Salnikov was shot twice in the head and chest by an unknown assailant as he returned to his home in Penza with his wife, who was not injured. According to the report, Salnikov's was the fourth media-related murder in the city since last July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)INTERNET USE SOARS IN TATARSTAN.
There are more than 61,000 regular users of the Internet in Tatarstan, tatnews.ru reported on 16 September, citing the republic's Communications Minister Rinat Zalyalov. By comparison, the number of regular users was only about 17,000 six months ago. However, users are still encountering serious problems with their Internet service providers. For example, the operator IntelSet for a long time blocked its own subscribers from using the modem pools of other providers, which is a violation of antimonopoly laws and for which the company was fined about 200,000 rubles ($6,300). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)NTV JOINS U.S. CABLE NETWORK.
NTV, Russia's third-largest national television broadcaster, has announced that it has signed a contract with EchoStar, one of the largest U.S. satellite-television operators, polit.ru reported on 24 September. Under the deal, EchoStar will make NTV programming available to U.S. viewers. Subscribers to EchoStar's cable system DishNetwork will receive NTV as part of their basic package and other cable clients will be able to purchase it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)SKINHEADS VIDEOTAPE THEIR MURDER OF AZERI TRADER.
After what the Russian news media have dubbed "a three-day war between skinheads and Azeris" in St. Petersburg, one Azerbaijani national is dead and another is in the hospital, recovering from multiple stab wounds, reported the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) on 20 September. Citing police sources, the website lenta.ru reported that the skinheads who allegedly beat to death an Azeri watermelon dealer also videotaped the murder, and police seized the videotape in the home of a suspect. The first victim, Magomed Magomedov, in his early 50s, was reportedly beaten to death by five young men armed with metal bars on 13 September. The following day, the second victim was beaten and slashed with razors by several young men dressed in army fatigues. Cassettes seized by the police are said to be on sale at most of the city's markets. They show a concert on Hitler's birthday, with a swastika in the background. They also show a march after the concert, and the beating of victims. Young people on a wide city street are displayed giving Hitler salutes, accompanied by men with megaphones and Ku-Klux-Klan outfits, shouting "Glory to Russia!" ("UCSJ Bigotry Monitor," Vol. 2, No. 37, 20 September)CHECHEN MILITARY OFFICIAL DENIES REPORTS OF MASKHADOV TV ADDRESS.
Major General Ibragim Suleymanov, who is Chechnya's deputy military commandant, on 21 September denied that fighters loyal to Chechen President Maskhadov temporarily occupied a private television studio in Samashki to broadcast an address by Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev to the Chechen people, ITAR-TASS reported. But a member of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration told Interfax the same day that armed Maskhadov supporters took over a television studio in Samashki on 19 September and a radio station in Nadterechnyi Raion early on 21 September to broadcast a statement by Maskhadov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)
ELECTIONEERING OVERHEATS HOURS AHEAD OF POLLS.
Alliance for New Citizens (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said on 18 September during a debate on TV Markiza, of which he is co-owner, that Smer (Direction) is financed by the same people who in the past financed Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), TASR reported. He said Smer "is financed by people who financed the HZDS and are today betting on a different horse" who is younger than Meciar. Smer Chairman Robert Fico, who participated in the televised debate alongside Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, dismissed the allegation as "nonsense" and noted that Meciar attended Rusko's wedding and approved the licensing of TV Markiza. Dzurinda told Fico that the Smer leader professes to admire the so-called "Third Way" of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder but is behaving more like Austrian populist Joerg Haider. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)
MEDIA GROUPS DEPLORE FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE GONGADZE CASE.
More than two years after the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, both the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have openly criticized the Ukrainian government for obstructing the official inquiry and failing to identifying those responsible for the crime, reports ifex.org in its weekly "IFEX Communique" (No. 11-37) on 24 September. CPJ highlighted several impediments to clarifying the disappearance and subsequent murder of the editor of the online newspaper http://www.pravda.com.ua. These include: a team of FBI homicide experts invited by the government to assist in the investigation left the country in April 2002 after being denied access to information about the case; this month, nearly two years after the discovery of the body in November 2000, Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced that the headless corpse was that of Gongadze; and Olena Prytula, a close associate of Gongadze's who is the currently editor in chief of http://www.pravda.com.ua and an important witness in the murder case, recently reported receiving information about unspecified threats against her. CPJ also indicated that such official moves as the prosecutor-general's detention of a regional prosecutor and his investigator for allegedly mishandling the initial inquiry into the corpse -- were seen as a government attempt to diminish the impact of the 16 September anti-government nationwide rallies against President Leonid Kuchma planned for 16 September this year. RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard traveled to Kyiv on the occasion of the second anniversary of the journalist's disappearance, where he became the official representative of the private party associated with the public prosecutor in the court action, Gongadze's mother and widow, and in that capacity requested access, with the help of an independent expert of his own choice, to all the results of the previous expert reports as well as other relevant documents. Menard also requested the public prosecutor's office to interview the four men who are reported to have shadowed Gongadze during the weeks prior to his disappearance, something that has never been done before. CAFOPPOSITIONISTS BLOCK TV STUDIO.
