25 October 2002, Volume
UNESCO GRANTS SPECIAL STATUS TO IFJ, WAN.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has granted the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) "Associate Relations" status. As a result, IFJ and WAN will have a more formal advisory role on UNESCO activities in press freedom, freedom of expression, and media development. (IFEX communique, 22 October)
JOURNALIST INJURED BY GRENADE ATTACK...
On 24 October, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voiced "outrage" over a grenade attack that seriously injured investigative journalist Mark Grigorian in the center of the Armenian capital of Yerevan on the night of 22 October. Grigorian, who is deputy director of the Caucasus Institute for Mass Media and Reporters Without Borders' and its Yerevan correspondent, maintains that the grenade was clearly targeted at himself and that it exploded under his feet. He sustained injuries to his right lung, abdomen and legs, but his life is not in danger. (Reporters Without Borders, 24 October)...INVESTIGATION OPENED INTO ATTACK.
Armenian police have begun probing the 22 October attack on Grigorian, which they describe as an attempted murder, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 October. Grigorian told journalists on 23 October that a grenade was thrown at him from behind by a man he saw running away seconds later. He suggested that the attack might have been prompted by investigations he has conducted for a planned article on the third anniversary of the Armenian parliament shootings in which eight senior officials died. Parliament deputies condemned the attack on Grigorian as "terrorism," according to Mediamax on 23 October, as cited by Groong. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)MEDIA MORE VULNERABLE IN RECENT MONTHS...
The attack on Grigorian is the latest element in a troubling trend of intimidation and coercion directed against the Armenian media in recent months. Armenian media have always been vulnerable to pressure due to the combination of an underdeveloped civil society and the ever-weakening rule of law. This vulnerability has become increasingly evident in recent months, with several cases of journalists being subjected to physical assaults, death threats, and intimidation. In August, the owner and the director of a regional independent television company were attacked by several assailants who the victims alleged were linked to local government officials. Such attacks encourage a retreat to the Soviet practice of self-censorship and, if not halted, might further hinder the effective development of Armenia's infant civil society. In September, poet Janik Adamian was arrested and tried for authoring a crude poem that implicated President Robert Kocharian in the 1999 attack on parliament. The case was reminiscent the Stalinist period in that police also arrested Adamian's neighbor for having typed the poem for him on her typewriter. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)...WITH TROUBLING OFFICIAL MEDIA POLICIES...
This trend of media intimidation has been fostered by several disturbing policies implemented by the Armenian government. The most blatantly repressive policy centers on punitive legal measures introduced for insulting the dignity and honor of elected officials, a legal framework that imposes strict limitations on media coverage and analyses of local and central government. The twin tactics of creeping restrictions on press freedom and outright intimidation have combined to further inhibit Armenian media. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)...AND A SHARP DROP IN PRESS READERSHIP...
A poll conducted in the summer of 2002 revealed that less than 15 percent of the population reads newspapers on a daily basis, and 48 percent do not read newspapers at all. A September 2002 survey (conducted, ironically, by Grigorian) found that a mere 1.5 percent of the Armenian population currently trusts the country's print media, compared with 80 percent five-six years ago. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)...ALONG WITH RISE OF ELITE-OWNED PRIVATE MEDIA OUTLETS.
There is, however, one prominent exception to the fundamental fragility of most Armenian media: the rise of the now dominant private outlets owned by members of the new wealthy elite closely associated with the ruling political elite. The decline of alternative or dissenting media has not only negatively affected the pace of political reform and democratization, a crucial shortcoming for a state in transition. It has also undercut the independent media's effectiveness in the fight against corruption. ("End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
RFE/RL REPORTER DETAINED.
As RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service reporter Surkhai Bilaloglu and his daughter Kyamalya Alieva were about to board a plane flying from Nakhichevan to Baku on 15 October, police detained them "because certain issues related to his critical reports on the situation in Nakhichevan and the leadership of the autonomy needed clarification." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)DOES STATE TV SLANT THE NEWS?
Gerard Stoudmann, director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, was indignant about a report on the ANS TV channel on his alleged remarks about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to Stoudmann, the ANS had presented his views so as to make it appear that he approves of the Armenian occupation. ANS admitted misinterpreting his views, attributing this to "technical errors." Sheikh Allakhshukyur Pashazade, head of the Caucasus Muslims Directorate, is also unhappy over ANS misinterpretation of his remarks. Pashazade said that he has never called for resuming hostilities so as to resolve the Karabakh issue. Meanwhile, residents of the embattled Nardaran village are annoyed at what they see as biased reporting on their protests and the aftermath, describing ANS as "a unit of the law enforcement agency." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)
RELEASE OF RFE/RL JOURNALIST WELCOMED.
