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Media Matters: October 11, 2002

11 October 2002, Volume 2, Number 39
U.S.-AFGHANISTAN RADIO AGREEMENT SIGNED IN WASHINGTON. Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Seyyed Makhdoom Raheen and U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson on 3 October signed the U.S.-Afghanistan Radio Agreement. The agreement calls for the BBG to install two high-powered, 400-kilowatt, medium-wave (AM) transmitters with nationwide reach across Afghanistan. Radio TV Afghanistan, operated by the Afghan government, will use one transmitter. The Afghan Radio Network Initiative, the joint 24-hour service of Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will use the second transmitter. The $10.2 million project includes construction, transportation, and installation of equipment and is expected to take about six months. The BBG will also install FM transmitters in up to five places, including Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Herat. The BBG's objective is to assist Afghanistan in establishing a national radio network by providing and installing a large AM transmitter and related equipment at the Pol-i-Charkhi site outside Kabul, as well as FM equipment. The BBG is also seeking to provide the people of Afghanistan with accurate, up-to-date news and information about the United States and the world by broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Dari and Pashtu. The Afghan Radio Network Initiative combines the VOA and RFE/RL streams into a complementary, around-the-clock package of Dari and Pashto programs that include hourly news and information from around the world and feature reports on issues such as health, education, women's rights, and economic reconstruction. There are also call-in shows and music programs. VOA-TV ships tapes in Dari and Pashto to Radio TV Afghan in Kabul every week. International broadcasters from the United States have trained more than 50 Afghan journalists. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October)

FORMER LAWYER TRIED FOR SLANDERING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ON MISSING REPORTER. Ihar Aksyonchyk began his closed-door trial at a district court in Minsk on 8 October on charges of slandering Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Belapan reported. Aksyonchyk, a now-disbarred lawyer, had represented the family of missing ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski in a trial of elite police officers charged with kidnapping him. In a statement issued to the media on 13 February, Aksyonchyk linked the Zavadski case to the disappearances in 1999 of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. Aksyonchyk accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "illegal interference" with the investigation into the disappearances. He also cited testimony from former investigators saying that the abductions and subsequent murders of Zavadski, Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were ordered by Lukashenka's top aide, Viktar Sheyman, who is now Belarus's prosecutor-general. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

PARLIAMENT DISMISSES HEAD OF STATE NEWS AGENCY, NAMES REPLACEMENT. Powered by votes from the ruling coalition of National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), parliament dismissed Panayot Denev as director of state-owned news agency BTA on 4 October, reported. In the same vote, parliament elected Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev as the agency's new director. Cheshmedzhiev previously headed the local Radio Varna. Politicians of the ruling coalition have repeatedly called for Denev's dismissal, alleging a lack of loyalty toward the government. DPS Deputy Chairwoman Emel Etem accused the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) of having used BTA management to tarnish the country's international reputation. When Cheshmedzhiev was first mentioned as a possible successor to Denev, unconfirmed media reports linked him to a number of scandals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October)

'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER WINS APPEAL IN SUPREME COURT. The Supreme Court on 9 October ruled that Michal Zitko, the publisher of a Czech-language translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," cannot be prosecuted for the propagation of Nazism or fascism, since these movements are "dead," CTK reported the next day, citing the daily "Pravo." Last year, a Prague district court convicted Zitko for "supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms" and sentenced him to a suspended sentence of three years and a 2 million-crown ($64,000) fine. Zitko's appeal was rejected by a Prague city court in April, but he appealed again to the country's Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. Legal experts were quoted as saying the Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent that will make it impossible to charge right-wing extremists, according to "Pravo." Interior Minister Stanislav Gross described the verdict as "shocking and crazy." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October)

