Accessibility links

Breaking News

Media Matters: March 2, 2001

2 March 2001, Volume 1, Number 4
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CRUCIAL TO ANTI-RACISM. Freedom of expression is crucial in the fight against racism, say OSCE, UN, and OAS representatives in a joint statement on 27 February, noting that "Media organizations...have a moral and social obligation to make a positive contribution to the fight against racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance." The statement also stressed the importance of adequate legal safeguards to protect freedom of expression, that hate speech laws have been used against those they should be protecting, and drew attention to the need to ensure that restrictions on the Internet not undermine the role of this unique medium in promoting the free flow of information and ideas. The full Joint Statement can be viewed at (Article 19 Press Release, 27 February)

UNDP REPORT GIVES MEDIA SHORT SHRIFT? The recently issued National Report of Human Development in Armenia for the year 2000 -- prepared by the Armenian President's Office with a group of independent experts, selected on a competitive basis -- was published with the financial support of United Nations Development Program (UNDP), according to the Yerevan Press Club. Two sections of the UNDP report deal with media issues. One focuses on the financial difficulties faced by media in Armenia showing that the "vast majority of the population simply cannot afford buying newspapers for economic reasons" and that "editions with small print runs cannot be self-supporting and have to look for sponsorship." There are also two report appendixes: one presents examples of human rights and freedom of speech protected by the media, while another appendix discusses the need to make sure that modern information technologies are available to both rich and poor countries. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

JOURNALISTS LEGALLY OBLIGED TO REVEAL SOURCES ON 'STATE SECRETS.' The Azerbaijani parliament has obligated the media to reveal the sources of information when the materials published are related to state secrets. Otherwise, according to the amendment to the Law On State Secrets approved on 27 February, journalists will be found legally responsible. Azerbaijani media representatives regard this amendment as "narrowing the sphere of journalist activities." (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 28 February)

NEW JOURNALIST ASSOCIATION IN KARABAGH. On 16 February a founding meeting of the Journalists Union of Karabagh was held in Stepanakert. Kim Gabrielian, the press secretary of the Karabagh Prosecutor-General's Office, was elected the chairman of the board of the Union. The board also includes representatives of state-owned media and state bodies ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

REPORTER ATTACKED. Tamaz Tsertsvadze, chief editor of the independent "Meridiani" paper, was badly beaten on his way home on 24 February, reports RFE/RL's Georgian Service. Unknown persons, armed with steel rods, beat him until he lost consciousness; he was taken to hospital in critical condition. In recent months, Tsertsvadze -- and other "Meridiani" journalists -- had been receiving anonymous phone calls. They were "advised" to stop publishing articles critical of highly-placed officials. (RFE/RL's Georgian Service)

TV PRESIDENT RESIGNS. Laszlo Zsolt Szabo resigned on 27 February as president of the state-run Hungarian Television (MTV), and the board of trustees accepted his resignation with immediate effect. Szabo stepped down after accusations that he had failed to consolidate the financial situation of MTV. The board agreed with Szabo's recent decision to dismiss Andrea Szenes as vice-president and appointed Karoly Medreczky to that post. Medreczky said he will suspend his membership in the ruling FIDESZ party. Last year MTV accumulated 20 billion forints ($69 million) in debts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

PRIVATE RADIO BROADCAST SUSPENDED. The National TV and Radio Council suspended broadcasting of the private radio station "Business & Baltia" for one week as a penalty for its violation of the country's broadcast law. According to Article 19 of the 1995 Latvian Law on Radio and Television, broadcast time in languages other than Latvian should not exceed twenty-five percent of the total broadcasting time. The radio station, however, has appealed this decision in court. (Minority Issues in Latvia, 25 February)

BROADCAST COUNCIL IN COURT. On 15 March, a court of law will consider the case the National TV and Radio Council versus the radio station "Business & Baltia". The Council has brought the case before the court demanding a decision to cease broadcasting and to annul the license of the station. According to current law, the Council does not have the authority to close a broadcast company. (Minority Issues in Latvia, 25 February)

BROADCAST LAW AMENDED. On February 15 the Saeima (parliament) adopted amendments to the Law on Radio and Television, so as to incorporate the relevant directives of the European Union. The amendment submitted by the pro-minority faction For Human Rights in United Latvia, which proposed dropping "language quotas" for private radio and TV companies, again did not pass. (Minority Issues in Latvia, 25 February)

PUBLIC INFORMATION LAW WITHDRAWN. The Macedonian government announced the withdrawal of the draft Public Information Law on 27 February 2001; the draft law had been criticized by Article 19 and other media groups. For more information, e-mail: or see (Article 19, 28 February)

EUROPEAN INSTITUTE FOR MEDIA RELEASES MONITORING RESULTS... "The Moldovan news media failed to perform an adequate role of informing the public on the range of political options open to them." This is the main conclusion of a team from the European Institute for the Media (EIM) that monitored media coverage of early parliamentary elections in Moldova. The team, working in Moldova from 11-25 February, assessed whether the media provided balanced and impartial coverage of the election campaign and if authorities and candidates respected democratic media norms. The full text of the preliminary report will be soon available at (IJC). (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

...AND CLAIMS SUBLIMINAL ADS WERE USED. "The election campaign in Moldova was marked by dirty tricks, including the use of subliminal advertising," said a preliminary EIM monitoring report. Earlier this month, members of the Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD) lodged a complaint at the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) against two participants in the election campaign for using subliminal TV ads. The country's 1997 Law on Advertising prohibits such ads; the CEC dismissed the complaint. (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

TV CHANNEL CHALLENGES BROADCAST COUNCIL DECISION. The management of Chisinau-based Catalan TV channel lodged an appeal at the Court of Appeals against Audio-Visual Coordinating Council (CCA) revocation of its license, calling the decision "an act of political retribution." The channel's assets were frozen and it was temporarily forced to suspend broadcasts for what CCA called "flagrant violation" of the country's election coverage regulations. The channel resumed its broadcasts after a Chisinau district court granted it a 15-day grace period to challenge CCA's decision. (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING AVAILABLE ON LINE. "Aspects of media policy in the development of public service broadcasting in Moldova" has been published in the Sarajevo-based journal "Media Online." Available at "Media Online" is a Bosnian Media Plan Institute project. (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

TWO RADIO STATIONS LOSE LICENSES. The broadcast licenses of Chisinau-based Radio Vox and Radio D'Or were revoked for violation of Moldova's Broadcasting Law. According to the Audio-Visual Coordinating Council (CCA), the two stations had illegally re-broadcast programs of Avtoradio and Maximum Radio stations from Russia. (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

RUSSIAN-SPEAKING JOURNALISTS COMPLETE ROMANIAN COURSE. Over 100 Russian-speaking journalists completed a three-month Romanian course, funded by the Chisinau mayor's office, and attended by journalists from TeleRadio Moldova company, "Nezavisimaya Moldova" daily, and the Infotag news agency. (Moldova Media News, 26 February)

ULTRANATIONALIST REFUSES TO PAY DAMAGES IN LIBEL SUITS... Ultranationalist leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said in Bucharest on 23 February that he will not pay damages from two libel cases against him because the courts are "manipulated" by the government, AP reported. Tudor, who finished second in the December presidential elections, accused Prime Minister Nastase of interfering in Romania's justice system. Tudor often writes scandalous articles about Nastase and other government officials in his xenophobic weekly "Greater Romania." He has been ordered to pay 400 million lei ($14,000) to journalist Rodica Chelaru, whom Tudor said had sex with a presidential spokesman, and 90 million lei to Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, whom Tudor branded a Securitate collaborator. If he doesn't pay the fines, Tudor's personal assets could be seized. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)

IVANOV, POWELL MEET; MEDIA FREEDOM ON AGENDA. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 24 February met in Cairo for 90 minutes with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian and Western agencies reported. It was their first meeting, and the two reviewed the entire range of bilateral issues, including the state of media freedom in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)

GORBACHEV ARGUES MEDIA MUST BE FREE BUT RESPONSIBLE. `During his Internet press conference on 27 February, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that the media in Russia must be "free but responsible" and that "the Russian president needs a free press more than anyone else," Interfax reported on 27 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

MEDIA MINISTER SAYS U.S. TELLING LIES ABOUT RUSSIA... Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said on 27 February that Moscow is considering the launch of an advertising campaign in the United States aimed at creating a positive image of Russia in American society, Interfax reported. He said that the U.S. administration is spending "a large amount of money on making Russia's image worse," and he asked rhetorically "when will they stop telling Americans lies about the processes that are taking place in our country?" He said that Moscow will publish within two weeks a report "On the Situation of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Action in the United States." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

...SAYS KREMLIN READY TO BACK ANY BUSINESS SETTLEMENT TO NTV AFFAIRS. Media Minister Lesin said that the Russian government "will definitely" back any business solution to the conflict over NTV, including involvement by foreign firms, Interfax reported on 27 February. But Lesin said that foreign firms have chosen the wrong approach in their negotiations. He said they should have dealt with Vladimir Gusinsky directly rather than seeking to go through intermediaries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

LEGAL SQUABBLES OVER NTV MEETING. A Moscow district court on 23 February ruled illegal plans by the NTV board to hold a shareholders' meeting in Gibraltar on 12 March, Interfax reported. The court acted on the basis of a suit filed by Gazprom-Media subsidiary Leadville Investments. In response, an NTV statement said that "it looks like those in Gazprom-Media have decided to openly flaunt the law," using a court to pursue their own interests. The statement said that Gazprom-Media should have sent a letter to the NTV board, which would undoubtedly meet Gazprom-Media halfway. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)

ARBITRARY ACCREDITATION RULES PROTESTED. In letters to Minister of Defence Igor Sergeyev and Minister of Information Mikhail Lesin, respectively, Reporters without Borders (RSF) highlighted that: "The regulations for the accreditation of journalists are completely arbitrary. The arrest [of Anna Politovskaya] demonstrates that journalists who are critical of the Russian authorities' involvement in the conflict are henceforth barred from staying in Chechnya." (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 26 February)

MEETING OF NORTH-OSSETIAN AND INGUSH MEDIA. A meeting of media directors in North Ossetia and Ingushetia was held on 27 February in Vladikavkaz at the invitation of the special representative of the president of the Russian Federation, Alexei Kulakovsky, in North-Ossetia-Alania and Ingushetia. As Alexei Kulakovsky noted, the press has a major influence over events in the Ossetian-Ingush conflict zone and the press and authorities should help each other in stabilizing the situation. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 27 February)

POSITIVE ROLE OF RFE/RL TATAR SERVICE NOTED. "Unfortunately, democracy in Russia is understood as the will of the mechanical majority and little attention is paid to separate nationalities," noted Tatarstan President Shaimiev in the 26 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Shaimiev continued that "the concept of the unitary state is still dominant. The press points out that Russians constitute 83percent of the people in the country. Nationalities should not be counted in percent points, at least not in politics. Let me give a simple example. Though Tatars are the second largest nationality in the country and we pay taxes, there is not a single Tatar-language radio or TV program [paid for] on the federal level. But Radio Liberty, financed by the U.S. Congress, regularly broadcasts in Tatar all over the world. That means that we are considered a nationality there -- and one which deserves attention. One must note, however, that Tatars are now gradually playing a more important role in Russian life. By the way, the federal center's tendency to underestimate the ethnic component is not a problem only of Tatars, but of all the so-called small nationalities in Russia."

NEWSPAPERS TRICKED BY FALSE AD. According to "The Moscow Times" on 27 February, 13 Russian newspapers took money for running an advertisement for an electronics firm that did not in fact exist. The move, apparently a publicity stunt by the Promaco PR/CMA agency, highlighted the willingness of Russian newspapers to take money without checking on the facts, the paper said. The government's anti-monopoly policy ministry said it will investigate, Interfax reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING SEMINAR. The next workshop in a series of six investigative reporting seminars for Slovak journalists will be held on 16 March, according to the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Bratislava, Slovakia. The one-day seminars, designed for more than 15 participants, focus on the techniques of investigative reporting. Workshops are organized by CIJ, in cooperation with Transparency International Slovensko, and take place at CIJ headquarters in Bratislava. For more information, contact Izabela Nagyova at: or see (International Journalists Network, 26 February)

PROSECUTORS IDENTIFY MISSING JOURNALIST'S BODY. Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets on 26 February ruled that the headless corpse found at Tarashcha near Kyiv in November is that of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. The press service of the Prosecutor- General's Office said the ruling was made on the basis of "additional data" from medical experts. Meanwhile, Lesya Gongadze, mother of the missing journalist, has asked President Leonid Kuchma for a meeting, saying it may become a "positive step to finding the truth that will help us put an end to this complex and important case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)

PRESIDENT SAYS GONGADZE'S DEATH USED AS 'POLITICAL WEAPON...' In a letter published by the 27 February "Financial Times," President Kuchma wrote that some Ukrainian politicians have turned the tragic death of Heorhiy Gongadze into a "political weapon designed to destabilize Ukraine." Kuchma noted: "It is not by chance that my main accusers are precisely the same people who have blocked Ukraine's transformation to a free market economy." The Ukrainian president said there are no grounds to accuse him of Gongadze's murder, adding that he is committed to protecting the freedom and safety of the press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)

...AS HIS FORMER BODYGUARD CONTINUES TRANSCRIBING SECRET TAPES. Mykola Melnychenko, who secretly bugged President Kuchma's office and provoked a political scandal in Ukraine by publicizing some recordings, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 26 February that he needs "a great deal of time" as well as "equipment and professionals" to transcribe all the secret tapes he made. Melnychenko noted, however, that the material he has already transcribed is sufficient to prove unambiguously that Kuchma is "a criminal who gave criminal orders and controlled [their fulfillment]." He added that he is now waiting for the confirmation of the authenticity of his recordings by the International Press Institute in Vienna. Following this confirmation, he is going to publicize more taped information "which is no less criminal than the Gongadze case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)

CENTRAL ASIAN JOURNALISTS MEETING. A regional meeting of journalists from Central Asia and independent lawyers took place in Alma-Ata. The meeting demonstrated journalists' growing dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Information, reported "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 27 February. Meeting participants agreed that stricter control over the media is a trend for all countries of the region.

'THE MUTILATED TRUTH.' Reporters without Borders (RSF) has released a report, "The Mutilated Truth: Investigation into the Murder of Journalist Georgiy Gongadze", (available at RSF denounced "extremely serious errors committed by the Ukrainian judicial authorities throughout the investigation on the kidnapping and murder of the journalist." According to the RSF, the "investigation seems to have been primarily focused on protecting the executive branch of government from accusations leveled against it, rather than trying to get to the truth." Gongadze's wife was only allowed to see the body for identification purposes one month after it had been discovered; the body was kept in a provincial morgue with no refrigeration for thirteen days after its discovery. The judicial authorities also delayed DNA testing, refused to investigate official threats against the journalist prior to his disappearance, and refused to grant the journalist's wife and mother the status of parties claiming damages, which would have enabled them to intervene in the proceedings. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 26 February)

NEW COURSE FOR INTERNATIONAL NEWS REPORTERS. On the initiative of Yerevan Press Club and with support from the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia, an optional course cycle to train international news writers was launched at the Yerevan State Linguistic University. Three training courses are scheduled: "Introduction to Journalism"; "Foreign Media"; and "Modern Information Space." ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

SUIT AGAINST 'HAIKAKAN ZHAMANAK.' According to Noyan Tapan information and analysis center, the National Scout Movement has addressed the Prosecutor-General of Armenia to institute a criminal action against the editor-in-chief of "Haikakan Zhamanak" daily for libel. The suit was caused by the story "A Coup d'Etat Happened on October 27", published in "Haikakan Zhamanak" on 21 February. According to the plaintiff, the story contains invalid, libelous suppositions that the Scout Movement, founded by the Dashnaktsoutiun Party, is a terrorist organization that stands behind the tragic events in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

BROADCAST LAW AMENDED. On 20 February the parliament finally ratified one amendment to the country's broadcast law. It specifies that the National Committee for Coordination of the Work of Broadcast Companies will consist of nine people, with only the chairman and vice-chairman receiving salaries. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

WILL FULL COVERAGE OF THE 'TERRORIST' TRIAL BE ALLOWED? At a 21 February session of the National Assembly, the minister of justice repeated his claim that witnesses may change their testimony if they learn from the media about other testimony. The Armenian media had a "very negative reaction" to the minister's statement and several parliamentary experts also maintain there is no reason to restrict media coverage. So far, reports the Yerevan Press Club, the court has not yet made a final decision on the matter. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 17-23 February)

PRIVACY CONFERENCE. The Central European University and the New School are sponsoring a conference in Budapest on privacy on 23-24 March. The conference will cover such topics as: private/public concepts, particularly in relation to post-communist states; states and boundaries, especially private lives and secret states; and democratic process and non-public politics. For more information, see To register for the free-of-charge and open-access conference, contact David Caughlin at (Transitions on Line, 26 February)

CIVIL SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL BACK AFTER HACK. On 6 February, the Center for Civil Society International and other lists -- mainly NGOs -- hosted by the Friends & Partners website were the victims of the "most severe" hacker attack in their seven-year history. Service was restored on 26 February. For more information -- including how to assist in overcoming the effects of this attack -- Email: or see Send messages to CivilSoc at or visit (Center for Civil Society International, 26 February)


By Catherine Cosman

Last week on the radio, a woman's clear and gentle voice went out to the world. More in sorrow than in anger, her voice spoke of her husband's disappearance. Actually, her husband has "been disappeared" after he wrote about rampant corruption among high-level officials. (Tragically, he has "been disappeared;" a phrase first coined to describe what happened to thousands of critics of the Argentine government whom the police "made away with.")

The woman's voice told how, fearing for their safety, she and her husband vaguely thought about leaving their country last summer. But they were, as she put it, "not careful." After all, they liked living and working in their native country. She is a lawyer and her husband a journalist. And they have three-year-old twin boys.

One day, she said, she forgot her key and rushed home. Rather than finding her husband there, she found their apartment dark and deserted. Then she knew that something had gone very wrong. That was the last time she saw her husband. She lives from day to day. She does not know what to tell her three-year-old twins. She only wants to know the truth about her husband's fate.

That sad and gentle voice belongs to Miroslava Gongadze, wife of the Ukrainian journalist who "was disappeared" last fall. (While the phrase "was disappeared" was first applied to Argentina in recent years, in Ukraine millions have disappeared at the arbitrary hand of the Stalinist state.) As of yesterday, she finally learned that her husband has been cruelly murdered, after his headless corpse at last was named by reluctant state officials.

But another voice has been heard in Ukraine, or at least by one third of its people. (Most of the population mainly have access to censored or politically skewed media.) That voice, secretly tape-recorded by his security guard, is that of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Cursing foully, Kuchma asks (orders?) that someone rid him of that meddlesome reporter, Georgy Gongadze.

Did Kuchma give the nod for the journalist to be "done away with?" The answer to that question may never be totally clear. But some now say that the reporter's headless corpse may bring down the head of the Ukrainian government who tried to cover it all up.