A group of Ukrainian opposition parliamentarians blocked a TV studio of the Ukrainian first national TV channel (UTN) from 8:45 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. local time on 23 September, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. At 9:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the evening news program was to be broadcast, leader of the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) Party Yuliya Tymoshenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, and Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, along with parliamentarians Yuri Lutsenko, Oleksandr Turchynov, and others entered the studio and stood behind the host of the news program, saying they were going to address the nation. The news program scheduled for 9:00 p.m. was not on the air, and the TV signal was broadcast from a control room, where the parliamentarians could not enter. The channel broadcast other programs with running text at the bottom of the screen saying that the news could not be released because of "the seizure of the studio" by a group of deputies led by Moroz, Tymoshenko, and Symonenko. Parliamentarian Stanislav Nikolayenko told press at the scene that the oppositionists were demanding that they be provided with 10 minutes of airtime. The deputies left the TV center after about an hour and a half. As she left the building, Tymoshenko told journalists that Ihor Storozhuk, chief of the UTN channel, promised opposition leaders they would be granted airtime on 25 September. She emphasized that the parliamentarians demanded live airtime "in line with the law on the status of a people's deputy." According to Moroz, Storozhuk said that in order to grant airtime to the deputies, he would have to consult with the person who appointed him, that is, with President Kuchma. (Interfax-Ukraine, 24 September)KYIV PROSECUTORS OPEN CRIMINAL CASE ON OBSTRUCTION OF TV BROADCAST.
The Kyiv prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case on the blockage of the operation of the Ukrainian First National TV channel (UTN) by opposition leaders on 23 September, reported Interfax-Ukraine the same day. The criminal case was opened under a part of Article 171 that deals with deliberate obstruction of lawful professional activities of journalists, and Article 341 on the seizure of state or public buildings and installations, the press service of the Kyiv prosecutor's office reported. (Interfax-Ukraine, 24 September)
MONTENEGRO MEDIA PROTEST OVER DELAY IN MEDIA LAW.
Most members of the Association of Independent Montenegrin Broadcasters suspended their programs from 12.30 to 1.00 p.m., B92 reported from Belgrade on 23 September. The broadcasters staged the blackout in protest at the delay in Montenegro's new media laws, adopted in the Parliament last week but not scheduled to go into effect until May 2003. Only Radio Free Montenegro did not join the protest. Association coordinator Ranko Vujovic told media that the company had not been asked to join the protest because it had refused to take part in a similar blackout at the beginning of August. A series of further protests are planned for the future. (B92, 23 September)
'BLACK PR' IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD'S MEDIA
By Oleg Rodin
Dozens of local newspapers are published in Nizhnii Novgorod, Russia. There are 16 channels to view on local and national television, and even hundreds more programs available on Russian and foreign satellite-television stations. Judging from the polls, local news channels have the most influence on public opinion. They are usually fairly objective in covering regional events, with few variations in the reporting. But during election campaigns, the situation changes drastically when the preference of various newspapers and television channels for certain candidates to the top political posts becomes obvious.
Then the election campaign is transformed into a media war, not only an information battle but actual physical violence, illustrated by such incidents as occurred on 14 August in Nizhnii Novgorod's Priok District, not far from the Andrei Sakharov apartment museum. Four unidentified thugs attacked distributors of the "PriOko" newspaper, beating them and seizing 1,500 copies of the paper. On 29 August, vandals broke into the editorial offices of "PriOko" and stole a laser printer and a computer that contained the database and the archive of previous issues of the newspaper, a total of about 20,000 rubles ($631) in damages. The computer's monitor and some cash were left in the office, indicating that the attack was political in nature, not an ordinary robbery. Police have been unable to find the perpetrators or those who hired them.
On 18 July, at a meeting with voters, bodyguards of the candidate Mikhail Dikin beat up Sergei Krasnov, a television cameraman from TNT-Nizhnii Novgorod. He was forced to seek treatment at a hospital for a concussion and bruises. Dikin's bodyguards also broke a video camera worth $15,000. Most likely, the attack was in retaliation for the television station's unfavorable coverage of the candidate. Both overt and covert censorship is activated during such campaigns; recently more than 15 episodes of Valentina Buzmakova's program, "Political Kitchen," were removed without explanation from the local state television channel NNTV, apparently due to the appearances of local politicians and representatives of the political elite disliked by the censor. For example, a broadcast was taken off the air on 24 September in which Aleksandr Prudnik, senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Science, presented several sociological surveys conducted of tens of thousands of residents of Nizhnii Novgorod. The results demonstrated unmistakably that 36 percent of the voters crossed out all the candidates on the ballot during the first round of elections for the mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod. Yet because the electoral commission claimed there was a different figure, i.e., 30.4 percent voting against all candidates, the show was canceled.