RFE/RL President Thomas Dine welcomed the release on 18 October from a prison in Bamberg, Germany, of RFE/RL Belarusian Service journalist Natalia Sudliankova. "We are glad that Natalia has finally been released and can now be reunited with her family in Prague," Dine said, adding, "Clearly, the German authorities have recognized the baseless nature of the charges made against Natalia, and are no longer willing to play a role in the settling of political scores by the undemocratic regime of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka." Sudliankova, an editor for RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, was detained on 7 October at the Czech-German border on the basis of an international criminal warrant filed by the government of Belarus. A citizen of Belarus and a longtime political activist opposed to the Lukashenka regime, Sudliankova fled her country with her family in 1999 and was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. A Czech court in January 2002 rejected an extradition request by the Minsk government, finding the charges made against Sudliankova to be without merit. Those charges were not withdrawn, however, and her name remained on an Interpol list of wanted criminals. Sudliankova was arrested during her first attempt to travel outside of the Czech Republic since being granted political asylum. (RFE/RL, 18 October)SLANDEROUS LEAFLETS IN MINSK?
A Minsk court on 18 October opened a case of slander against Oksana Novikova for allegedly slandering President Lukashenka. She was detained for distributing leaflets in Minsk, her apartment was searched, and she is in a detention center. If found guilty, she faces a possible five-year term of imprisonment. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)NEW LAW RESTRICTS RELIGIOUS PUBLICATIONS.
Article 19 and Freedom House have expressed concern over a law the Belarusian government passed earlier this month giving the state powers to shut down religious publications and impose tighter restrictions on the publication and distribution of religious material. Under the new law, religious publications must obtain government approval before distribution to libraries, a clear violation of the right to free expression, Article 19 says. It also requires religious institutions to register before they can distribute or publish information. Even then, registered institutions can only distribute their publications in government-sanctioned outlets, Article 19 adds. The recently approved law is seen as an attempt by the government to crack down on religious minorities in Belarus and assert the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church, notes the BBC. It prohibits religions which have been active for less than 20 years from publishing literature. For more, see http://www.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=11354 or http://www.freedomhouse.org/media/pressrel/100402.htm. CC
PRIVATIZATION AGENCY NAMES WINNER IN TELECOM TENDER.
State Privatization Agency Executive Director Apostol Apostolov announced on 23 October that the Vienna-based Viva Ventures Holding has won the tender for a 65 percent stake in state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), BTA reported. Viva Ventures offered $196 million in its bid and pledged to raise the company's capitalization by $49 million to $392 million. Viva Ventures plans to lay off some 9,000 of BTK's 25,000 employees within three years after the privatization. The Turkish consortium of Koc Holding and Turk Telecom entered a lower bid but pledged to lay off only 4,470 employees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN REJECTS 'NY TIMES' REPORT AS 'FABRICATION.'
A spokesman for Czech President Vaclav Havel has dismissed a report in "The New York Times" claiming Havel told U.S. officials there is no evidence that suspected 11 September hijacker Mohammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, CTK reported on 22 October. The 21 October report cited unidentified Czech officials as saying Havel discreetly called White House officials to cast doubt on the alleged meeting. "It is a fabrication. Nothing like this has occurred," Havel's spokesman, Ladislav Spacek, said of the alleged phone conversation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October)
VETO FOR PATRIARCHATE ON RELIGIOUS LITERATURE, BROADCASTING, AND PUBLISHING...
Minority faiths and human rights activists have expressed fears over a provision of the 14 October agreement between the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate and the state giving the patriarchate a veto on which other religious communities can call themselves churches and on publication of religious literature. It is feared that this will be used against religious minorities in Georgia, who are the victims of continuing violent attacks. (Keston News Service, 23 October)...AIMED AT ONE ORTHODOX CHURCH?
"This article is directed against us and our church," Father Zurab Aroshvili of the True Orthodox Church told the website portal-credo.ru on 21 October. "After this agreement we will be outside the law and we will be persecuted, this time by legal means." He believed his church -- which has published literature critical of the patriarchate -- is the intended target of this provision. "Only yesterday a representative of the patriarchate, Archimandrite Zenon, appeared on television and said that this provision was included in the concordat specially against us and religious organizations like us." He said his church tried to lobby parliament to prevent it ratifying the concordat and would appeal to the Constitutional Court to overturn this provision. If that failed, he added, his church would take its complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The True Orthodox Church -- an entirely peaceful group that dissociates itself entirely from the religious violence of Father Basil Mkalavishvili -- has faced serious obstructions to its work. (Keston News Service, 23 October)
MILITARY DEVELOPS ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT.