HEAD OF OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY SUMMONED BY JUDICIARY. On 3 October, the Paris-based media watch group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested the summoning by Iran's conservative judiciary of Abdullah Nasseri, managing editor of the government-controlled news agency IRNA. Nasseri was summoned because he published on 22 September opinion-poll results indicating that 74.7 percent of Iranians wanted talks with the U.S. to resume. The publication of the story came one day after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "Guide of the Islamic Revolution," delivered a harsh attack on the U.S. Three days later, the conservative daily "Kayhan" claimed the poll had been falsified. IRNA also sent a note to its clients killing the report, saying it had been issued in error. On 2 October, the country's reformist-led parliament called on Sharoudi to stop summoning Nasseri and also expressed concern about the summoning of Behruz Geranpayeh, head of one of the three polling firms that published the results of the poll. Geranpayeh's firm was closed. The two men were reportedly accused of "publishing lies to excite public opinion." In late May, media discussion of Iran-U.S. relations was banned after the main reformist daily, "Noruz", suggested that top-level informal contacts between Iranian and U.S. officials had recently taken place in Nicosia or Ankara. (Reporters Without Borders, 4 October)

COURT REQUESTS MORE INVESTIGATION OF ARSON OF NEWSPAPER OFFICE. The Almaty Medeo District Court in the arson case of the office of the paper "Delovoe Obozrenie Respublika" for additional investigation. The judge found convincing evidence that the paper's owner had himself hired the arsonists. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Newsletter," 30 September-6 October)

WHEREABOUTS OF INDICTED WRITER UNKNOWN. Relatives and colleagues of Temirtas Tleulesov expressed concern about the writer's situation. Tleulesov is the author of two books, "Shymkentskaya Mafia" and "Ordaly Zhylan," detailing corruption and organized-crime activities among top officials of South Kazakhstan Oblast. The writer was tried in absentia by the Shymkent City Court and sentenced to two years in prison. Since then, Tleulesov has been in hiding from Kazakh authorities, but maintained contact with his relatives. On 9 October, his brother told RFE/RL that contacts with Temirtas stopped several months ago and his current whereabouts are unknown. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 9 October)

INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY GROUP PRESENTS ITS REPORT ON FUTURE OF KOSOVA'S MEDIA. On 7 October, the International Advisory Group to the Task Force on the Independent Media Commission (IMC) recommended to the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) that media regulation be established under the IMC and that Radio Television Kosova should rely on license fees and advertising. It also urged Kosovar radio and TV stations to start cooperating to develop the advertising market, grow as broadcasters, and strengthen the economy. On 6 October, the IMC presented a report to the SRSG with unanimous recommendations on the ad market for local broadcasters. The report concluded that a coherent regulatory framework be established as quickly as possible under a properly constituted IMC, and that the European concept of regulated financing of public broadcasting by a mix of public and commercial funding is the most effective way of serving Kosova's viewers and listeners. CC

PRESS STILL DIVIDED ON ETHNIC LINES... Latvia's ethnic Russian community constitutes almost a third of the country's population (29.6 percent, compared with 57.7 percent ethnic Latvians). The local press, far from trying to contribute to mutual understanding between those two groups, is itself divided along ethno-linguistic lines and continues to perpetuate negative stereotypes, according to Peter Zvagulis, the director of RFE/RL's Latvian Service. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

...WHILE GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES SOCIAL INTEGRATION PROGRAM. Latvia's government has recognized the dangers inherent in this polarization and has started to promote a Social Integration Program of linguistic and ethnic reconciliation that has been commended by international experts, writes Zvagulis in the same article. But the process has not been as smooth as one could wish. Radical politicians are trying to use the country's controversial history as a battleground for today's nationalistic agenda. By advancing its integration program, the current Latvian government has undertaken an enormous effort that may be compared only to that of the founding fathers of the first Republic of Latvia. President Vike-Freiberga and a number of leading politicians have embarked on the hard task of building a political nation. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

