6 April 2001, Volume 1, Number 9
INTERNATIONALSYMPOSIUM ON MEDIA AND ETHNIC IDENTITY. The International Demokritos Foundation will hold its third International Symposium on Ethnic Identities and Political Action in Post-Cold War Europe in Xanthi, Greece, 16-19 August. Among other topics, it will consider the role of mass media in shaping ethnic identity and international political action, and Balkan issues. Deadline is 25 April; email: email@example.com. (MINELRES, 30 March)
INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISM EXCHANGE. The International Journalism Exchange is an annual five-week program for nine editors from around the world in the U.S. operated by the International Center for Journalists, with training sessions in Washington and New York, and a month of work at similarly sized U.S. newspapers. The program is funded by The Freedom Forum and co-organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The deadline is 1 June. For more, email firstname.lastname@example.org. (World Movement for Democracy's Democracy-IT Group, 30 March)
ARMENIAJOURNALIST SUMMONED TO PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE. On 26 March journalist Vahan Ishkhanian was summoned to the Prosecutor's Office to give testimony on his article, "Corruption and the President Office," printed on 21 February in "Haikakan Zhamanak" daily. The article claims that in gratitude for giving his bank the monopoly for currency exchange desks at the Yerevan airport, the chairman of the board of Converse Bank, gave a $60,000 jeep to Alexan Haroutiunian, chairman of the Presidential Council on Local Self-Administration. The Prosecutor's Office has been asked to bring a criminal libel suit against the journalist. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 24-30 March)
JOURNALISTS' GROUP SUPPORTS NTV. The Yerevan Press Club expressed its solidarity with NTV reporters, saying that "NTV enjoys respect among Armenian viewers" and expresses hope that "this conflict, doing no honor to the State, will be ended with no damage to the freedom of expression." (Yerevan Press Club, 4 April)
FIRST LITERATURE INTERNET MAGAZINE LAUNCHED. On 29 March the presentation of the Internet magazine "Bnagir", the first electronic literature edition in the Armenian language, took place in Yerevan. "Bnagir" is produced by the personal funds of its two co-editors -- the poet Violetta Grigorian and writer Vahram Martirosian. (www.bnagir.am) ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 24-30 March)
AZERBAIJANPOLICE BEAT UP REPORTER. Azerbaijani police beat up Idrak Abbasov, a journalist with the "Impuls" newspaper, when he tried to photograph the police trying to shut down a news kiosk, the Turan news agency reported. Both the newspaper and the kiosk operator protested the action, the news agency said, but police officials told Turan that nothing of the sort had in fact happened. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)
SUIT AGAINST JOURNALISTS DROPPED. In late March, the Karabakh Prosecutor-General's Office dropped a suit instituted in late December 1999 against the "10th Nahang" weekly for insulting the honor and dignity of the top official of the Armenian Karabakh administration. The weekly was the first independent publication in Karabakh, published from November 1999 until April 2000. Only during a routine call to the Prosecutor-General's Office to try to clarify their situation, did the reporters find out the case against them had been dropped. The journalists believe the main purpose of this campaign was to shut down their weekly. ("Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter," 24-30 March)
Aliyev ORDERS COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES PRIVATIZED. On 30 March, President Heidar Aliyev issued 29 decrees calling for the privatization of enterprises and facilities owned by the Communications Ministry, including the telephone network, the telegraph system, and Teleradio, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April)
AZERBAIJANI RADIO GOES INTERNATIONAL. Burc FM began broadcasting via satellite to Azerbaijani-language listeners around the world on 2 April, Turan reported the same day. The news agency said this is "the first time in history" that listeners abroad will be able to enter into dialogue live with a station in Baku. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)
BELARUSPOLICE DETAIN PHOTOGRAPHER. On 25 March 2001, Dmitri Yegorov, a photojournalist for Grodno-based non-state newspaper "Birzha Informacji," was detained by police during the opposition-organized Freedom Day demonstration. (Article 19, 3 April)
GEORGIAWEEKLY IS TARGET OF INTIMIDATION. In a 3 April letter, the International Press Institute (IPI) expressed alarm at the recent attacks on the Tbilisi newspaper "Meridiani" and its staff. According to IPI, when staff at the weekly "Meridiani" returned to work on 1 April they discovered their offices had been broken into and a number of computers were missing. Among the stolen items were two computers containing templates, back-up files, and the current issue of "Meridiani." As a result of the incident, "Meridiani" was forced to suspend publication. Tamaz Tsertsvadze, editor-in-chief of "Meridiani", believes that the incident was deliberately aimed at stopping publication of the newspaper. (International Press Institute, 3 April)
HUNGARYGOVERNMENT CRITICIZED FOR MEDIA POLICY. The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) said in its latest report that the Hungarian government and FIDESZ in particular are attempting to exert political influence over the press and the electronic media, Hungarian media reported on 2 April. The criticism comes after FIDESZ submitted last week a draft law under which the media could be obliged by a court to publish corrections and pay fines if anyone objects to published or broadcast opinions. FIDESZ parliamentary member Robert Repassy said "the defense of personal rights enjoys priority over press freedom or the freedom of opinion." IPI claims, however, that if the law is passed, Hungary will breach EU rules. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)
KAZAKHSTANTRIAL OF OPPOSITION JOURNALISTS RESUMES. After a one- month postponement, the trial of Ermurat Bapi, editor in chief of the newspaper "SolDat," and of dissident historian Karishal Asanov resumed in an Almaty District Court on 29 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. The two men face charges of insulting the honor and dignity of President Nursultan Nazarbaev in an article by Asanov published in "SolDat" on the eve of Nazarbaev's 60th birthday last summer. The issue of the paper containing that article was printed in Russia and confiscated by Kazakh customs officers on the Russian-Kazakh border. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor on 29 March demanded two years of imprisonment for Bapi and one for Asanov. On 3 April, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported, the judge ruled that Asanov had written the article not for "SolDat" but for a website and was found not guilty. Ermurat Bapi, who had taken Asanov's article from the Internet to print in his paper, was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, but released on amnesty in the courtroom. Bapi has said he will appeal the decision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March)
KOSOVOJOURNALIST KILLED IN SHELLING. Associated Press TV producer Kerem Loton was killed on 28 March in a mortar shelling of a strip of territory inside Kosovo along the border with Macedonia. Eyewitnesses said that an AP TV crew came to the village to report on armed border clashes. Allegedly, a cameraman got out of their vehicle while Loton stayed in the car when it was hit by a mortar shell. Loton had several assignments during the Kosovo war and then became a regular AP correspondent from Kosovo last year, the AP reported. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
JOURNALISTS ATTACKED. Three Albanian extremists threw stones and batted an OSCE car on 28 March in Kosovska Mitrovica. The OSCE vehicle was carrying OSCE spokesman Christian Hans Glassing and Serbian journalists. Glassing called French KFOR soldiers, who talked to the Albanian extremists, FoNet reported. No one was injured in the incident.("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
KYRGYZSTANOPPOSITION PAPER NOT PRINTED. The opposition newspaper "Res Publika" was not printed on 30 March even though it had agreed not to identify some of the journalists writing for it as former members of the now banned "Asaba" newspaper, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The same day some 200 people picketed in Bishkek in support of the paper and demanded that President Askar Akaev resign. Meanwhile, State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov told RFE/RL that "Asaba" had been suspended for debt rather than for political reasons. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April)
RUSSIAU.S. FINANCIER TAKES OVER HELM AT NTV... As expected, an NTV shareholders' meeting on 3 April resulted in sweeping changes in the management of the embattled television station. Boris Jordan, a U.S.-born financier who runs the Sputnik Group investment fund, was selected as the station's general director, replacing Yevgenii Kiselev. At his first press conference in his new capacity, Jordan stated that "in the U.S., a company with such financial results would have been liquidated in a week." He said the company's debts are 150 percent greater than its annual revenues. Jordan pledged to preserve NTV's editorial independence, but suggested that the "company will survive, whether [its current journalists] want to work with us or not." He added that "there should be no illusions...I have a fiduciary responsibility to make the company profitable." According to AP, the station's evening newscast showed a screen behind the anchorman with scores of NTV employees standing silently as the station's logo in the corner of the screen was covered by the word protest in red letters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)
...AND WHO IS THIS U.S. FINANCIER? Boris Jordan, the son of Russian immigrants to the U.S., played a controversial role in mid-1990s privatizations in Russia, reported AFP. He was once denied a Russian visa after winning in the disputed 1997 sale of the Svyazinvest telephone company. And the current head of Gazprom's media branch, Alfred Kokh, -- at that time minister for privatization -- was accused of taking bribes from Jordan's business associate. Sputnik, owned by Jordan's group, owns the Moscow radio station Evropa-Plus. (AFP, 3 April)
...AS NEW BOARD IS INSTALLED. Also elected on 3 April was a new board of directors that now includes Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev; Gazprom first deputy head Vyacheslav Sheremet; Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh; his deputy Aleksandr Kazakov; NTV journalist Leonid Parfenov; NTV-Kino Director Vladilen Arsenev; NTV Holding Executive Director Mikhail Shmushkevich; and Vladimir Kulistikov, chairman of RIA-Vesti board of governors, according to ITAR-TASS. Kulistikov was also named NTV editor in chief, according to Interfax. According to "Segodnya" on 4 April, Parfenov has already announced that he will not serve on the board. Parfenov and Shmushkevich had announced prior to their election that they regard the shareholders' meeting as invalid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)
PUTIN AGAIN ASKED TO INTERVENE IN NTV CONTROVERSY. NTV's Public Council, which is headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, issued a statement on 4 April asking Russian President Vladimir Putin "to intervene in the conflict" over the embattled television station NTV, since Putin has declared more than once "his responsibility for all that happens in the country." The statement said that Gazprom's attempt to seize the company "affects the interests not only of the journalists' collective but all of society." Also on 4 April, a number of members of Russia's intelligentsia, including Sergei Filatov, chairman of the organizational committee of the Congress of the Russian Intelligentsia, and poet Rimma Kazakova, sent an open letter to Putin regarding NTV. The letter-writers praised Putin's address to the Federal Assembly the previous day and called on him "to create the necessary conditions for the normal work of independent creative collectives." On 7 April, the Union of Journalists plans to release one of the special editions of "Obshchaya gazeta" that traditionally appear whenever press freedom is under threat, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
TURNER CONFIRMS DEAL WITH GUSINSKY... Following a report in "The Washington Post" on 4 April and again on 5 April that U.S. media magnate Ted Turner has concluded a deal with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Gusinsky for the purchase of Gusinsky's Media-MOST group. Turner's company, Turner Venture International, confirmed that an agreement had been reached, Interfax reported that day. According to "The Washington Post," Turner, participating in a consortium with international financier George Soros, offered Gusinsky $225 million for his company. According to the newspaper, Turner commented a few weeks ago: "You know, I never got a broadcast network. The bad news is, the one I'm about to get is in Russia." According to a press release from his company, the Turner-Soros consortium has reached an agreement with Gazprom that "neither side would try to acquire full control over NTV." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
...AS MEDIA-MOST ASKS FOR 3-MONTH REPRIEVE... Meanwhile, Media-MOST has suggested that Gazprom and Gazprom-Media introduce a three-month moratorium on making any creative or technical managerial changes at NTV. According to a Media-MOST press release, the moratorium is necessary in connection with the fact that "a group of foreign investors led by Ted Turner" has achieved an agreement on obtaining a package of shares in NTV. To protest what they feel was an illegal takeover by Gazprom-Media, journalists at NTV announced on 4 April that the station will be broadcasting only news shows instead of its regular program mix of news and entertainment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
...AND SPLIT EMERGES AT GAZPROM-MEDIA? "Izvestiya" reported on 5 April that one member of Gazprom-Media's board of directors, attorney Anatolii Blinov, has resigned in protest over the company's actions regarding NTV. Blinov told the newspaper that he believes "everything was done by the book" at the 3 April NTV shareholders' meeting; however, "Gazprom-Media's PR campaign is a dismal failure. If it comes to the worst, the whole thing could end in mass protests -- not against what was done, but against how it was done." Blinov further predicted that a "takeover by force" lies in store at NTV. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
DUMA REJECTS PROPOSAL TO CONSIDER RESOLUTION SUPPORTING NTV... Deputies rejected on 4 April a proposal by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky to place a draft resolution supporting NTV's staff on the legislative agenda. The first time around, only 108 deputies of the 226 needed supported the proposal. According to ITAR-TASS, a spokesman for the Agro-Industrial group stated that "NTV has nothing to do either with freedom of speech or Russia's national interests." On the same day, Federation Council members rejected a similar proposal proffered by Science and Culture Committee Chairman Valerii Sudarenkov. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev commented that "such a company as NTV, with such a talented group, should be preserved and given the opportunity to work and create." For his part, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov advised NTV journalists to seek redress in a court of law. He added that he does not approve of acts of civil disobedience until all legal means have been exhausted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)
...AFTER GUSINSKY LOSES THREE COURT BATTLES... A Moscow court rejected a lawsuit on 29 March filed by NTV seeking to invalidate a decision to hold a NTV shareholders' meeting in Moscow on 3 April. On the same day, a London court ruled that it would not hear a challenge of Media-MOST Group head Vladimir Gusinsky over who controls a block of shares in NTV, Reuters reported. The shareholders' meeting was called by Gazprom- Media head Alfred Kokh. Media-MOST issued a statement that it is "powerless in the face of the arbitrariness of the Russian legal process." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March) In another instance of legal about-faces, a judge in Saratov ruled on 2 April that the NTV shareholders' meeting in Moscow was illegal, and then reversed himself the next day, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. Since it takes ten days for the initial ruling to lack legal force, under Russian law NTV had the right to appeal in ten days. Furthermore, according to the NTV lawyer, the judge had no right to reverse his decision without the involvement of the appeal bodies. In the final analysis, however, since the NTV lawyer supposedly lacked the necessary documents to take part in the original trial, that fact served as the legal pretext for the judge to reverse his decision. (RFE/RL Russian Service, 4 April)
...ARBITRATION COURT HAS 'DOUBLE STANDARDS...' The refusal of the Moscow arbitration court to examine the claim of Media-MOST on the legality of the NTV Gazprom-Media stockholders' meeting was justified because the dispute is between two corporations which are not headquartered in Russia -- Gibraltar-based Media-MOST Capital and Management (affiliated company of Media-MOST) and Cyprus-based Leadville Investment (affiliated company of Gazprom-Media) -- and hence not subject to its jurisdiction. But the same Moscow arbitration court earlier ruled on the suit of Leadville Investment against Media-MOST Capital; this claim imposed a 19 percent voting bloc of NTV shares. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 2 April)
...AND MUSCOVITES RALLY FOR NTV... More than 10,000 people gathered on Moscow's Pushkin Square on 31 March to express their support for freedom of speech and the embattled television station NTV, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The turnout was double that expected by the rally's organizers, the Union of Journalists, the Glasnost Foundation, Yabloko, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), according to the bureau. Participants carried signs saying "We Love NTV" and "We want to watch NTV." Irina Khakamada, deputy Duma speaker (SPS), declared that "there is a tremendous threat to freedom of speech in Russia today." "But," she continued, "this rally is good in the sense that there is a need for preventive measures and for a warning that we will fight for freedom." Former Russian Public Television anchorman Sergei Dorenko, who also attended the rally, told RFE/RL that while he personally does not like NTV, he wants to be able to turn it off himself rather than have Russian President Vladimir Putin do it for him. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April)
...AND GUSINSKY APPEALS TO GERMANY. Meanwhile, "Frankfurter Rundschau" reported on 31 March that Media-MOST Group head Vladimir Gusinsky has urged German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to raise the issue of NTV's independence during Schroeder's summit with Putin on 9-10 April, according to Reuters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April)
RFE/RL'S DINE CONDEMNS CHANGES AT NTV. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine added his voice on 4 April to the international condemnation of the Russian government's takeover of the independent NTV television network in Russia. "By taking this step," Dine said, "the Russian government significantly reduces the ability of Russian citizens to gain access to independent and reliable information about their country and the world." Moreover, he said, "it calls into question that regime's commitment to an open society and democratic change." At the same time, Dine added, this action highlights the growing importance of U.S. and other international broadcasting to Russia, including RFE/RL's 24-hour-a-day Russian Service. (RFE/RL Press Release, 4 April) Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Russian Service devoted three hours of special live coverage on 3 April of the protest activities by journalists at the NTV headquarters in Ostankino, as well as the NTV press conference and other events. Other RFE/RL services also ran special reports on the NTV situation.
'ITOGI' SLATED TO TAKE ON NEW EDITORS. Sergei Parkhomenko, the editor in chief of Media-MOST company's "Itogi" magazine, said on 2 April that he is not ruling out the possibility that his editorial staff will be completely replaced. The same day, "Segodnya" Editor in Chief Mikhail Berger told Interfax that some 20-30 people on his newspaper's staff have agreed to form a new editorial team for "Itogi": "Some people...have agreed to publish the journal under state control, considering this to be more comfortable and safe for them." "Segodnya" is set to stop publishing by 1 May, but the majority of the newspaper's staff is prepared to put out the newspaper under a new publisher, according to Berger. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)
BIG CHANGES EXPECTED AT TV-6. At a shareholders meeting on 29 March, former deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov was elected chairman of the board of directors of TV-6, replacing TV-6 founder Eduard Sagalaev. Badri Patarkatsishvilii was elected the channel's general director, replacing Aleksandr Ponomarev, who became first deputy general director. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the new leadership is not trying to hide the fact that "big changes" should be expected. Shabdurasulov told Interfax on 29 March that in 1.5 to two years, TV-6 could become the third nationwide channel. "Vedomosti" reported on 15 March, according to an unidentified source close to Boris Berezovsky, who owns 75 percent of the shares in TV-6, that the oligarch does not want to develop TV-6 into a network that opposes the government. However, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 March that Patarkatsishvilii has suggested that TV-6 will "influence the political situation in the country." "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" are both controlled by Berezovsky. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March)
WAS ORT CENSORED BY THE KREMLIN? Writing to Johnson's Russia List (JRL) on 4 April, ORT reporter Victor Kalashnikov claimed the news program "Odnako," hosted by Mikhail Leontyev, had been "banned today on a direct instruction from the presidential administration." Kalashnikov said this incident is "the first time after ["Odnako"] was launched two years ago, that it was banned for a political reason." Two hours before the show was due to be broadcast, according to Kalashnikov, the producers were told "the text of the program was 'politically inappropriate;''' the program was critical of German Gref's economic reform plan. In a later 4 April message to JRL, the Russian reporter said that "after a tough discussion today with the ORT's management a soften version of the banned story has been aired this evening."
PERM OFFICIALS GET MEDIA MARCHING ORDERS. The city administration has ordered the officials of Perm town administration that they are no longer allowed to provide any information directly to journalists. All inquiries should henceforth go via the press service as a compulsory measure. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 2 April)
ALEKSII II CRITICIZES MEDIA'S NEGATIVISM. Patriarch Aleksii II said on 27 March that he does not agree with the negativistic approach in many Russian mass media outlets, Interfax reported. He said that many outlets are dominated by stories about "what burned, who was killed, what sank, and what was destroyed." The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said that there should be more information about positive developments and good people. He also said that "to return to Holy Russia is our task." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
WEAK LAWS AGAINST PORNOGRAPHY DECRIED. In the wake of a successful joint operation with the U.S. Customs Service against a Russian child pornography ring, Russian investigators said that the weakness of Russian legislation in this area means that "the main flow of child pornography now is coming from Russia," AP reported. Russian law does not make possession of pornography a crime, makes no distinction between child and adult pornography, and imposes relatively light sentences on those caught making and distributing it. In addition, Russia's low age of consent -- 14 -- means that many relatively young people are subject to sexual predators, but the authorities cannot act against them in many cases. And that, in turn, has made Russia an increasingly popular destination for sex tourists, Russian investigators said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
'OSCARS' TO BE HANDED OUT AT END OF THE MONTH. The Russian Film Academy has announced its nominations for the "Nika" prize, which will be granted on 28 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 March. The film "Diary of My Wife" attracted the most nominations with seven, and "Russian Rebellion" and "Moon Daddy" received five nominations each. "Diary of My Wife," "Moon Daddy," and "Tender Age" are all up for best film and best director. Film expert Aleksandr Timofeevskii told RFE/RL that there is no dominant trend among the nominees. He said that "Diary of My Wife," which was Russia's submission for the foreign film category for the Academy Awards, "is a typical English melodrama," while Sergei Soloviev's "Tender Age" is the only nominee in that category that is a "modern art film." The "Nika" prize has been awarded for 14 years, according to the bureau. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April)
SERBIAINDEPENDENT PUBLIC INFORMATION LAW DRAFT BY 10 APRIL. After completing their draft of the new Broadcast Act, the Media Center and Independent Association of Journalists expect to finish by 10 April, the daily "Vecernje novosti" reported on 24 March. The Public Information Law draft is being developed on the basis of European countries, particularly those who have undergone similar transitions. "The draft Broadcast Act that has been submitted to the Serbian government would create an independent regulatory body to deal with distributing concessions for the usage of broadcast frequencies," working group chairman Rade Veljanovski said. Veljanovski emphasized that the Public Information Law draft will focus on protecting freedom and public communications. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
NEW REPORT ON SERBIAN DEFAMATION PROVISIONS. The International Press Institute and its affiliate the South East European Media Organization (SEEMO) on 26 March released a report entitled "Articles in Bad Faith: Criminal Defamation Laws in Serbia." The report highlights the repressive nature of criminal laws in this area, and urges the Serbian government to review and amend articles in its Criminal Code concerning freedom of expression. IPI and SEEMO said that these articles should be repealed, noting that defamation should be dealt with under civil law and that so-called insult laws have been used by repressive regimes to silence journalists reporting critically on government affairs. In their letter to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, IPI and SEEMO stressed the need to establish a free and independent media which is "the foundation on which to build a democratic society." For the complete text, see http://www.freemedia.at/r_serbialegislation.htm
CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT BY OTPOR ACTIVISTS DISMISSED. The Belgrade deputy municipal prosecutor dismissed on 28 March criminal charges brought by Otpor activists against media companies Politika, Vecernje novosti, Borba, and Tanjug news agency. Former senior officials of the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Yugoslav United Left, were also charged. Otpor activists Momcilo Veljkovic and Radojko Lukovic filed criminal charges against these media houses and former officials for spreading false news, going public with personal and family information, and insults and defamation. The prosecutor's office explanation states there is not sufficient evidence of the alleged criminal acts, Otpor stated in its press release, FoNet reported. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
MEDIA STILL FAR FROM FREE. The Serbian Helsinki Committee released its annual human rights report on 26 March, claiming that the situation in the media has deteriorated in the past two months. "Instead of featuring stories about war crimes, our media have attempted to play them down or even promote suspected criminals into heroes," the report says, citing the example of the interview with Veselin Sljivancanin. The report also highlights that TV Palma regularly invites guests known for their extreme nationalist views, wrote the daily "Danas" in its summary of the report.
LOCAL MEDIA MAY SHUT DOWN IF AID SUSPENDED. A two-day Belgrade seminar of the financial status of media organized by the Nezavisnost labor union agreed that negotiations with the government were needed to improve the economic situation of the media; continued international assistance was also essential, particularly for the local media. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
TADIC ON TV KOSAVA. "If TV Kosava broadcasts under the name 'Kanal 1,' you will be shut down on that very same day," Federal Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic told the new owners of TV Kosava on 24 March. TV Kosava's broadcast license was obtained a couple of years ago by then owner Marija Milosevic, Tadic said at a press conference. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
FORMER RTS EMPLOYEE CLAIMS MILANOVIC IS LYING. Former Radio Television Serbia (RTS) employee Zivorad Simic denied claims by former RTS Director Dragoljub Milanovic that the news program could not have been produced by its Belgrade studio at the time. Milanovic has been held in custody since 13 February this year under suspicion that he had been warned in advance that NATO would bomb the RTS studio and allowed his employees to remain in that building, resulting in the deaths of 16 employees when NATO bombed the studio 22-23 April 1999. In a statement to Beta news agency, Simic stated that the RTS program could have been produced in a news broadcast van. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
VOJVODINA REFORMISTS OPPOSE ISAKOV AS RTS DIRECTOR. It is neither in the Vojvodina Reform Party's interest, nor in Vojvodina's, that its leader Miograd Isakov be named director of Radio Television Serbia (RTS), party officials said on 25 March. Isakov should remain their party president because "the battle for changes and Vojvodina's autonomy is not over yet," party officials wrote to Beta news agency. "The haggling over RTS has been going on for too long, and it is starting to damage not only Democratic Opposition of Serbia's (DOS) reputation, but also the reputation of our leader and of the Vojvodina Reformists who are neither responsible nor want to be responsible for any of that," the Reformists' statement concluded. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
RTS EMPLOYEES DEMAND MANAGEMENT TEAM BE DISMISSED. Radio Television Serbia (RTS) staff demanded the dismissal of the entire management and the appointment of a new general director, the RTS labor union told a press conference on G17 Plus premises 26 March. Having presented numerous problems faced by state TV, RTS managing board member Dusan Trtica compared the RTS situation before and after 5 October, saying that almost nothing changed. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
NEW RTS GENERAL MANAGER TO BE NAMED? The Serbian government is expected to finally appoint a new Radio Television of Serbia general manager next week. According to Social Democrat Union leader and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac, the DOS candidate for the post, Miodrag Isakov, withdrew his candidacy because his conditions for taking the post were too stringent and apparently could not be met. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
...AS ACTING RTS DIRECTOR RESIGNS. The RTS acting Director Nenad Ristic resigned, explaining that the RTS independent labor union had forced him to do so. Ristic complained of receiving a steady stream of trade union demands, while the independent RTS labor union told B92 that it had been insisting for months that the new management embark on solving enormous problems plaguing RTS, saying the union will support any candidate proposed by the government as it is entitled to under the law. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
BUJANOVAC REPORTERS PROTEST. Reporters of some 20 news agencies, newspapers, and TV broadcasters accredited at the government Bujanovac Press Center sent an open letter on 27 March to the head of the government coordinating team for south Serbia, Nebojsa Covic, protesting against unequal treatment and favoritism toward Radio Television of Serbia. The journalists recommended that Covic and the coordinating team restore the previous system established immediately after the Press Center had been formed so that its users could be informed on the events taking place in south Serbia in a timely and objective manner, FoNet reported. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
'WARNING' FOR CACAK OZON RADIO? Unknown persons broke a window in the editorial offices of privately owned Ozon Radio in Cacak on 28 March, FoNet agency reports. "This incident is an attempt to intimidate and warn the journalists," Ozon Radio editor in chief Stojan Markovic told FoNet. According to Markovic, "the warning" ensued after "a very critical opinion with respect to the local government representatives and Cacak mayor Velimir Ilic" had been voiced on the program. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
ACCESS TO HOUSE OF JOURNALISTS GRANTED. The Justice Ministry of Serbia has accepted the proposal to allow all registered journalists' associations to use the premises of the Dom novinara (House of Journalists) building until contentious ownership issues are resolved, the Serbian government announced on 30 March.
TURKMENISTANPRESIDENT CRITICIZES NATIONAL TV, CULTURE MINISTRY. Saparmurat Niyazov has criticized workers in the cultural sphere and the media for a variety of failings, Interfax reported on 27 March citing a source in the presidential administration. He blamed Minister of Culture Oraz Aidogdyev for organizational failings and Kakadzhan Ashirov, who is responsible for theaters and TV and radio broadcasting, for the scarcity of theater performances and for condoning low aesthetic standards and broadcasting programs that "fail to reflect the national features" of the Turkmen people. Niyazov further accused the heads of artistic trade unions for pursuing their own commercial interests rather than encouraging and supporting younger colleagues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March)
UKRAINEKUCHMA TELLS CRITICS TO 'CAPITULATE.' A bristling Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told his critics on 3 April, according to Reuters, that "You make absurd proposals which no president could accept," he told a reporter representing murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's website (www.pravda.com.ua) "I have no intention of capitulating -- it is you (the opposition) who should capitulate before me," he said during a two-hour question-and-answer session with reporters. Kuchma also repeated his claim that the tapes, recorded in his office by a former bodyguard, were doctored.
UZBEKISTANRFE/RL TASHKENT BUREAU CRITICIZED. AFP reported on 3 April that several Uzbek human rights groups had joined some local staffers of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in claiming that the head of the service's Tashkent office was "failing to air opposition criticism of the state."
REGIONALMOSCOW, MINSK SET UP JOINT MEDIA GROUP. The head of the Television and radio broadcasting company Soyuz, Valentin Lazutkin, announced the creation of a Russian-Belarusian mass media holding that will include several newspapers, the radio station Soyuz, and web portals soyuz.info and monitoring.ru, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 March. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 4 April)
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITESNEW NEWSLETTER ON MEDIA IN RUSSIA. The first issue (January-February 2001) of the "European Institute for the Media Newsletter" (EIM) on media developments in the Russian Federation was released on 2 April. Information, provided by ten EIM reporters in Russia, is grouped in five categories: news; media and government; law; conferences; new technology. This project is partly funded by the Commission of the European Union through its Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy. The newsletter is also produced in Russian which can be obtained by contacting Ljudmila von Berg, program administrator: email@example.com. (European Institute for the Media, 2 April)
NEW REPORT ON MEDIA VIOLATIONS IN SERBIA. The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) published an annual review of media freedom violations worldwide, IPI announced on 29 March. In the section on Yugoslavia, prepared for IPI by ANEM, the report points out that "the period before the democratic revolution of 5 October will be remembered by assassinations, arrests and harassment of journalists, bans on radio and TV broadcasters, fines imposed under the notorious Public Information Act, confiscation of equipment, and the expulsion of foreign journalists." As to the last three months of the past year, the report focuses the broadcast frequency allocation moratorium by Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic, arguing that it preserves the status quo from the former regime's anti-media campaign. Another reason for concern is foreign companies' purchases of media close to former Yugoslav President Milosevic. Despite state media's new openness, the report stresses, there are still serious obstacles to normal operations of Radio Television Serbia, particularly the uncritical stance of its journalists to state officials and organizations. A ban on broadcasting a documentary series, "Images and Words of Hatred," in late October last year illustrates the point, IPI argued. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
REPORT RELEASED ON MEDIA VIOLATIONS IN KOSOVO. The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) report draws particular attention to violations of journalists' rights in Kosovo. The IPI highlighted the assassination of Albanian-language Pristina daily "Rilindja Vucitrn" reporter Sefki Popove; the serious attack on Radio Kontakt journalist Valentina Cukic in the center of Pristina on 20 June last year, and the case of an RTV Kosovo Serbian Service journalist, Marijan Melonasi, who went missing in September 2000. None of these cases has been solved to date, Radio B92 reports. The complete report is available at http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/serbia.htm.
END NOTEDECLARING WAR ON THE MEDIA
By Paul Goble
The move by state-controlled Gazprom gas company to take over Russia's only independent television network, NTV, this week has been described by that network's defenders as the most serious challenge yet to freedom of speech in Russia.
Gazprom, the energy monopoly which is partially owned by the state, on 3 April moved to take control of NTV, a step the Russian government insists that it has nothing to do with but one that both journalists at the network and other media organizations say is clearly intended to rein in the most independent and critical television network in Russia today.
Kremlin officials continue to insist that the dispute between Gazprom and embattled media magnate and former NTV owner Vladimir Gusinsky which has now led to Gazprom taking control of the NTV board is a private financial dispute about the debt that Gusinsky, now facing extradition from Spain, owes Gazprom. But many Russians, journalist and non-journalist alike, view Gazprom's assumption of ownership as yet another effort by the Kremlin to silence public criticism of its actions.
When the transfer of ownership was announced, NTV journalists dropped normal programming and featured the following message on an otherwise blank screen: "In protest at the illegal attempt to change the board of NTV, only news programs will be broadcast." And the NTV journalists spent the night at the station's headquarters out of a concern that Gazprom's media group would seek to impose by force a new management.
Even as that confrontation was taking place, journalists and others in Russia and around the world spoke out against this action. NTV General Manager Yevgeny Kiselyov directly blamed President Vladimir Putin for Gazprom's action. "Putin unleashed this war against NTV and now makes out as if he has nothing to do with it," Kiselyov said.
Another Russian journalist, Kseniya Ponomareva, said that "Putin is not an opponent of free speech -- it just strikes him as absurd that someone should have the right to publicly judge his actions." And Oleg Panfilov, the director of Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, raised the specter of a return to a Soviet-style past.
"It is difficult to say what could happen if there is no NTV," he said. "In Russia, you will have a return to Central Television of the Soviet Union, which will show only propaganda and which will only talk about the president and say that everything is fine."
And former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he will continue to try to intervene with Putin on this issue, noting that when he called on 4 April, Putin's aides said that the president was occupied.
All of these statements come on the heels of a protest last weekend organized by Yabloko and other democratic parties and groups last weekend in defense of NTV and against government attempts to gain editorial control of that independent network. And they reflect the conjunction of two developments.
On the one hand, ever more Russians depend on the electronic media and especially on television as their primary or even only source for news. Except for NTV, the other channels have kept to the government line on critical issues such as the war in Chechnya and human rights. In the absence of alternative sources of information, ordinary Russians are less likely to adopt positions critical of the government, and consequently the population is less likely to have an impact on the actions of the government itself.
And on the other hand, this Gazprom move to take over NTV appears to be part of an effort by the Russian government to use nominally private enterprises such as Gazprom to do its bidding. Such an arrangement inevitably tends to deflect outside criticism because it gives those in the government the ability to plausibly deny that they are in fact behind such moves.
The fight over NTV is certainly far from over, but the battle that the Kremlin and its allies appear to have won this week means that the backers of a free media in Russia face an uphill struggle in the future.