The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MDAFL) during Sacred Defense Week inaugurated several telecommunications projects. One such project is the mass production of three types of military wireless receivers that were developed and manufactured by MDAFL experts, state television reported on 28 September. MDAFL chief Ali Shamkhani said that through these projects the security of long-distance and high-frequency communications would become more effective, a proposed new tactical VHF receiver would be immune to electronic-warfare measures, and armored vehicles would get specially built wireless receivers. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October)POLLSTER JAILED.
Behruz Geranpayeh, head of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, was detained on 16 October following a court ruling, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. An "informed source" was cited as saying that Geranpayeh's detention was tied to a poll published on 22 September, in which the majority of participants favored negotiations with and relations with the U.S. the source also said that bail is set at 2 billion rials ($1.15 million at the official rate, $250,000 at the market rate) and it probably will increase to 5.5 billion rials. Also on 16 October the court summoned Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Burqani in connection with this case. Burqani had served previously in the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, and he told IRNA that the court asked him to explain his relationship with such polling institutes. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October)
ONE EDITOR RECIPIENT OF CANADIAN AWARD...
A Kazakh journalist whose daughter died in police custody has been honored by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Toronto-based paper "The Globe and Mail" reported. Lira Baysetova, former editor of the independent paper "Respublika 2000," was given the International Press Freedom Award for exposing corruption in the Nazarbaev regime. Shortly after her articles appeared on President Nursultan Nazarbaev's secret Swiss bank accounts, Baysetova's daughter, Leyla, was arrested on drug charges and later died. "Respublika's" offices have been firebombed and its editorial offices destroyed, allegedly by plainclothes government security forces. ("Voice of Democracy," 22 October)...AND ANOTHER IS FUTURE CPJ AWARDEE.
On 22 October, the New York-based journalists' rights group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), announced that on 26 November it will present its 2002 International Press Freedom Awards to four journalists, including one from Kazakhstan, who have "reported fearlessly on government malfeasance." Irina Petrushova, the founder and editor in chief of the business weekly "Respublika," which exposes government corruption and malfeasance, has been subjected to "grisly death threats," criminal charges, and Molotov cocktails that burned "Respublika's" office to the ground. The CPJ award will be presented on 26 November. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 22 October)
LIVE ELECTION EVE BROADCAST ON KOSOVA TV.
Voters from across Kosova have a chance on 23 October to pose questions to top OSCE officials about the 2002 municipal elections during a special live edition of "Camera on Election." The show will be aired on Friday, 25 October, between 9:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. on RTK. Elections Director Susan Carnduff and Associate Elections Director Gazmend Kelmendi will be among the guests to appear on the program. "Camera on Election" is an important component of the OSCE's public information campaign for the 2002 municipal elections. Each week, the show educates viewers about the democratic process and municipal structures, covering issues ranging from political-party campaigns to women's participation in government. "Camera on Election" is a co-production of the OSCE and RTK, and is hosted by Blerim Haxhiaj. (OSCE, 22 October)
PRESIDENT STUMPS FOR NEW HIGH-TECH INSTITUTION.
President Valdas Adamkus told an information-technology (IT) conference on 21 October that while he is glad computer literacy in Lithuania is improving, there is a clear need to establish an institution to coordinate IT activities among state institutions, ELTA reported. Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, noted that EU membership would open new opportunities to attract IT investments to Lithuania. The head of the European Commission's delegation in Lithuania, Michael Graham, told the conference that Lithuania still has problems organizing EU-funded projects, and that although the state has accomplished much in the IT field, nontransparent services-procurement tenders have raised doubts about the effective use of EU funds. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October)
UNWARRANTED 'ACCENT' ON BRIBES?
The Chisinau police detained Sergiu Afanasiu, director of the weekly "Accent," on bribery charges which journalists claim are false. In early October, a local court issued an order authorizing Afanasiu's arrest for 15 days; on 17 October, the Chisinau appeals court refused to release the journalist. According to the weekly's Editor in Chief Aneta Grosu, the police acting without a search warrant, seized the editorial board's database and sealed its offices. The Union of Journalists of Moldova expressed deep concern over the illegal police action that resulted in the weekly's suspension of its operations. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)
POLITKOVSKAYA ASKED TO ASSIST IN MOSCOW HOSTAGE-CRISIS NEGOTIATIONS.
Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist with the paper "Novaya gazeta," scheduled to receive one of three Courage in Journalism Awards from the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in Los Angeles on 24 October, flew home to Moscow to help in negotiations with Chechen rebels who are holding up to 700 hostages in a Moscow theater. Late on 23 October, Politkovskaya received word that the hostage takers had requested her participation in negotiations and she left Los Angeles early on 24 October. She asked that the following message be read to the IWMF's supporters: "Dear friends! I want to thank you once again. It is a great honor for me to receive the Courage in Journalism Award. However -- and I think you will agree with me -- it is an even greater honor for me to respond when destiny offers the opportunity to help people when a crisis strikes. There's a major tragedy unfolding in Russia today, and those circumstances require that it is today -- and not a day later -- that I need to prove that I indeed have courage. I have always believed that Russian journalism, first and foremost, is the journalism of action. The journalism of taking the step that you simply must take. Please pray for us, those who are directly affected by this crisis. And of course, say a prayer for me. I am ever more convinced that the war in Chechnya must be brought to an end. And today, the time has come for me to appeal to President [George W.] Bush and plead with him to use his influence on President [Vladimir] Putin to stop the bloodshed in Chechnya, and to prevent it in Moscow." CCDUMA TOUGHENS RESTRICTION ON MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORISM.
On 23 October, deputies passed in their second reading amendments to the laws on mass media and on the struggle against terrorism, Russian agencies reported. The vote was 259 in favor, with 34 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, the mass media would be forbidden to publicize statements by persons hindering antiterrorism operations or any kind of information about counterterrorism operations. According to polit.ru, supporters of the bill say it will discipline the media, while opponents believe it will constitute a new means for authorities to pressure the press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TURNS TABLES ON WALKING TOGETHER.
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, speaking before the Duma on 23 October, said his office will look into the activities of the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, ntvru.com reported. Ustinov said the inquiry will study whether there have been manifestations of "extremism" in the group's programs. In July, prosecutors filed criminal pornography charges against writer Vladimir Sorokin based on requests from Walking Together for an investigation. Furthermore, Ustinov said the government is not yet doing enough to combat extremism. "Society has not yet developed a solid negative attitude toward extremism and does not yet fully recognize its danger," Ustinov said. "The state system does not yet effectively combat extremism." He added that one shortcoming of the state's efforts is its insufficient control over the print media. He said that 1,600 periodicals are published in Russia, but only 60 percent of them regularly send copies to the Media Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)KREMLIN OFFICIALS PLEDGE TO FIGHT XENOPHOBIC VIEWS.
On 16 October, Moscow Human Rights Bureau Director Aleksandr Brod was invited for a meeting with the Public Relations and Humanitarian Policy Department of the presidential administration. Officials from the department had studied the bureau's report on "Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia's Regions in 2000." In his discussion, Brod emphasized that law enforcement authorities often fail to properly respond to xenophobia and are very reluctant to open criminal cases on provoking interethnic discord. Hundreds of fascist publications are freely circulated in most Russian regions, and the regional executive leaders do not protest the increase in xenophobic attitudes. Senior department official A. Ignatenko told Brod that President Putin's position on xenophobia and anti-Semitism is clear: this phenomenon must be mercilessly fought by force of law. Recently, Putin urged Prosecutor-General Ustinov to become more active in deploying the anti-extremism law. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 14-20 October)THE GENERAL LI(N)E?
Russian media analyst Oleg Panfilov, writing in "The Moscow Times" on 17 October asserts that the Russian press has repeatedly "published information calculated to convince the public that Russia bears no blame for its various military conflicts." For sources, such stories usually refer, according to Panfilov, to the ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti, and Interfax news agencies and the "informed source" is "often played by presidential assistant Sergei Yastrzhembskii and the spokesman for Russian forces in Chechnya, [Federal Security Service] FSB Colonel Ilya Shabalkin." Panfilov cites several incidents, such as the thwarting of a supposed planned kidnapping of journalists from Ren TV, "a way for the army brass in Chechnya to frighten journalists" out of trying to get the real story on the war. Panfilov says the army "offers only its own and often absurd version of events" in Chechnya. According to Panfilov, the "Kursk" tragedy and the ensuing censorship marked the start of "a new era in government-press relations: Most news coverage of the 'Kursk' relied on anonymous sources or named military officials who were lying through their teeth, [and] authorities brought pressure to bear on those newspapers that questioned the official line." Reporters are the "real losers," Panfilov writes, since "some believe they have no choice but to bend to the military's will [and] most believe that lies are now the only source of information available." According to Panfilov, "the best way to find out what's really going on is to tune into foreign radio stations [since] the government hasn't started jamming them yet." CCPUBLIC GIVES PASSING GRADES TO MEDIA MINISTRY.
Forty-seven percent of Russians are pleased with the work of the Media Ministry, while only 21 percent are dissatisfied, RosBalt reported on 20 October, citing a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation. According to the poll, 21 percent are satisfied with "the quantity and quality of information they receive," and 17 percent credit the ministry for the "abundance of books, newspapers, and magazines" in the country. Five percent praise the ministry because media information "has become more interesting" and 3 percent credit the ministry for improving the work of the postal system. Among those who think the ministry needs improvement, 15 percent are dismayed by the glorification of violence and by low grammatical standards in the media. Two percent complained about too much advertising in the media, and 1 percent blamed the ministry because the media have "sold out." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October)MOSCOW IS TIRED OF SEX, VIOLENCE ON TELEVISION...
Municipal authorities in Moscow have appealed to the Duma, the government, and President Putin to restrict the number of television programs that are having a negative influence on young people, lenta.ru reported on 23 October. Education Department Chairwoman Lyubov Kezina declared that contemporary television is "enemy No. 1 for teenagers." The city government sharply criticized the programming on all the national television channels, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was quoted as saying, "Television, like our society in general, tends toward extremes." "Our proposals have nothing to do with limiting the activities of journalists," Luzhkov said. "But freedom of speech must be accompanied by an acknowledgment that society cannot be suffused in murder, sadism, and sex." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)...AND KARELIA WANTS MORE GOOD NEWS.
More than 1,000 residents of the Karelian city of Segezha have signed a petition to the State Duma demanding legislators ban violent or pornographic films and programs on television, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October. The Karelian legislative assembly has expressed support for the demand and added that television news programming should reduce coverage of crimes and disasters and broadcast more news about economic progress in the country instead. The body has formed a working group to draft amendments to the federal mass-media law to be forwarded to the Duma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)BETTER PUBLIC INTERNET ACCESS SOON?
Russia's Communications and IT Ministry plans to increase the number of public-access Internet outlets in Russia's 40,000 post offices from 2,200 to 3,000 by late 2002, First Deputy Minister Aleksandr Kiselev said on 23 October, Prime-TASS reported. During 2003, Kiselev added, the ministry hoped that the Russian state would provide some 5,000-7,000 public-access Internet outlets. Last year, the Federal Postal Service invested some 40 million rubles ($1.26 million) to set up Internet outlets. Compared to last year, the number of regular Internet users in Russia is supposed to almost double to 8 million by the end of 2002. CCVYMPELCOM PURSUES REGIONAL EXPANSION.
In a move calculated to forestall major competitors, Moscow-based VimpelCom is expanding its Bee Line GSM network to Krasnoyarsk Krai in Siberia, gazeta.ru reported on 15 October. Bee Line GSM will initially be in competition with two regional operators, EniseiTelecom and SibChallenge, who together have some 100,000 subscribers. Experts see excellent growth potential in an area that could boast up to 1 million cellular customers, "Vedomosti" reported on 16 October, although VimpelCom competitor MTS may join the fray by acquiring a local operator. VimpelCom Vice President Nikolai Pryanishnikov touted the company's yearlong program of regional expansion in a 15 October press release, saying that, "Krasnoyarsk is the 34th region in the Bee Line GSM unified network, which the company began expanding actively a little more than a year ago." ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 22 October)DOT-COM TROUBLES OUTSIDE MOSCOW.
U.S.-financed broadband network operator PentaCom has gone into an American-style, dot-com tailspin, "Vedomosti" reported on 17 October. The company, which planned to provide high-speed Internet access to the Moscow suburbs, failed to attract $250 million in investment needed for further development and is now embroiled in a lawsuit over unpaid back wages. According to its 2001 report, the U.S. Russia Investment Fund, which received $440 million from the U.S. government to "make equity capital...available to private businesses operating in Russia," sank $5 million into PentaCom in 2001. For his part, U.S. Russia Investment Fund President David Jones asserts that the fund is working "with other investors and company management" to rescue the ailing venture. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 22 October)U.S. HIGH-TECH FUND MULLS RUSSIA INVESTMENT.
California venture fund Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) plans to invest as much as $100 million in Russian high-tech start-ups, "The Moscow Times" reported on 14 October. DFJ, which currently manages a portfolio of some $3 billion, played a role in the early days of current high-tech high rollers Hotmail and Yahoo!. Tim Draper, DFJ's founder and managing director, told reporters in Moscow that he sees "globally successful companies comparable with Microsoft or Intel coming out of Russia in the next two to three years." DFJ's plans to expand to the Russian market, however, come against a backdrop of shrinking tech-sector opportunities on its home turf. Industry tracker "TheDeal" (http://www.thedeal.com) noted on 11 October that a recent report by Milan-based CDB Web Tech SpA listed DFJ as one of 11 out of 54 venture funds whose write-offs exceeded new investments in 2001. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 22 October)
DOES GOVERNMENT PROMOTE COMPLIANT TV STATIONS?
According to Serbian journalist Milanka Saponja Hadzic, press outlets close to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic have led a campaign against Serbia's leading independent radio and TV station B92. In mid-September, pro-government private TV stations BK and Pink gave prominent coverage to accusations that Radio Television B92 management was privatizing the company without informing its staff. Last week, Hadzic reports, Belgrade media outlets received unsigned letters allegedly written by anonymous B92 employees accusing management of abuse of the company's privatization process. These charges were again prominently publicized by TV stations BK and Pink. On 4 October, hundreds of posters suddenly appeared in Belgrade with a picture of B92 Editor Veran Matic along with the B92 logo and the caption "Caught Stealing." Matic dismissed these claims, and the minutes of a station staff meeting show that most staffers agreed with the management's privatization plan, Hadzic writes. Matic charged the Serbian authorities with attempting to prevent B92 TV from getting nationwide broadcast outreach. Under American pressure, two months ago B92 was allocated temporary frequencies, with the result that the station now reaches 55 percent of the country's territory. In contrast, TV Pink and BK Television, which reach 90 percent of Yugoslav territory and garner major profits from ad revenues, first were loyal to President Slobodan Milosevic and now, according to Hadzic, have switched allegiance to the new Serbian government. (email@example.com, 8 October)
JOURNALISTS IN VARIOUS AREAS PROTEST CENSORSHIP.
On 17 October, in Kirovohrad, journalists, including some from the state media, picketed the oblast administration building to demand an end to pressure on the media. In Zhytomyr, the official oblast TV and radio company gave local opposition leaders air time, but only after the TV center was picketed three times. While national officials discuss political censorship, local authorities restrict freedom of speech on an ever-larger scale, parliamentary Freedom of Speech and Information Committee Chairman Mykola Tomenko said on 18 October. He called on the authorities in Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk, and Poltava oblasts to end confrontation with journalists. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)COUNCIL OF EUROPE WANTS TO SEE FOR ITSELF ON CENSORSHIP.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteurs Hanne Severinsen and Renata Wohlwend expressed concern over reports of censorship in Ukraine. On 16 October, Severinsen proposed that the European Union can analyze Ukrainian TV programs to judge for itself the validity of journalists' claims about a list of recommended issues. PACE's monitoring committee will ask that Ukrainian authorities take into account journalists' views, she insisted. Serhiy Vasilev, head of the Information Policy Division in the presidential administration, said that his agency is willing to assist PACE in monitoring. His division monitors over 1,500 media outlets throughout Ukraine on a daily basis and collects absolutely unbiased information which can be made available to PACE experts, he said. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)PROTESTING JOURNALISTS TO SET UP NEW SATELLITE TV STATION.
Former STB anchor Roman Skrypin, as well as Ondriy Shevchenko and Yevhen Glybovitskiy, have decided to set up a new satellite channel. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)PROSECUTOR-GENERAL FAILS TO HALT CASE AGAINST KUCHMA.
The Supreme Court on 22 October rejected an appeal by Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun to rule the criminal case initiated against President Leonid Kuchma earlier this month illegal, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. On 15 October, Kyiv Court of Appeals Judge Yuriy Vasylenko opened the case against Kuchma in which the president is charged with violating 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Piskun argued that the constitution grants Kuchma prosecutorial immunity, but the Supreme Court sent his appeal to the Court of Appeals, which is expected to proceed with the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)LAWMAKERS DECIDE TO DISCUSS FREEDOM OF SPEECH, CENSORSHIP.
The Verkhovna Rada on 24 October decided to hold a hearing on the freedom of speech and censorship in Ukraine on 4 December, UNIAN reported. The motion was supported by 294 of the 428 deputies registered for the session. The parliamentary caucuses of Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not participate in the voting, having announced that they will resume voting only after the parliament passes a resolution prohibiting deputies from voting for absent colleagues. The opposition has formerly charged that majority deputies resort to such tricks to ensure the minimum 226 votes needed to pass bills and most resolutions in the Verkhovna Rada. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)TAXING CASE PAPERED OVER.
The Kyiv tax police closed its criminal case against the paper "Selskie Vesti" 30 months ago, but still have not paid back most of the 3 million hryvnas ($566,000) it withdrew from the paper's bank account. The paper was accused of failing to pay taxes, but journalists believe that the tax police were following a political order "to strangle the paper by economic methods." At 525,000, the paper has the country's largest newspaper circulation. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)
FIRST PUBLIC PROTEST OVER OFFICIAL MEDIA.
On 14 October, at least 10 people picketed the Oltyaryk District Court building in the Ferghana region to protest continuing human rights abuses by the regional authorities, police, and the judiciary. Some picketers also protested unethical activities of the Uzbek state-run media. This was the first collective protest staged by the country's citizens against state-media journalists. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)'FREE VOICE' ESTABLISHED.
Bukhara dissident poet Yusuf Dzhumaev, poetess and journalist Gulchekhra Nurullaeva and freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev set up a new independent nonprofit organization, Ovod Ovoz (Free Voice), in Tashkent on 14 October. The organization's declared goal is work for democratization of society and above all, defense of freedom of speech. Special service officials showed a lively curiosity about the new organization. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 14-20 October)
'CROSSROADS' IS PRIZE WINNER.
Internews's weekly TV show "Crossroads" was awarded two prizes at the Eurasian Television Forum in Moscow. "Crossroads" is the only television program offering weekly news and features from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia and is broadcast by more than 50 independent TV stations. For more, see http://www.internews.az.
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING IN RUSSIA.
The book "Public Service Broadcasting in Russia: a Framework for Action" has been published in Russian, with the following chapters: Why Russia needs Public Service Broadcasting, The European experience of the creation and functioning of Public Service Broadcasting, The Legal Basis, From Television for the Authorities to Television for Society, and Public Service Broadcasting and Civil Society Programming Policy for Russian Public Service Broadcasting Financing To receive a copy, contact Ljudmila von Berg of the European Institute for the Media at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dmitrii Kortunov at the European Institute for the Media office in Moscow at email@example.com or see http://www.eim.org.
NEW REPORT FINDS PRESS FREEDOMS UNDER ATTACK ALMOST EVERYWHERE
By Antoine Blua
The French media watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders has released its first worldwide index of countries according to their respect for press freedom. The index is a portrait of the situation based on events occurring between September 2001 and October 2002.
The index was compiled by asking journalists, researchers, and legal experts to answer 50 questions concerning a range of press-freedom issues, such as the arrest or murder of journalists, censorship, state monopolies, and the severity of punishment for violating press laws.
The report -- which includes 139 countries -- finds that press freedom is under threat everywhere, with the 20 lowest-ranked countries drawn from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe.
But the situation is especially acute in Asia, which contains the five worst offenders -- Bhutan, Turkmenistan, Burma, China, and, in last place, North Korea. In these states, the report says, press freedom is a nonissue and independent newspapers do not exist.
In the former Soviet republics, the report notes that it is still difficult to work as a journalist, and that several have been murdered or imprisoned. In Europe, Russia and Belarus rank 121st and 124th, respectively.
Soria Blatmann of Reporters Without Borders in Paris is responsible for Europe. She tells RFE/RL that the rankings of the Central Asian countries contain few surprises. "In Central Asia, we have little information about the situation of press freedom. I am particularly referring to Turkmenistan, which has a very, very poor ranking (136th out of 139), and which represents for us the black hole of information in Central Asia. Information and press freedom is totally nonexistent [in Turkmenistan], and we have no information concerning the fate of journalists in this country."
Uzbekistan ranks 120th, despite the government's decision to officially end state censorship in May with the dismissal of Erkin Komilov, who headed Uzbekistan's agency for protecting state secrets. Self-censorship among journalists in Uzbekistan remains high, however, and newspaper editors are appointed by the government of President Islam Karimov.
Blatmann notes that Kazakhstan -- ranked 116th -- has witnessed an increase in the number of attacks against journalists, while reporters working in Kyrgyzstan -- ranked 98th -- also face the danger of physical attacks.
Sergei Duvanov, a Kazakh journalist who writes for opposition-financed Internet sites, was seriously beaten in late August by unknown assailants. His colleagues say the attack was an act of revenge for Duvanov's critical articles. In July, a criminal case was brought against him for "infringing the honor and dignity of the president."
In Kyrgyzstan, press-freedom supporters complain that President Askar Akaev has used the threat of international terrorism as an excuse to suppress the independent and opposition media. In addition, they say courts frequently issue damage awards in politically motivated libel suits, that the state publishing house has refused to print several newspapers that have been critical of Akaev, and that officials have canceled the licenses of several independent papers.
In Tajikistan -- which is ranked 86th, leading all of its Central Asian neighbors -- Blatmann says an independent press exists but that press freedom is not respected. "Tajikistan is relatively badly ranked because authorities -- according to the questionnaire we have prepared -- are totally controlling the printing and editing capabilities. Violations of press laws are considered penal infractions. Defamation, for instance, is sanctioned by prison penalties from two to five years if it concerns the head of state."
Observers have welcomed two positive steps toward more press freedom in Tajikistan. Last month, the independent Tajik news agency Asia-Plus received a radio license, becoming the first private broadcaster to serve the capital, Dushanbe. In July, Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General's Office dropped its criminal case against Dodojon Atovullo, the editor and publisher of the Russian-language newspaper "Chroghi Ruz." He had been accused of insulting President Imomali Rakhmonov and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred, among other charges.
The freest press in the world is in Northern Europe -- Finland, Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands, all of which are tied for first place -- countries where the report says press freedom is "scrupulously" respected.
Blatmann of Reporters Without Borders notes, however, that the ranking contains some surprises for Western democracies. The 15 member countries of the European Union all score well in the survey except for Italy, ranked 40th, and where it finds that news diversity is under "serious threat."
Blatmann says, "Even in the European Union, we have noted violations of press freedom. So it does not only occur in countries where we already knew there have been violations, but also in unexpected places such as Italy, where pluralism of information is being threatened. And particularly since 11 September, there have been a lot of problems concerning the protection of [journalists'] sources in the European Union, for instance."
In Italy, the report finds that Silvio Berlusconi -- who continues to combine his job as prime minister with running a privately owned media group -- is turning up the heat on state-owned television stations and has named what the report calls his "henchmen" to help run them.
Furthermore, the ranking shows that rich countries do not have a monopoly on press freedom. Benin in Africa -- ranked 21st -- and Costa Rica in Central America -- ranked 15th -- are examples of how the growth of a free press does not depend on a country's material prosperity. The United Nations Development Program classifies Benin as one of the world's 15 poorest countries. Costa Rica, besides being traditionally the continent's best performer in terms of press freedom, earlier this year stopped giving prison sentences to those found guilty of insulting public officials.
Surprisingly, the United States -- at 17th -- ranks below Costa Rica because of the number of journalists arrested or imprisoned there.
Regis Bourgeat is responsible for North and South America at Reporters Without Borders. He tells RFE/RL that imprisonment of journalists in the United States often occurs because they refuse to reveal their sources in court cases. He also says that since the 11 September attacks, several journalists in the U.S. have been arrested for violating security boundaries. "We have registered attacks against press freedom in relation with post-11 September. First of all, security services have perhaps become more nervous in the United States. We have one or two cases of journalists who have been questioned because they were more or less in a security area, despite the fact that they had all the required accreditation. We believe that this situation would not have happened prior to 11 September. There is also the fact that since 11 September, [the U.S.] has adopted a certain number of laws aimed at controlling the circulation of information on the Internet."
Some countries with democratically elected governments still find themselves ranked far down on the index -- such as Colombia at 114 and Bangladesh at 118. The report finds that in these countries, armed rebel movements, militias, or political parties constantly endanger the lives of journalists -- and that the state has failed to make efforts to protect them.
The report also does not list a single Arab country among the top 50. For example, in Iraq -- ranked 130th -- and Syria -- ranked 126th -- the state uses every means to control the media and "stifle" dissenting voices.
In the West Bank and Gaza, Reporters Without Borders has recorded a "large number of violations" of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees press freedom, and which Israel -- ranked 92nd -- has signed. (The complete report can be found on the Internet at http://www.rsf.org.)
Antoine Blua is an RFE/RL correspondent.