MEDIA GROUP CONCERNED OVER 'POLITICAL MONOPOLY.' After its 2 October meeting on the current situation of media legislation and in the state media, the Stability Pact Montenegrin Media Working Group (MMWG) issued a strongly worded statement. It "protested" the delayed implementation of reform media laws which permit a continued political monopoly over the media." The MMWG requested the Montenegrin government to "promptly" separate the Broadcast Center from Montenegro Telekom. The MMWG cited the recent firings of state media editors and journalists as promoting "the principle of political suitability and party loyalty instead of professionalism and freedom." It also "strongly protested" the continued practice of state media editorial and managerial appointments of "individuals who took part in war propaganda and stirring of racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance." The MMWG summoned the media sector to defend journalism and "show solidarity and civil courage in all instances of violation of journalists' ethics code, persecution of, and pressures on journalists." It asked the media sector and political parties to "give priority to the general interests of citizens and the society over their personal, political party, ideological, and other narrow interests." CC

JOURNALISTS PROTEST POLITICIZATION OF TELEVISION... Andjela Nenadovic, who is an anchorwoman of prime-time television news on state-run Montenegrin television, walked out of the studio in the middle of a newscast on 3 October rather than read a story she considered wrong, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 October. The story concerned U.S. financial aid to Montenegro, according to ANEM. Nenadovic, who quit her job on 4 October, is the latest of several journalists to leave state-run television in the past two weeks following the appointment of a nominee of the Liberal Alliance as editor in chief. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October)

...AS PRESIDENT PLEDGES MEDIA REFORM... Milo Djukanovic said in Danilovgrad on 7 October that his Democratic Party of Socialists (DSP) and its Social Democratic (SDP) allies will submit to a parliamentary vote proposals on media reform worked out by a government group and the Council of Europe if those two parties win the 20 October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Djukanovic slammed the current parliamentary majority for politicizing the state-run media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October)

...BUT INFORMATION MINISTER SKEPTICAL OF NEWS ON STATE MEDIA. Information Minister Bozidar Jaredic said on 30 September that he doubted that public information in Montenegro would improve after the appointment of new editors to the daily "Pobjeda" and the state radio and TV network. These new editors were selected by political parties, he added. ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

LOWER HOUSE APPROVES LAW ON 'DEFENSE OF LANGUAGE.' On 8 October, the Chamber of Deputies approved the law passed one day earlier by the Senate on the defense of the Romanian language, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The legislation makes obligatory the translation of any foreign terminology on signs displayed in public and on advertising, including television advertising. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

PUTIN CANCELS YELTSIN DECREE ON RFE/RL MOSCOW BUREAU... President Vladimir Putin on 4 October canceled a 27 August 1991 decree by former President Boris Yeltsin that guaranteed the legal and operational status of the Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Under Yeltsin's edict, the Russian government provided conditions for RFE/RL's journalistic activities "because of its role in the objective coverage of the march of democratic processes." Putin did not issue any statement in connection with the cancellation, but the Kremlin's information office said Yeltsin's decree was revoked because it had "lost its original significance," RIA-Novosti reported. According to the unidentified spokesperson, Yeltsin's decree was originally intended to demonstrate Russia's commitment to freedom of the press and to enhance Russia's image abroad. However, because of the progress of economic and political reforms in Russia since then, the decree put RFE/RL in "a privileged position compared to other foreign mass-media outlets working in Russia," the Kremlin statement was quoted as saying. Moreover, the statement continued, RFE/RL's editorial policies, "despite the end of the Cold War," have in recent years become "biased," especially those of its "Chechen" and Ukrainian services. Ever since Yeltsin's decree, nationalists, Communists, and other reactionary elements have regularly called for an end to RFE/RL's activities in Russia. The Kremlin conducted campaigns of pressure against RFE/RL in 2000 in connection with the protracted disappearance -- in which Russian security forces were likely involved -- of RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii and his coverage of the Chechnya conflict and this year in connection with the Congressional mandate to RFE/RL to begin broadcasts in three North Caucasus languages. The Foreign Ministry said that Putin's decree is purely a technical measure designed to give equal status to all foreign media outlets in Russia and does not constitute a reaction to RFE/RL's policies, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October)

...AS RFE/RL SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT... RFE/RL's Moscow bureau was accredited with the Russian Foreign Ministry on the basis of the 1991 decree. The other RFE/RL offices in Russia were accredited on the basis of applications to the Russian Foreign Ministry. On 4 October, Foreign Ministry officials confirmed that there is no legal requirement for the Moscow or other RFE/RL offices to be reaccredited. RFE/RL journalists working in the Moscow office have always been accredited through the same procedure as the representatives of other foreign media outlets. Moreover, they may be subject to the same restrictions and denials of accreditation to major conferences or summits as other foreign journalists. RFE/RL has always leased its office space on a commercial basis and has never used space provided by any government entity for its Moscow office. RFE/RL has always paid for its own communication networks on a commercial basis. (RFE/RL, 9 October)

...AND REMAINS COMMITTED TO REPORTING IN RUSSIA. The president of RFE/RL said on 4 October that President Putin's decision to revoke the 10-year-old decree that allowed the service to establish a Moscow bureau would in no way affect news coverage. Thomas Dine said, "We will not allow the revocation of Mr. Yeltsin's significant policy declaration to affect our reporting of events in the Russian Federation in any way." President Yeltsin issued his decree in recognition of RFE/RL's contribution to Russia's democracy and principles of freedom of the press. "We will continue to give the people of Russia accurate and balanced news and information about major occurrences inside Russia," Dine added. Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees RFE/RL, concurred with Dine's statement, expressing his "confidence that our journalists will continue to do their job." Dine said he hoped that Putin's action today would not narrow RFE/RL's ability to operate on an equal footing with other foreign media outlets in Russia's media environment. RFE/RL is a private, international communications service to Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; the Caucasus; and Central and Southwestern Asia funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. (RFE/RL, 4 October)

YASTRZHEMBSKII: 'POSITIVE CHANGES' IN GOVERNMENT-MEDIA RELATIONS. RIA-Novosti and "Izvestiya" reported that Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii, addressing a media seminar in Yekaterinburg on 2 October, said that positive changes have occurred in relations between the government and Russian media outlets. Two years ago, he asserted, many oligarch-owned Russian news outlets had engaged in "blackmail"-style relations with the government, and the country had a free speech "bacchanalia"; today, media-government relations are "more civilized." The Russian authorities now have "political will," he said. Censorship is not being practiced in Russia, while criticism in the Russian media is now more focussed on "doing good" to society, noted the president's aide. In Yastrzhembskii's opinion, Russian citizens should be able to make comparisons in the media between one region and another and thus will also serve to motivate regional government bodies. As of now, according to the presidential aide, "journalists are now the weakest link in the mechanism of conveying state information 'correctly - that is, objectively - to the public," "Izvestiya" reported. CC

SENATOR URGES REVISION OF LAW ON MASS MEDIA. Federation Council Information Policy Committee Deputy Chairman Yevgenii Yeliseev said on 2 October that the current law on the mass media must be changed in order "to increase compliance with the constitution and the Civil Code," RIA-Novosti reported on 3 October. He said an amended law must address issues such as the quality of information, and it must define different types of information, including drawing a distinction between commercial and noncommercial information. In the past, efforts to change the law have been counterproductive, because they treated information from the positions of the producer and distributor, not the user, Yeliseev said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October)

LIBERAL RUSSIA TO BRING LIBEL SUIT ON BEHALF OF DECEASED COLLEAGUE. Liberal Russia party co-Chairmen Sergei Yushchenkov and Viktor Pokhmelkin intend to bring a libel suit against ORT for a broadcast on 2 October. The program, "Tracing the White Eagle," described former party co-Chairman and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev as "corrupt." Golovlev was killed before he could stand trial for his role in the Management Fund. The suit will allege that the program violates the legal presumption of innocence. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 30 September-6 October)

LOCAL JOURNALIST LOSES BATTLE TO OVERTURN HARSH PUNISHMENT. The Lenin Raion Court in Ulyanovsk on 8 October upheld a lower-court ruling sentencing Yuliya Shelamydova, editor of "Simbirskie izvestiya," to a year of corrective labor and large fine for an article she published about Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov's entourage, VolgaInform reported. Fellow journalists, public activists, and members of local political organizations such as Liberal Democratic Russia and the New Communist Party picketed the court before her hearing. During the court hearing, Shelamydova charged that the case against her was part of a larger effort to intimidate members of the oblast's independent press, so that they will keep silent about cases of abuse of office and mistakes involving regional officials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October)