The principle of "who controls the information controls the situation" is most cynically applied here as follows: "who has bought the most effective media has more chances to win." Enormous sums of money are spent on the information war and candidates' self-advertising. By law, a candidate for mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod has a ceiling of 300,000 rubles (about $10,000) on campaign spending himself, plus private persons and organizations may support him with up to 6 million rubles (about $200,000). In reality, according to the estimates of local political scientists and journalists, the campaign war chests are 10 times the officially authorized cap -- that is, they can run as much as $1 million. Marina Goreva, a commentator for the television company Seti-NN, estimated that personal letters put into the mailboxes of the people of Nizhnii Novgorod, signed by Governor Gennadii Khodyrev in support of a candidate, cost approximately $500,000. And yet, the official salary for the head of administration, or mayor of a Russian provincial city is about $400 -- that is, about $5,000 a year. During his four years in office, a victorious mayor will make about $20,000 in salary, although he will have to spend 100 times that on his campaign. So this kind of discrepancy naturally begs the question -- why spend $2 million on a mayoral campaign if a mayor's salary for four years is not going to total more than $20,000? This is the kind of question asked on the air by Andrei Karaulov, host of a Nizhnii Novgorod television program called "Moment of Truth." Yet his question remains unanswered, and Russian citizens can only speculate how such campaign expenditures or loans are recouped -- perhaps through illegal kickbacks or some kind of favors? Is there some kind of "black money" that can possibly cover the cost of "black PR"?
For now, Russian laws and law-enforcement agencies are fairly liberal in their treatment of the media when it breaks the press law or disseminates false or libelous news. There are very few criminal cases that come to trial. Only one paper, "Leninskaya smena plyus," has been closed for unlawful activities. Meanwhile, there are numerous incidents of tendentious or distorted statements given out about the candidates and their activities in newspapers, radio announcements, and television programs. They almost all have the feel of having been commissioned -- such "black PR" is clearly being well remunerated by these candidates' rivals or their sponsors.
One video clip broadcast repeatedly in our city was called "Bandits from Nizhnii Novgorod." It purported to expose a man who looked like the candidate Vadim Bulavinov, talking with another fellow who was described as being a "godfather" in the Nizhnii Novgorod mafia. The purpose was obvious -- to discredit Bulavinov by making it seem as if he consorted with gangsters. A prosecutor is now investigating how reliable this material is, who is really shown in the video, and who was responsible for disseminating it.
It is reminiscent of talk-show host Sergei Dorenko's broadcast several years ago on Channel One of Central Russian Television, supposedly showing a video of Yuriy Skuratov, then Prosecutor-General, naked in the sauna with two undressed women. After the video was broadcast, Skuratov was removed from his post.
Another negative video was shown of Bulavinov on the Volga television channel, along with an article in "Novoye delo," containing the dubious information that Bulavinov wanted to resettle several tens of thousands of refugees from the Chechen Republic to Nizhnii Novgorod. The show had a damaging impact, given the very critical shortage of apartments for local people already residing in Nizhnii Novgorod. Another show claimed that candidate Yurii Lebedev wanted to relocated immigrants from Azerbaijan to the city, which was also seen as negative by the locals, who perceive that crimes are often committed by migrants from the Eastern republics and the Caucasus.
In the heat of the campaign, new newspapers began to appear on the street, for example "Kstati" (To the Point") and "Nekstati" (Not to the Point). The name of a popular Seti-NN show is "Kstati," and that television station is supporting Bulavinov, who is one of its owners. Thus materials printed in "Kstati" and "Nekstati" could be associated unfairly with the positions of Seti-NN, the television company, which, of course, disorients voters. In a separate action, Seti-NN received a warning from the city election commission, since, in violation of the law, it did not provide airtime for the campaign ads of another candidate, Andrei Klimentyev, although agitation for Bulavinov on this station was fairly frequent.
Like the same-name candidate trick notorious in Russian politics, newspaper "doubles" have also come out -- for example, papers with the name "Nizhegorodskiye novosti," "Novoye delo," or "Gorod i gorozhane," with identical graphic design. They are fakes, cleverly fabricated, like counterfeit bills. Of course the contents of the fake papers were completely different than their real originals, and this was all designed to disinform and confuse the public. Dozens of false newspapers were stuffed in voters' mailboxes, along with leaflets and information bulletins in which truth was so cleverly mixed with lies that he even experienced analysts were misled. Law-enforcement agencies have not yet been able to determine who was behind these fake publications.
The news war is aimed above all against objective coverage of events, against the voter's intelligent attitude to picking one of several candidates. In this fashion, the mass media is actually serving as a mass source of disinformation, and the voter becomes something not to be informed but misled one way or another. Ilya Lastov, a popular television host in Nizhnii Novgorod on TNT-Nizhnii Novgorod, comments suddenly on the air, "Maybe you remember this slogan: Study, study, study! We were instilled with this idiocy for many years running!" It is a kind of "black PR" all its own, because it tells television viewers simply to be happy with what they know, and with the bare minimum level of their own intellect, and not learn to think, in order to distinguish a lie from the truth -- despite the ancient Russian aphorism, "Live and learn."
Oleg Rodin is a freelance correspondent for RFE/RL in Nizhnii Novgorod. This article was translated from the Russian by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick.
(Compiled by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick)