Accessibility links

Breaking News

Media Matters: February 16, 2001

16 February 2001, Volume 1, Number 2
JOURNALIST BEATEN AT INTERIOR MINISTRY. On 16 January, the guard at the entrance to the Interior Ministry in Minsk beat journalist Valery Shchukin as he tried to enter the building to go to a press conference. Major Bykov, of the Ministry of Interior press service, told Shchukin that state-owned media had been informed of the press conference and that only journalists with prior accreditation would be admitted. Although Shchukin showed his journalist's card, he was detained and three guards -- headed by Captain Lyalin -- threw him to the floor and held back his arms. The reporter was badly cut by a glass door broken in the scuffle. An ambulance arrived 20 minutes later -- called by other reporters -- while Shchukin lay bleeding on the floor, with his arms still being held down by the guards. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

LAWSUIT BROUGHT AGAINST PAPER. The Prosecutor's Office brought a lawsuit on 17 January against the "Nasha Svoboda" daily on charges of slander against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka; the case is based on a 12 January article on a psychiatrist's "remote psychiatric expertise" of Lukashenka concluding that he suffers from a chronic mental disturbance. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

NEWSPAPER GIVEN OFFICIAL WARNING. On 31 January, the "Brestsky Kurier" weekly was warned by the State Committee on the Press that it had violated the media law, due to an article, 'If the capital only knew," in its November 23-29, 2000 issue. The article highlighted the activities of the "Regional Belarus" Coordination Council. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

RADIO JOURNALISTS SHUT OUT CHIEF. Several dozen journalists working for the Bulgarian state radio prevented new director Ivan Borislavov from entering the building on 8 February, Reuters reported. Also on 8 February, the Promyana trade union, which is the country's largest, said the decision by the National Radio and Television Council to appoint Borislavov was "obviously based on pre-electoral considerations rather than professional competence." It is expected that the radio will play an important role in the parliamentary and presidential elections due later this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

A CALL FOR 'URGENT REFORMS IN TELEVISION.' The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' group, on 7 February called for urgent reforms in public broadcasting after six weeks of turmoil at Czech Television. In a 20-page report, "Striking News: Czech Television and the Struggle for Public Broadcasting," the IFJ says that the strike by journalists and media staff, which led to massive public demonstrations and political confrontation, emerged from attitudes deeply-rooted in notions of "authority and control over information that have no place in modern democratic society." The IFJ concludes that the battle for control of the Czech TV extends beyond local political infighting: "It reflects a malaise widespread in the region [Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria]: a growing crisis of confidence in public media because, in spite of superficial changes in rules, old-style interference by the political elite, sustained by passivity on the part of journalists, continues to prevail." The report is available at or:

TV STRIKE ENDS. Czech Television journalists ended their labor action on 10 February after meeting one day earlier with Interim Manager Jiri Balvin. Balvin said he does not "intend to differentiate" between journalists who joined the strike and those who did not and that he expects the management appointed by his predecessor, Jiri Hodac, to resign. Hours later it was announced that Interim-Director Vera Valterova, News Director Jana Bobosikova, and Finance Director Jindrich Beznoska had been removed from their posts. Balvin said that their "further employment by Czech Television is a matter for negotiation." Czech President Vaclav Havel said the first decisions taken by the interim manager "seem to be sensible," CTK reported. On 11 February, Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus criticized Balvin on Nova Television for having negotiated with the strikers before they ended the sanctions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

FIRST ROMANY RADIO TO GO LIVE. Hungary's first independent Romany radio station, called Radio C, began broadcasting on 12 February. The radio, based in the capital Budapest, hopes to reach the 100,000-strong Romany community in and around Budapest. Hungarian television said Radio C has recruited an initial staff of 40 young Roma who say they want to make their community life more "livable." They offer a range of documentary and informative programs. Radio C has been set up with the help of the European Union's Eastern European Reconstruction Fund. The Hungarian Independent Media Center and the Roma Press Center have also organized free journalist courses for young Roma. (MINELRES, 10 February)

'21 VEK' NEWSPAPER FACES NEW CHARGES. RFE/RL reports that the Almaty district prosecutor has filed a new suit against "21 Vek" newspaper for "insulting the dignity and honor of President Nursultan Nazarbaev." Another opposition newspaper, "SolDat," faced trial on 8 February on the same accusations. In January, "21 Vek" was found guilty of printing "false materials harming the interests and honor of Sakharniy Tsentr Company of Almaty," a company controlled by Nazarbayev's son-in-law, and "21 Vek" was ordered to pay a fine of 5 million tenges ($34,482). Bigeldy Gabdullin, "21 Vek" editor in chief, told RFE/RL on 9 February that charges against his periodical were politically motivated and should be seen as an "attack against press freedom." (RFE/RL Kazakh News, 9 February)

PARTY'S MEDIA SPENDING TO BE CHECKED. The CEC on 7 February decided to ask the Chief Tax Inspectorate to investigate how the National Liberal Party (PNL) is using funds from its electoral campaign budget. Mihai Busuleac, a commission member, was quoted by Infotag as saying the private Catalan TV company, which is backing the PNL, is providing "fairly expensive gifts" on that party's behalf. The law stipulates that no formation can spend more than 1 million lei (about $79,000) for this purpose and no funding is permitted from other sources. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

ELECTION COVERAGE TO BE MONITORED. The League for the Protection of Human Rights in Moldova, the Moldovan Journalists' Union, and the Association of Independent Press (API), will monitor media coverage of this year's election campaign. International monitoring teams include representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Media Institute. (BASA-Press, IJC, 6 February)

...WHILE POLITICAL PARTY COMPLAINS OF POLL COVERAGE. The Christian Democratic Popular Party have complained to the Coordinating Council on Broadcasting and the Central Electoral Commission claiming frequent violations of campaign coverage regulations. (AP FLUX, BASA-Press, 3 February)

NATIONAL TV ACCUSED OF ETHICS VIOLATIONS. The Chisinau chief prosecutor Ion Diacov has accused Moldovan National Television of biased coverage of a recent meeting of law enforcement officials. The prosecutor's office released a statement shortly after a report was aired in the "Mesager" evening news program saying that the broadcast was skewed in favor of the police. At the meeting, Diacov accused some police of protecting criminals. The statement claims the meeting tape was "doctored" on orders from the National TV and Radio Company general manager, who is running in this year's general elections on the Communist Party ticket. (Moldpres, Curier Media, 8 February)

REGIONAL AUTHORITIES IMPLEMENT ACCESS TO INFORMATION LAW. Authorities in the northern city of Balti have adopted a set of regulations aimed at easing local people's access to information. Under the new regulations, all decisions issued by the Balti mayor's office will be made available in the city public library. (DECA Pres, Curier Media, 8 February)

JOURNALISM COMPETITION ENDS. An awards ceremony in Chisinau marked the end of a two-year competition among Moldovan journalists for best coverage of agricultural articles. Fifteen journalists have received prizes ranging between $25 and $75 for materials published or broadcast in the last three months of 2000 in the seventh phase of the competition. The program was organized by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), the Guild of Agrarian Journalists, the Association of Economic Journalists, and the Independent Press, and funded by the "TACIS AgroInform" and "Pamint" programs. (Independent Journalism Center, 31 January)

EUROPEAN ORGANIZATION INVITES MOLDOVA. As of 1 February, the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) is open to media professionals from Moldova. SEEMO, which currently has nine members, is a non-governmental, non-profit organization created in the fall of 2000 as an affiliate of the Vienna-based International Press Institute. It aims to protect and further the freedom of the press and improve the standards and practices of journalism in the region. (Independent Journalism Center, 9 February)

FORMER SECURITATE OFFICIAL APPOINTED CHAIRMAN OF KEY PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION. Party of Social Democracy in Romania deputy Hristea Priboi, elected on 7 February as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service, is a former high official of the Securitate, the daily "Ziua" writes on 9 February. The daily says that Priboi was deputy director of the secret police's Foreign Intelligence Directorate and was in charge of launching intimidation attempts and ordering physical attacks on journalists working for the previously Munich-based Radio Free Europe. According to "Ziua," Priboi is "blacklisted" by all Western intelligence service and his election as the commission's chairman "sends a catastrophic message to NATO and the EU." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

GUSINSKY IMAGINES PUTIN WATCHING NTV... "Every day Putin sees [on NTV] how people are freezing in the Far East, and he can't do anything. Every day he sees how people are dying in Chechnya, and he can't do a thing. And every day, everyone sees that he lied." ("The Los Angeles Times," 10 February)

...WHILE KREMLIN ORDERS TV BOSSES EVERY WEEK? Putin's chief of administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, meets every Wednesday with the heads of national TV networks except NTV, according to "The Los Angeles Times." Former ORT news anchorman Sergei Dorenko -- fired last year -- said Voloshin gives TV bosses "strict and clear-cut instructions as to how they ought to work, and how they ought to interpret each particular news event in their news programs," the paper reports. ("Los Angeles Times," 10 February)

PUTIN CONTROLS THE MEDIA? In Soviet times, the "Independent" observes, the "party would punish journalists who dared to disagree with it by withdrawal of privileges, by dismissal and by disgrace," while President Putin "prefers the more modern techniques of financial pressure, legal harassment and gilded exile." "Like the tsars and general secretaries before him, President Vladimir Putin is making sure that the Kremlin controls the press -- all of it," the paper opines. ("The Independent (UK)," 2 February)

SHABDURASUDOV SAYS RUSSIA NOW HAS NO INDEPENDENT MEDIA. Former ORT General Director Igor Shabdurasudov said in an interview published in "Vek" on 8 February that "there are now no mass media outlets which can say about themselves that they are independent, that they don't need the money of others; that no one supports them, that they earn their own way," Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

PROSECUTORS SEARCH MEDIA OFFICES. Prosecutors on 6 February conducted searches at Media-MOST, TNT, and a bank holding Media-MOST accounts, Russian agencies said. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said on ORT that his investigation of these media outlets is not about politics. "I investigate criminal cases," Kolmogorov said, adding that "there are no political cases here in Russia -- that's stated by federal law." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

BEREZOVSKY'S NTV BAILOUT PLAN MET WITH SKEPTICISM. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told Interfax on 8 February that Boris Berezovsky's offer to bail out NTV with new loans, an offer he explained in an open letter published in "Kommersant-Daily," are unlikely to work out. But NTV general director Yevgenii Kiselev told that paper that he would rather work with Berezovsky than with others who have been named as possible buyers. Meanwhile, prosecutors staged another raid on the Image Bank where NTV and other media groups under investigation have kept most of their money, Russian agencies reported on 8 February. That raid was criticized on the same day by the U.S. State Department, Reuters reported. Gazprom-Media and NTV disagreed as to whether the station was making a profit, Russian agencies said. And prosecutors told Interfax that they may soon summon Berezovsky to testify in the Aeroflot corruption case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

ORT STAKE RESOLD TO PRIVATE COMPANIES. Media Minister Lesin told Interfax on 8 February that "the companies that owned the shares [in ORT] have sold them to other companies" and that "Roman Abramovich is not a member of those companies." What is important, Lesin said, is that the stake once owned by media magnate Boris Berezovsky is not owned by the state but by private shareholders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

STRUGGLE OVER MEDIA CONTINUES. Prosecutors on 12 February continued their search of the accounting office of Media-MOST, Interfax reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said that the Swiss have not provided Moscow with materials concerning the cases of Borodin and others, the news service reported the same day. Kolmogorov added that the investigation of the case of Gusinsky, head of the Media-MOST empire, will continue. Meanwhile, Gusinsky was quoted in London's "Financial Times" as saying that he will block the efforts of Gazprom to replace the leadership of NTV at a 12 March corporate meeting in Gibraltar. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)

MOSCOW SEEKS TO REPLACE LUKASHENKA PARTLY VIA MEDIA? "Kommersant-Vlast," no. 5, said that Moscow is seeking to replace Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has already interviewed possible replacements, and will impose its choice through the use of its overwhelming dominance of the electronic media environment in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

DEPUTIES VOTE TO CUT TELEVISION AD REVENUE. The Duma passed on 8 February two bills in the first reading that would amend different articles of the law on advertising. Deputies approved a bill proffered by the legislative assembly of Tatarstan that bans the advertising of tobacco products in places where they are sold, print media, on billboards, and in public transport, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 February. The bill was approved with 258 votes in favor, 75 against and one abstention, according to ITAR-TASS. Duma deputies also approved on the same day another bill that would amend the law on advertising by reducing or barring commercial breaks during movies, religious broadcasts, some live public events, and educational and children's programs on television. Under the bill, programs between 30 minutes to an hour would have no more than 2 breaks for commercials, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." That vote was 275 in favor, with 73 against. Before the vote, the presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov spoke out against modifying the advertising law as did Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii, who warned that the measure would make television channels even more dependent on state subsidies by cutting their advertising revenues. ("RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 February)

PEOPLE POLLED SEE FOREIGN PRESS 'MORE OBJECTIVE.' Sixty percent of those surveyed last week in a radio Ekho Moskvy telephone poll believe that the foreign press covers events in Russia more objectively than Russian journalists do, while 40 percent felt the opposite, reports "The Moscow Times." ("The Moscow Times," 13 February)

RFE/RL PLANS BROADCASTS TO NORTH CAUCASUS... RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine announced on 8 February that RFE/RL has begun the planning process for broadcasts in Avar, Chechen, and Circassian to the peoples who speak those languages in the North Caucasus. Dine pointed out that RFE/RL has taken this step in response to a Congressional mandate in Public Law 106-553, which was passed and signed into law at the end of last year. So far, he said, no separate funds have been appropriated. Planning for new broadcasts is always a complicated task, Dine said, noting that RFE/RL managers and staff are currently involved in intensive discussions on how to set up such broadcasts, how to hire staff, and how to reach this new audience. Many of these peoples, Dine said, are already familiar with RFE/RL because of its broadcasts in the Russian language, but like the other nations to whom the station broadcasts, many of them clearly prefer to receive news and information in their own languages. Dine said that no date has been set for the launch of broadcasts in these three languages. He concluded by pointing out that these broadcasts, like all those by RFE/RL, will carry objective and balanced news and information. "Having access to such information," the RFE/RL president said, "is the foundation for building a free and democratic society." (RFE/RL Press Release, 8 February)

...AS MEDIA MINISTER CRITICIZES RFE/RL PLANS. Media Minister Lesin said on 8 February that what he called RFE/RL's plan to broadcast in Chechen and other languages of the North Caucasus is a mistake and "very improper," Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that "this action pursues fairly serious political goals" and warned that Moscow "will follow the situation and the observance of [Russian] legislation by Radio Liberty," adding that "if the radio station commits any legal offenses, appropriate steps will be taken." Lesin added that "this is a challenge, albeit a minor one. One cannot understand why it is needed." The same day, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi expressed doubts in an interview with Interfax that RFE/RL broadcasts in Chechen, Avar, and other North Caucasus languages will stabilize the situation there. Meanwhile, People's Deputy group leader in the Duma, Gennadii Raikov, said also on 8 February that President Vladimir Putin had rejected suggestions that there was no media freedom in Russia, Interfax reported. Raikov cited Putin as saying that Western mass media, including Radio Liberty, enjoy, in the words of Interfax, "absolute freedom in this country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

MATERIALS ON 'CHECHEN MILITANTS' SHOULD BE BANNED FROM PRESS. On 31 January, a member of the Duma's Committee on Information Policy, declared there could be no excuse for publishing items "which in fact encourage Chechen militants." The press service of the Unity faction advised journalists that its deputy had made an appeal to the Ministry for Press, Broadcasting, and Mass Media, asking Minister Lesin "to take expedient measures to prevent Russian media from publishing such materials in the future." The publications in question were an interview given by Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov to "Kommersant-Daily," published on 27 January, and an item that appeared in on 26 January. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

UPBEAT SCRIPT HAS GUARANTEED FUTURE. The Union of Rightist Forces has put up $120,000 as prize money for a film and TV script contest which should show Russia in a positive light. Daniil Dondurei, editor of the film journal "Iskusstvo kino," will head the selection committee. The winner will get a prize of $20,000 plus a production guarantee. The Ministry of Culture, which controls state film funding, will back the winning feature film, while state TV Channel 2 RTR will broadcast the winner. And the main idea is to reward writers to move beyond what's known as "chernukha," a darker, crime-driven genre. ("Variety," 1 February)

SHOTS FIRED AT EDITOR'S APARTMENT. On 11 January, in the town of Kimry, Tver Oblast, unknown persons opened fire at the windows of the flat of Fyodor Penkin, chief editor of the local newspaper "Volzhskoye Vremya." Penkin believes this to have been an intimidation attempt. The day before this incident, his paper published articles critical of drug trafficking and the activities of the city's law enforcement agencies. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

REPORTER ATTACKED AND ROBBED. On the night of 12 January, Aleksandra Kuchuk, correspondent of at the paper "Komsomolskaya Pravda-Ural," was robbed and beaten by three men who knocked her down and kicked her in the head. Fortunately she escaped grave injuries. The attackers snatched her purse and fled. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

SMOLENSK REPORTER KICKED IN THE HEAD. Svetlana Savenok, correspondent of "Smolenskie Novosti" paper, was beaten on the morning of 20 January while walking her dog in Smolensk. Three men knocked her down and kicked her all over, including her face. Svetlana believes the attack may have due to her critical articles about the power supply crisis, but finds it hard to believe that the administration of Oblkommunenergo, the regional department of public power supplies, could order the beating-up of a journalist, let alone a woman. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

CHECHEN JOURNALISTS BEATEN AND FILMED IN MOSCOW. On 20 January, the opening day of the All-Russian Urgent Conference on Human Rights, two Chechen journalists hired by Yabloko to cover the conference were arrested by unknown men near the Lyublino subway station in Moscow. Israpil Shovkhalov was beaten while the other journalist was held back with a gun pressed against his temple, while the assailants filmed the attack with a video camera. Before the attack, Shovkhalov had taken part in NTV's 'Voice of the Nation' weekly talk show on Chechnya, and had gotten into a heated argument with Kadyrov. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

KHABAROVSK EDITOR BEATEN. Andrei Mirmovich, chief editor of the local Khabarovsk supplement to "Argumenty i Fakty," was badly beaten on his way home from work the night of 22 January. Near his house, he was accosted by two young men, who presented themselves as militia officers and asked to see his papers. A blow on the back immediately knocked the journalist to the ground. The beating was long and thorough and left the victim unconscious. When he came to and managed to get to his flat, he realized he had not been robbed. "These days, I have been collecting material for an article that, once in print, would upset some people," he told "Amursky Meridian." "This looks like an attempt to bully me out of writing it." (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

TV EXECUTIVE'S FLAT BURGLED IN YEKATERINBURG. On 28 January, armed burglars robbed the flat of Dmitri Bondarev, former director-general of 10 Kanal-Gubernia TV company, who had temporarily resigned during property redistribution. Bondarev believes the thieves were after company papers he had at home. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

TWO MOSCOW REPORTERS ASSAULTED. On 29 January, two Moscow journalists, Pavel Matyukhin, deputy editor of "Vechernyay Moskva" newspaper, and Sergei Turanov, director of the Economic News Agency, suffered a violent assault that required taking Turanov to hospital. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

VOLGOGRAD NEWSPAPER OFFICES SEARCHED. The militia conducted a search in the office of the "Den' za Dnyom" newspaper on 31 January in Volgograd. The newspaper is part of the media company with the same name to which the Volgograd TV channel also belongs. During the recent local election campaign, the media company supported businessman Oleg Savchenko, first runner-up for the post after Governor Nikolai Maksyuta. Local TV regularly showed broadcasts with Maksyuta as the Communist Party and LUKOil nominee. Maksyuta won election for the second time. On the same day, militia officers came to the office of "Den' za Dnyom" with a search warrant. They were looking for the original broadcast showing both Maksyuta and LUKOil in a very unfavorable light. The newspaper's lawyer said that the search warrant contained technical errors and that she had not been given explanations as to the merit of the case. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

KAZAN REPORTER RELEASED DESPITE BLACKMAIL CHARGES. In the afternoon of 11 January, Aleksandr Postnov, Kazan correspondent of the Moscow-based "Express-Khronika," was released from local remand prison in Kazan. He is suspected of blackmailing Yakov Margulis, director of the "Medical Equipment and Pharmacy of Tatarstan (Tattekhmedfarm)" company, for $1,000. The journalist's wife, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reporter Vera Postnova, believes her husband's arrest to have been a provocation. The Ministry of Interior of Tatarstan was advised that Margulis filed a complaint with the militia on 5 January. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

NEWSPAPER RUN SEIZED IN KAZAN. In the morning of 16 January, the Ministry of Interior of Tatarstan seized the morning issue of "Kazanskoe Vremya -- Russkaya Gazeta Dlya Vsekh" daily. ITAR-TASS was told by the daily's staff that all the copies of the issue were confiscated at the printing house. A warrant of seizure was produced later that afternoon, but did not give any reason for the seizure. A few hours later, all telephone lines in the office of the daily were turned off. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

FACTORY WORKERS FORBIDDEN MEDIA CONTACT DURING AUDIT. On 26 January, the management of the Vagron Liquor Factory forbade its employees to have contact with the media. As the SeverInform news agency was told, the company, one of the largest enterprises in the city, is currently having its financial documents audited. Unofficial sources attribute the audit to the fact that the factory owes 197 million rubles to various administrative budgets. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

PERM REPORTERS BARRED FROM COURT. The chairman of the regional journalists organization in Perm said that at a 30 January court session, the judge banned journalists Yevgeny Plotnikov and Sergei Ivanov from the courtroom after an appeal made by the former director of the Cellulose and Paper Factory, who was seeking to be restored to his post. Although the trial was open, Yevgeni Taribo from the Cellulose and Paper Factory, supported by the prosecutor, insisted that the journalists should leave the courtroom since the case documents were "classified." The allegedly classified documents, including the records of meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, had previously been published in the local press. The journalists said they assume that the "judge was merely having a bad day." (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

'HEALTHY' NAZDRATENKO TAPES CONFISCATED. "A few cameramen managed to film Primore Governor Yevgeni Ivanovich [Nazdratenko], alive and well, arriving at the clinic," Duma deputy Viktor Cherepkov said at a press conference. But as soon as they did, they had their tapes confiscated." Journalists from Novaya Volna TV company in Primore confirmed that their videotapes of Nazdratenko arriving at hospital on 31 January were confiscated. The TV company employees told Interfax news agency that as soon as the news got around that the has been admitted to hospital, cameramen went to the clinic. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

KEMEROVO REPORTER SUED. There are new developments in the lawsuit against journalist Mikhail Akinchenko, formerly employed by STV-3, which has been closed down. Some time ago, he was charged with slander against a government official. The charge was based on the fact that the journalist broadcast film showing the deputy prosecutor of Omsk getting a discount on a Volga car. The complainant claims the tape was forged; the case is being investigated by the Kemerovo procuracy to avoid any tampering with the evidence. It is known that Mikhail Akinchenko, the current Omsk ORT correspondent, later got an offer to close the case "by reaching an understanding," but he refused to do so. The next court session is scheduled for 24 January. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

SUIT BROUGHT AGAINST BELGOROD JOURNALIST. On 12 January just before noon, the head of the regional press department in Belgorod telephoned "Belgorodskaya Pravda" correspondent Olga Kitova. He told her that the first prize for investigative reporting earlier awarded to her by the regional division of the Union of Journalists has been ruled void, and that a lawsuit has been brought against her. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

SLANDER CHARGE AGAINST YEKATERINBURG REPORTER. New details have appeared in the scandal around the criminal charge of "slander" against Yekaterinburg journalist Andrei Sannikov, director of the "Zemlya Sannikova" TV show and popular anti-drug activist. In the morning of 16 January the journalist got a phone call from Investigator Aleksandr Mikhailov of the city prosecutor's office, telling him to appear at his office the next day and that he bring his lawyer. According to the investigator, the journalist was summoned in connection with the criminal charge of slander brought against him after his TV broadcasts in September 1999 accusing a number of law enforcement officers of corruption and connections with drug trafficking. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

INQUIRY OPENS AGAINST FORMER SERBIAN TV BOSS. A judicial inquiry opened before magistrates in Belgrade on 12 February against Dragoljub Milanovic, former director of Serbian state television (RTS). He is charged with making 16 employees stay in the RTS building on 23 April 1999 even though he and Milosevic knew NATO planned to bomb it. Milanovic faces up to 15 yeas in prison if convicted, "The Times" of London reported. The Milosevic regime sought to focus domestic and international attention on civilian casualties in an effort to discredit NATO's intervention in Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)

MURDERED JOURNALIST'S DAUGHTER ACCUSES FORMER OFFICIALS. The daughter of murdered journalist Slavko Curuvija said that former Serbian deputy premiers, Milovan Bojic and Vojislav Seselj, and Yugoslav Left leader Mirjana Markovic, were "directly or indirectly" involved in her father's murder. She told the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski List" that she was sure there had been a black list of people to be murdered. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5 February)

MILANOVIC RESPONSIBLE FOR SEVERAL MURDERS: SISIC. The District Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade requested the District Court in Belgrade to launch an investigation against the former director of Radio-Television Serbia, Dragoljub Milanovic, to check whether he could be held responsible for the death of 16 RTS employees in the state television building during the NATO bombardment on 23 April 1999. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 6 February)

ISAKOV IS DOS CANDIDATE FOR NEW RTS DIRECTOR. Voivodina Reformist President Miodrag Isakov confirmed for "Vecernje Novosti" that he would be the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) candidate for the director of state-run Radio-Television Serbia. According to the daily, Isakov will offer his program for the station at the first DOS presidency session in a day or two. Isakov denied rumors that he and Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic fought over the DOS proposal to include Radio Television Pancevo editor in chief Ofelija Backovic on the list of candidates. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5 February)

FILIPOVIC TO WITHDRAW AS HEAD OF INFORMATION BUREAU. Journalist Miroslav Filipovic has turned down an offer to head the Serbian government's proposed Information Bureau. He told media today that there were factors at play which made it impossible to do his best in the job, mainly the lack of structure for the new office. He also said that since the Information Ministry has been abolished there is no way to implement media legislation. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 7 February)

TALKS ON STATE-RUN MEDIA START. The Yugoslav special commission for reform of the state-owned media will start talks with "Borba," Tanjug, and YU Info TV on how they could become public broadcasters, the Yugoslav Telecommunication Minister Slobodan Orlic declared on 5 February. Orlic told Beta that it would study staff opinion and independent workers' unions and investigate misdeeds by former management. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5 February)

REFORM OF TAX LAWS TO PAY FOR STATE BROADCASTING? The republican government sent the Serbian parliament a "package" of laws to be debated by the deputies in an emergency procedure at the third special parliamentary session scheduled for 12 February. The draft proposes scrapping the present tax on the electrical power bill to finance Radio-Television Serbia and said that the emergency amendment procedure was planned so the tax's negative effects would be corrected as soon as possible. The government has also presented to parliament a bill to abolish the current Public Information Act. Parliament is also expected to debate the amnesty bill and to pass legislation slashing the special privileges and obligations of the Serbian president. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 6 February)

CONFERENCE ON MEDIA TRANSITION. In cooperation with the Belgrade Media Center, the British Center organized a media conference on 7-8 February in Belgrade, reports Radio B92. Besides Serbian politicians and representatives of the domestic media, the conference will also be attended by experts from the BBC, the Council of Europe, the Southeast European stability pact, and the British government, as well as numerous international donor organizations. The British ambassador to Belgrade said the participants in the conference would deal with issues such as ownership, frequencies, the government's role in the media, the donors' role, as well as with issues concerning responsibility for ethnic minorities. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 6 February)

HUNGARIAN TV SIGNAL BLOCKED. Julijana Teleki told the Vojvodina Provincial Assembly on 6 February that Most and Palma TV stations block Hungarian TV and prevent Vojvodina Hungarians from watching its shows, "Madjar so" reported on 7 February. The federal minister replied that many TV stations operate without licenses or had obtained their licenses for being allied to government circles. He promised regulation of the television system and said that the provincial secretariat would soon launch an initiative to permit Vojvodina to regulate such issues on its own territory. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 8 February)

CONFERENCE ON MINORITIES IN YUGOSLAVIA. The Yugoslav minister for national and ethnic minorities, Rasim Ljajic, announced a series of bills to improve minorities' position in Yugoslavia. During a two-day conference entitled "Development of Multiethnic and Multinational Society," he said a minority rights law was being drafted and added that the federal and republic local government laws would also be amended. The Democratic Union of Roma co-president asked for funding and equipment to enable Romany publishing and also called on electronic media to make time in their broadcast schedules for Romany-language programs. The acting editor in chief of the Radio Novi Sad program in Ruthenian recalled that the station's long tradition of broadcasting programs in Serbian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian, and Ruthenian and later in Ukrainian and Romany. The conference marks the first official cooperation of state and non-governmental organizations. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his ministers sat at the same table with the Fund for Open Society and the Bujanovac Board for Human Rights Protection. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 4 February)

PAPER RECEIVES OFFICIAL WARNING. After "Vecherny Dushanbe" published an article entitled "Demonstrators in Western Turkmenistan Burn Portraits of President Niazov and Demand Help to Earthquake Survivors," the Ministry for Foreign Affairs warned the paper's chief editor that he had disturbed interstate relations, although the same information had been in the media, including Interfax news agency. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

PRESIDENT CRITICIZES MEDIA, POLICE. Imomali Rakhmonov chaired a cabinet meeting on 10 February to review the economic results for last year, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At that session, Rakhmonov complained of inappropriate coverage of economic developments last year by the media. It is not clear whether he referred specifically to the introduction of the country's new currency. Rakhmonov also criticized numerous abuses of the legislation governing land tenure, failure to pay pensions on time, and inadequate medical services. He subsequently dismissed the heads of one oblast and four raions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)

MARCHERS PRESS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO STEP DOWN... Some 5,000 people marched through Kyiv on 11 February demanding that President Leonid Kuchma resign over allegations that he plotted the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Reuters reported. Many people held banners reading "Kuchma Kaput!" and "Ukraine Is a Police State." This was the second such protest in the past week. Meanwhile, a group of Ukrainian lawmakers and opposition politicians on 9 February set up a Forum for National Salvation Civic Initiative with the main goal of deposing Kuchma and transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or parliamentary republic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

...WHILE HE DENIES ROLE IN JOURNALIST'S DEATH... Kuchma told London's "Financial Times" on 10 February that he had no role in the death of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "I can swear on the bible or on the constitution that I never made such an order to destroy a human being. This is simply absurd," he noted. Kuchma said the tapes provided by his former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, were a montage of different conversations recorded "probably" in his office. "Maybe the name Gongadze came up in conversations, I don't remember. But I give you my honest word, I did not even know this journalist," Kuchma said. He said the tape scandal was staged by a "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and capabilities," adding that "I completely reject the idea that this was done on the level of states, that it was the Americans or the Russians." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

LAWMAKER SENDS MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES ABROAD. Legislator Serhiy Holovatyy said on 8 February he has sent the "original recordings" made secretly by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office to the International Press Institute in Vienna, Interfax reported. Holovatyy said he had transferred Melnychenko's recordings onto compact disks. Legislator Viktor Shyshkin added that one set of Melnychenko's recordings will remain in the possession of parliamentary commission for the examination of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, while another will be handed over to the Prosecutor-General's Office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

CONDITIONS WORSEN FOR JAILED JOURNALIST. Lyubov Tshchenko, wife of convicted journalist Sergei Potamanov, told reporters that on 24 January her husband was moved from a hospital to a remand prison, although he is still in a cast and under observation by the prison doctor. Two weeks ago, two of Potamanov's ribs were fractured in a severe beating by cellmates; he is awaiting trial on appeal in a common prison ward. On 18 December, the Kerch city court sentenced Sergei Potamanov, a journalist with the regional radio station Fenix in the Crimean village of Lenino, to 5 years imprisonment in a strict-regime corrective labor camp. Even though his wife was not allowed to see the official court ruling, she has learned that the journalist was found guilty under four criminal code articles: flagrant hooliganism, setting fire to state-owned property, possession and purchase of weapons and ammunition; and embezzlement of state property. Potamanov plead innocent; he believes his conviction is the local authorities' revenge against his work as a journalist and human rights activist. Crimean journalists have launched a campaign for impartial re-trial of his case. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

REPORTER ATTACKED IN KYIV. "Izvestiya" correspondent Yanina Sokolovskaya was assaulted in Kyiv on 30 January, receiving minor injuries. The victim told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that a man entered the building with her as she was returning home. He pressed a knife to her throat and said: "You've done it, haven't you?" "I tried to break free and he said 'Don't scream, you'll make it worse,'" recalls Sokolovskaya. She managed to push the knife away, broke free, and rang the bell of an apartment on the ground floor. She says she has deep cuts on her hand and minor facial injuries. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

PROTEST OVER INTERFERENCE WITH DONETSK BROADCASTS. On 30 January, the "Mass Media Independence" initiative group asked the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine to persuade Ukrainian authorities to stop interfering with broadcasts by the Vechernaya Svoboda regional radio station. Journalists said that on 23 January the radio station was prevented from going on the air because it had announced an interview with former Vice Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)

MEDIA TOOLS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS WORLDWIDE. Based on the experiences of human rights activists and journalists from around the world, a guide that has been published that addresses strategies for building and maintaining long-term, productive relationships with the mass media. The publication's reliance on interviews from the south -- Africa, Latin America, and Asia -- encourages information sharing between cultures rather than focusing on a traditionally Western perspective. Handbook topics include: understanding the local and international press, the realities of international coverage, choosing the right media strategy, monitoring the media, and utilizing the media to promote human rights issues and organizations. "Making the Most of the Media" is currently available in English. A Spanish translation will be available in the spring. Translations in Arabic and French are expected. The manual costs $20, with discounts available for locally based groups and bulk orders. See or contact CeSHRA to order information or to learn about the other publications in the Human Rights Institution-Building Handbook Series.

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT LAUNCHES ELECTION WEB PAGE. The website is the new address for the Center for Information Analysis of the Moldovan Parliament. The site, with Romanian and Russian versions, has information about political parties and candidates in early elections on 25 February. It features texts of the Electoral Code, the presidential decree disbanding parliament and calling for early elections, plus a daily selection of Moldovan media on election topics and Central Electoral Commission decisions. (Independent Journalism Center, 6 February)

TWO MOLDOVAN PAPERS LAUNCH WEB PAGES. Two Moldovan weeklies, "Jurnal de Chisinau" and "Plai Baltean," have launched online versions of their journals. "Jurnal de Chisinau" can now be seen at: This independent Romanian-language publication was launched in October 1999 and has a nationwide circulation. The eight-year-old Romanian-Russian publication, "Plai Baltean," is funded by the Balti municipality; its online version is at: (DECA Pres, Curier Media, 8 February)

NEW ISSUE OF MASS MEDIA IN MOLDOVA AVAILABLE ON WEB. The December 2000 issue of "Mass Media in Moldova," a bulletin published by the Independent Journalism Center, is now available at: "Mass Media in Moldova" has been published twice a year since 1995. The project has received financial support from the Soros Moldova Foundation. (Independent Journalism Center, 29 January)

NEW E-MAIL ADDRESSES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MOSCOW. The new addresses for HRW permanent staff are: Diederik Lohman: Alexander (Sasha) Petrov: Lyudmila Belov: HRW's English-language website is: Russian: To receive Human Rights Watch's press releases on the former Soviet Union, send an e-mail to: (Human Rights Watch, 13 February)

WORLD BANK ASKED TO INCREASE INFORMATION ACCESS. The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest organization of journalists, on 9 February called on the World Bank to follow its own policies of good governance and open up its own work to greater public scrutiny. The IFJ says that current restrictions keep hidden from public view many vital documents that explain bank policies and criticizes a new disclosure policy that will keep important materials secret, particularly documents about structural adjustment loans, although they often contain specific recommendations. Access to such data will remain at the whim of borrowing governments and disclosure will be "subject to political expediency rather than the public right to know." (International Federation of Journalists, 9 February)

CONFERENCE ON MEDIA, SOCIETY AND INTERNET. The European Institute for the Media will organize a conference with the Russian Union of Journalists on "The Internet: its Impact on Media and Society" to be held in Moscow from 5-6 March and sponsored by the European Commission. The conference will cover the following themes: the limits of Internet regulation; the Internet and other media; Internet broadcasting; Internet links to democracy; Internet privacy and security; and the Internet and education. For more information and accreditation contact Dmitrii Kortunov or Ljudmila von Berg at:

INTERNET FELLOWSHIPS AVAILABLE. The IIE-GlobeShaker netStipend is a fellowship to promote entrepreneurship and technology business formation worldwide. Part of the netStipendT initiative, the IIE-GlobeShaker netStipend awards winners fund of $75,000-$200,000, is paid out monthly over 12-18 months for business training/education and comprehensive support for building companies in exchange for minority equity stakes. Since 1919, The Institute of International Education (IIE) has fostered human development through educational exchange programs. IIE has joined with GlobeShaker, a worldwide entrepreneurship organization, to set up the IIE-GlobeShaker netStipend Program. NetStipends are designed to help individuals become technology entrepreneurs and to promote the formation of new technology businesses. Individuals and small teams may apply for netStipends. A rigorous selection procedure is employed. It is not necessary to have a formal business plan. The application procedure begins with a written application available on the How-to-Apply page at

JUSTICE MINISTER REFUSES TO REREGISTER OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER. The future of the daily newspaper "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun," (Republic of Armenia), whose founders are the Armenian parliament and the paper's editorial staff, is in doubt following a 1 February government decree on its closure, Noyan Tapan reported. The initial reason cited for the paper's closure was its failure to comply with a provision of the Civil Code requiring all media outlets to reregister with the Ministry of Justice by 31 December 2000. But on 7 February Justice Minister David Harutiunian told parliament that the documents submitted during the reregistration process had implied that the paper is a commercial enterprise, and the constitution forbids the parliament to undertake commercial activity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

POSITIVE ASSESSMENT OF DRAFT BROADCAST LAW. The London-based media watchdog group Article 19 said it "welcomes the law and regards it as a positive step to advance freedom of expression in Armenia," noting that the draft incorporates many key points required "in an effective broadcasting law, including provisions protecting the right of broadcasters to select, produce, and broadcast programs; forbidding censorship; guaranteeing the independence of both private and public broadcasters; establishing an independent broadcast regulator; providing for diversity and pluralism in broadcasting; and establishing a clear process for granting licenses to private broadcasters." Article 19 also calls attention to several areas in which the draft could be amended to bring it into conformity with Armenia's new commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly "that law gives the president sole power to appoint the members of the governing council of the public broadcaster and of the National Commission of Television and Radio; and that it requires that at least 65 percent of the programs carried by private broadcasters are nationally-produced." (Article 19 Press Release, 7 February)

CONCERN OVER 'MOUNTING PRESSURE' ON INDEPENDENT MEDIA. The London-based media watch group Article 19 expressed concern in a 9 February letter to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev over "mounting pressure faced by independent newspapers and television media." Article 19 calls upon Aliyev to honor his country's commitment at the Council of Europe to "improve further media legislation and its implementation" and urges: "replacing the current mechanism for granting broadcasting licenses with a fair and transparent system, overseen by a body independent of government, and invite all those stations currently operating without an official license to apply; addressing the artificial shortage of newsprint and that taxation on newsprint does not present an obstacle to printing; and the ordering of police to cease attacking and intimidating journalists and take immediate steps to investigate the most recent attack and bring those responsible to justice." (Article 19 Press Release, 9 February)

NEWSPAPERS CONFISCATED. On 29 January, Nakhichevan police confiscated all copies of the "Interpark" and "Eilanja" newspapers from news stalls. The Interior Ministry of Nakhichevan said the motive for the action was to take measures against the circulation of "pornographic publications," although neither newspaper was confiscated in other parts of the republic. Meanwhile, on 18 January at around 10 PM, three men attacked Zamin Khoji, a reporter with the "Azadlyg" paper. One attacker threw tear-gas in the victim's face. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 February)


By Paul Goble

A press freedom organization has issued a pamphlet on how to identify and fight one of the more insidious threats to media freedom around the world: "insult laws" which allow governments to intimidate or silence journalists who report anything that offends officials.

The U.S.-based World Press Freedom Committee, an umbrella coordination group for national and international news media organizations, this week released a booklet entitled "Hiding from the People: How 'Insult' Laws Restrict Public Scrutiny of Public Officials."

The 20-page pamphlet argues that insult laws, which have their original in medieval rules against insulting the monarch, are used "to stifle the kind of reporting and commentary about claimed official misconduct or corruption that it is precisely the responsibility of the press to disclose."

In some countries, these laws are a survival from the past, but in others, they are a recent innovation, used by governments that want to portray themselves as democratic but which in fact remain highly authoritarian, the committee says.

Such regimes choose to use these laws because they appear to be simply an extension of the universally recognized right of individuals and officials to sue for defamation when media outlets or others make false assertions of fact. But in reality, insult laws prohibit the reporting of anything that leaders believe offends their "honor and dignity" regardless of whether it is true.

Sometimes the existence of such laws and the threat that they will be used are enough to intimidate journalists. But at other times, the governments may take the journalists or news outlets to court and fine them sufficiently heavily to force them out of business. Among post-communist countries whose leaders have made use of such legislation, the pamphlet says, are Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Ukraine and Croatia.

But recognizing the threat, the World Press Freedom Committee says, is only the first step. Then, both domestic and international groups concerned about media freedom and all the other freedoms it makes possible must strive to overcome these laws.

And the pamphlet provides five arguments for those who seek to do so. First, such laws are unnecessary because libel and slander legislation already protects officials and others from false reports. Second, public officials by the nature of their work "deserve less -- not more -- protection from reporting and commentary than ordinary citizens."

Third, "democracy and economic prosperity are not possible without public accountability of leaders, transparency in transactions, and vigorous public discussion of issues and choices." Fourth, "press freedom cannot be said to exist in a nation where journalists are jailed for their work. And without press freedom, no nation can call itself a democracy."

And fifth, the committee says, "full participation in the international political and economic community is not possible as long as a nation fails to abide by the principles of good governance accepted by that community. All nations are bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its broad call for the free flow of information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Sometimes, this battle can be fought in the courts, sometimes in legislatures, sometimes in the public, and sometimes in the international arena, the pamphlet says. And it notes that there have been important victories in the fight against this threat to a free press: 11 countries have repealed or invalidated insult laws in the last decade alone.

But the struggle must continue, the pamphlet concludes, because "in free and democratic societies, the journalist, as surrogate for the people, must be a watch dog -- not a lap dog."