JOURNALISTS PUSHED OUT OF TWO COURTROOMS. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, journalists were pushed out of a courtroom in Nizhnii Novgorod when they tried to cover a suit brought by a local citizen against the city's election commission. The stated reason was that official secrets might be revealed. Meanwhile, in a Yekaterinburg courtroom, reporters were arrested for trying to film a case brought against journalists who covered a corruption case involving the head of the district anti-drug-trafficking unit. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 30 September-6 October)

BOOKSTORE OWNER COMPLAINS OF PERSECUTION. In a letter to the editor of "The St. Petersburg Times" published on 7 October, Mary Duncan, co-owner of the Shakespeare and Company Moscow bookstore, complains that her business might face closure in connection with the pornography case filed against avant-garde writer Vladimir Sorokin. The store is co-owned by Aleksandr Ivanov, who also owns the Ad Marginem publishing house, which published Sorokin's controversial novel "Blue Lard" and is also a defendant in the case. Duncan, a U.S. citizen who lives in France, wrote that police have repeatedly visited her store since the case first started and have confiscated numerous copies of Sorokin's books as well as documents pertaining to the store. She said that she has been advised by Ivanov not to try to enter Russia for fear that she will be detained by the authorities, who are allegedly investigating "the U.S. money" invested in the bookstore. "This pure politics, especially when you consider the raw sex that is carried on Russian TV and the pornography that is available in the kiosks. We are a general literary bookstore and do not specialize in pornography unless Henry Miller and James Joyce fit that category," Duncan wrote. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

TELEVISION REACHES FOR THE STARS. ORT television and the Russian Aerospace Agency have signed an agreement under which the victorious contestant in a new reality-based television show will win a trip to the International Space Station (ISS), Interfax and other news agencies reported on 9 October. The program will document contestants as they go through various exercises similar to the training that cosmonauts receive, and the winner will fly to the ISS in the fall of 2003. "We have proposed a television project that will demonstrate the space achievements of our country and give the victor a chance to fly to space," ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst was quoted in a press release as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

HEROIC SUBMARINERS SEE THEMSELVES THROUGH HOLLYWOOD'S EYES. The Hollywood film "K-19: The Widowmaker" made its St. Petersburg premier at the Mariinskii Theater on 6 October to an audience including 52 veterans and crew family members from the ill-fated Soviet submarine, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 7 October. On 4 July 1961, the "K-19," the first Soviet submarine to carry ballistic missiles, experienced a nearly catastrophic nuclear-reactor leak that potentially could have detonated its missiles. The film tells the story of how the 139 crewmembers and Captain Nikolai Zaitsev -- played by Harrison Ford -- heroically averted a disaster by exposing themselves to severe doses of radiation. Eight crewmembers died within two weeks of the incident, and 12 others died over the next two years. Some "K-19" veterans complained about the film's depiction of the crew's drinking, swearing, and lack of discipline, but others gave it high marks. "I'm very thankful to the American filmmakers who finally reflected the heroism of the 'K-19' sailors who had to keep silent about the accident for decades," crewmember Vladimir Pogorelov told the newspaper. "Ford even looks like our captain. He managed to show the image of a Soviet captain realistically." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

ANDERSEN HONORED, NIZAMI DEFACED. At a session on 8 October, members of Moscow's municipal commission on monumental art endorsed an initiative to erect a monument in Moscow to Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, Interfax-Moscow reported. A site for the statue has not yet been selected, but it would be completed by 2005 in time for Andersen's 200th birthday. The same day, an unidentified vandal in St. Petersburg defaced a monument to the 12th-century Azerbaijani poet Nizami by splattering it with white paint, Interfax-Northwest reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE TAKES SHAPE. Three private broadcasters -- TV Pink, Karic Brothers, and the independent ANEM network -- will join state-run television in carrying the 9 October debate between Vojislav Kostunica and Miroljub Labus, his rival in the 13 October Serbian presidential runoff, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 October. The debate will run from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Moderator Vladan Radosavljevic will ask the candidates questions on various topics for the first one hour and 15 minutes. For the remaining 45 minutes, the candidates will answer one question from each member of a group of 15 leading Serbian media organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October)

B92 STAFF RESPONDS TO TV PINK ALLEGATIONS... The B92 staff signed a statement on 30 September in response to the "false information broadcast over the past few days by TV Pink and BK Television on the privatization and ownership structure of B92." According to the statement, the B92 staff "has been kept informed of the ownership transformation process from its inception and it is being implemented with our consent." ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

...WHICH INFORMATION MINISTER SEES AS A BATTLE FOR FREQUENCIES... Yugoslav Information Minister Slobodan Orlic told B92 on 30 September that he did not wish to comment on allegations against B92 published in "Publika" and reported by TV Pink because he did not know what the motives behind the reports were. He said, "As I see it, the battle for frequencies has already begun." The minister added that actions by "certain television stations" are "exactly the opposite of what the independent regulatory body, the Broadcast Board, will allow...and the abuse of a television station for private purposes is not a good thing at all." Meanwhile, the president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, Milica Lucic Cavic, said there was a "general trend for the centers of power to launch attacks on the bearers of democratic change." ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

...WHILE PRIVATIZATION MINISTER SAYS B92 RECAPITALIZATION IS 'ABOVE REPROACH'... Serbian Privatization Minister Aleksandar Vlahovic on 3 October defended last year's recapitalization of independent broadcaster B92, saying that there was nothing illegal in the deal. Vlahovic was replying to an aggressive campaign conducted by RTV Pink, the commercial television empire built during the 1990s under the patronage of the Slobodan Milosevic regime. "The additional capitalization of the B92 media company was conducted under the old regulations of the Companies Act which were, as everyone knows, valid until 1 July this year," Vlahovic told a press conference. "An initiative for the privatization of 43 percent of the public capital in the B92 media company has been submitted and a privatization program drawn up," he added. Employees of B92 signed their assent to the additional capitalization of the company in March 2001. ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

...BUT HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP THREATENED FOR DEFENDING B92. On 3 October, the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights received an anonymous letter, threatening it for defending B92. Committee President Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco said the letter was delivered by unknown young men and signed "employees of B92." The letter, which she received after she publicly condemned the anti-B92 campaign, warned her that public figures should be wary of being abused and manipulated because of their lack of information. "This letter is nonsense," said Kovacevic-Vuco. "If it were not for the hysterical campaign against B92 we wouldn't pay attention to it." In a democratic country, she added, the letter would be investigated by the police, not discussed in front of television cameras. "Not even Slobodan Milosevic did this in his time," said Kovacevic-Vuco. ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

YU INFO ON SALE. The federal government's TV network, YU Info, will be privatized following a valuation of its assets, Information Minister Orlic announced on 3 October. Orlic denied reports that the station was to be merged with RTV Politika. The director of YU Info, Zoran Predic, was yesterday appointed acting director of RTV Politika. The former director of RTV Politika, Slobodan Aleksendric, reportedly resigned for health reasons. ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

FORMER POLITIKA DIRECTOR FAILS TO APPEAR IN COURT. On 27 September, Dragan Antic, former director of the Politika media company, failed to appear in a Belgrade court in two cases against him. The film distributor Tuck is suing him for the illegal broadcast of 85 films and Antic also faces slander charges filed by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. ("ANEM Media Update," 28 September-4 October)

DAILIES FINED FOR BREAKING PRE-ELECTION MORATORIUM. The Culture Ministry on 5 October imposed a fine of 5,000 crowns ($116) on the daily "Novy cas" and one of 10,000 crowns on the daily "Pravda" for breaking a moratorium on election coverage ahead of the voting, TASR reported, citing TV Markiza. The two dailies can appeal the decision within 15 days. "Pravda" Editor in Chief Petr Sabata said he intends to appeal, as he is convinced that his paper broke no law when it published interviews with Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) Chairman Mikulas Dzurinda and Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico during the moratorium. Sabata said the two leaders did not engage in electioneering in those interviews. Complaints against the publication of the interviews were launched by the Party of the Democratic Left and by the Real Slovak National Party. "Novy cas" published an article on the SDKU election campaign while the moratorium was in force. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October)

PRICES OF NEWSPAPERS DOUBLE. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reports that at the end of September the prices of newspapers in the country nearly doubled due to inflation. Outside Dushanbe, the cost of newspapers has gone up even more. For the country's largely impoverished population, that will make newspapers even more unaffordable. CC

NEWS AGENCY SETTLES CONFLICT OVER ALLEGED CENSORSHIP. UNIAN, Ukraine's second-largest news agency, published a statement on 3 October saying the agency's leadership and journalists had reached a compromise over the recent conflict in which journalists complained of being subjected to political censorship and pressure. "Both sides declare that political censorship in UNIAN is inadmissible. We are unanimous in the opinion that major changes in materials released by UNIAN may be made only by the journalists who wrote them," the statement reads. The dispute in UNIAN began on 1 October when journalists accused UNIAN's new executive director, Vasyl Yurychko, of censoring their work and of refusing to run reports that could be construed as portraying President Leonid Kuchma unfavorably, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October)

JOURNALISTS MOVE TO CREATE TRADE UNION TO RESIST CENSORSHIP... More than 100 journalists from various Ukrainian media outlets met in Kyiv on 5 October and formed a working group for creating an independent journalists' trade union to combat official coercion, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "I know that only the top people have come today because the disaffection in journalists' circles with what's happening is very large. Therefore, I believe that in this hall we can have not just 100 people, but thousands of journalists who want to change things for the better," said television journalist Andriy Shevchenko, who resigned his job in September over what he said was official meddling and censorship. The meeting decided that apart from tackling the censorship issue through talks with the government, the new organization will provide legal and financial help to journalists who lose their jobs as a result of official pressure. The meeting demanded that parliament hold hearings on government censorship and that the prosecutor-general begin criminal investigations into government attempts at censorship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October)

...AS PRESIDENT DECLARES READINESS TO DISCUSS CENSORSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS. President Kuchma pledged at an 8 October news conference that he is ready to negotiate with representatives of the recently launched independent union of journalists in order to "sort out what they claim to be political censorship" in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. "[I do not rule out that] there is some pressure somewhere. However, according to the constitution, censorship is not permitted. Someone is exaggerating somewhat here," the president said. Kuchma stressed that "antipresidential publications" in Ukraine are distributed freely. He recalled that the State Tax Administration has agreed that the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders can be present at regular audits of Ukrainian media organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October)

FORMER LAWMAKER WHO DEFENDED GONGADZE GETS U.S. ASYLUM. Former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych told Reuters on 9 October that he has obtained political asylum in the United States. Yelyashkevych was a deputy of the previous Verkhovna Rada and participated in the work of a special parliamentary commission investigating the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "I was granted political asylum because of a serious threat to my life that existed and still exists from Kuchma and his entourage," Yelyashkevych told Reuters. In February 2000, Yelyashkevych was attacked by unknown assailants and suffered a concussion. He later maintained that the attack was ordered by President Kuchma. Earlier this year, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website published a transcript of Mykola Melnychenko's secret audio recording on which voices similar to those of Kuchma and then-Security Service chief Leonid Derkach discuss the organization of an attack on Yelyashkevych. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October)

CENTRAL ASIAN JOURNALISTS SIGN DECLARATION ON MEDIA FREEDOM. Central Asian journalists, participating in a conference arranged by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), adopted a declaration affirming their basic role as society's watchdog against corruption, the OSCE announced. Over 100 journalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan took part in the fourth OSCE Central Asian Media Conference, held 26-27 September in Tashkent. The declaration states, "The media should be free to exercise their corrective function towards economic, ecological and military decisions in their countries, especially with regard to investigating the growing danger of corruption." "Many journalists affirmed that their working conditions had been deteriorating in the last year, and reported many cases of harassment," according to Freimut Duve, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media. "The tendency towards repression is clear." The full text of the declaration is at (OSCE, 27 September)


By Viktor Stepanenko

The absence of the freedom of expression is a painful problem in postcommunist Ukraine. In recent years, Ukraine's executive authorities have been regularly mentioned among the top regimes "honored" with the title of "enemy of the press."

The ongoing political crisis, activities of the antipresidential opposition, and the new turn in the "Kuchmagate" scandal associated with Ukraine's alleged sale of radar systems to Iraq have exacerbated the problem of the freedom of expression in the country.

The chronicle of events that triggered the "information crisis" and generated a new wave of public debates on the freedom of expression in Ukraine can be reconstructed as follows.

At the beginning of September, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, Mykola Tomenko, publicized secret instructions by the presidential administration regarding the news coverage on main national television channels controlled by pro-presidential business clans.

The secret media regulations appear to be a regular practice known to many Ukrainian journalists as the "temnyk," a jargon word that refers to secret orientation of journalists by the authorities as regards the presentation of news topics. In his open letter to the country's leadership, Tomenko directly connected the activation of the "temnyk policy" with the appointment in June of Viktor Medvedchuk as the head of the presidential staff.

On 23 September, on the eve of a major antipresidential rally in Kyiv, opposition leaders occupied the UT-1 television headquarters in a futile attempt to present their position to Ukrainian viewers. Official media outlets subsequently portrayed this desperate effort by the opposition to gain an opportunity to speak freely as "political extremism" and a "criminal action by political outsiders."

On 1 October, journalists of the independent news agency UNIAN accused its new executive director, Vasyl Yurychko, of censoring their work and refusing to run any reports that could be construed as portraying President Leonid Kuchma unfavorably. The conflict was settled when Yurychko and the disobedient journalists signed a declaration in which the supervisor promised not to interfere with their work.

On 3 October, the journalists' growing resistance to the official media policy resulted in composing a "Manifesto of Ukrainian Journalists Against Political Censorship." The manifesto, which is open for signing by any journalist in Ukraine, was prepared by some 60 representatives of various media outlets.

The signatories of the manifesto say they "welcome the tendency that, under circumstances of the growing political censorship in Ukraine, journalists are switching from individual protests to collective actions of solidarity." The manifesto declares the readiness of Ukrainian journalists to organize a countrywide strike and to stand for the rights of those colleagues who were fired from their jobs for political reasons.

The significance of this document can hardly be overestimated. For the first time in Ukraine's modern history, the vicious circle of narrow corporate interests of journalists belonging to different media groups has been broken.

The history of post-Soviet media -- in particular, the example of Russia's NTV television, which many observers claim was suppressed by the authorities last year for political reasons -- shows that the lack of professional solidarity among post-Soviet journalists is a major factor that makes the fight for the freedom of expression in post-Soviet countries a very problematic task.

Another impeding factor is the peculiar post-Soviet way of pursuing businesses that, in order to be successful, have to maintain political loyalty to the authorities (or pretend to do so). That is why, as a rule with rare exceptions, even private post-Soviet media outlets have not yet constituted themselves as really independent information businesses. They have largely become mouthpieces for publicizing the propagandist justification of the political and economic domination of governing clans. And quite often, these clans own or control major media outlets. In such a case, journalists become hostages to the clans' "editorial policy." It is not surprising that in Ukraine this policy is pro-presidential.

Andriy Tychyna, a journalist at the nationwide 1+1 television network (controlled by the Viktor Medvedchuk-Hryhoriy Surkis clan) admits that "the news coverage [in Ukraine] is ceasing to be a reflection of real sociopolitical events but is becoming a generator of some virtual reality," "Zerkalo nedeli" reported on 28 September.

Can the Ukrainian media sphere transform itself from the tool of oligarchic control over public opinion into a social institution that could be sensitive to public interests? The recent protest actions by Ukrainian journalists seem to be making an important contribution to such a transformation.

Dr. Viktor Stepanenko is a Ukrainian sociologist.