20 July 2001, Volume 1, Number 23
INTERNATIONALEUROPEAN INSTITUTE OF MEDIA CIS NEWSLETTER. The 24-page June issue of the "European Institute for the Media Newsletter" on media developments in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was issued on 16 July. The regular free newsletter on media developments features sections on media news; media and government; media law; media conferences, and new media technology for each country. This information is provided by EIM correspondents in 12 countries of the former Soviet Union. This newsletter is partly funded by the Commission of the European Union. The bulletin is also available in Russian, contact Ljudmila von Berg at firstname.lastname@example.org. (European Institute for the Media, 16 July)
ARMENIAJUSTICE MINISTRY WANTS MEDIA COOPERATION. After the prison system is transferred from the Ministry of Interior Affairs to the Ministry of Justice on 1 October of this year, media and NGO representatives will be able to hold regular visits, said the head of the Department of Structural Reforms of the Ministry of Justice, Nikolay Arustamian. He claimed that his ministry will attempt to ensure the transparency of the penitentiary system and that therefore cooperation with the media and non-governmental sector is of utmost importance. Arustamian also proposed the creation of a contact group for the media and NGOs with his ministry; he also seemed to accede to media requests that unscheduled prison visits could also be conducted, but warned that prisoners must agree in advance to meet with journalists. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 7-13 July)
FM RADIO -- GOVERNMENT STYLE? According to the Executive Director of the National Radio of Armenia (NRA) Armen Amirian, NRA debt is about 135 million drams (about $243,000), while the state owes NRA some 100 million drams (about $180,000). According to Amirian, the fiscal situation will not be clarified sooner than September. On 6 July, however, the government ruled that NRA should start nationwide FM broadcasts and that over the next three years transmitters be installed on existing radio relay microwave stations. This governmental decision surprised the Amirian, since he claims that "NRA has been broadcasting on FM for over a year. The area of dissemination covers the whole country, except the Syunik region, which will be included by late 2001. So it is not quite clear why an expense of 370 million drams (about $667,000) should be taken out of the state budget to create a new network," Amirian said. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 7-13 July)
AZERBAIJANGOVERNMENT SUED. The European Court accepted a lawsuit brought by Rasul Rauf, president of independent broadcaster Sara, against the Azerbaijan government. Two years ago, the governmental agency for broadcasting frequencies cancelled the company's broadcasting license. Because of that the broadcaster had to suspend its operations. ("European Institute for the Media Newsletter," June)
PRESS NON GRATA. During a recent trial of five members of the Kurdish Worker's Party who illegally entered Azerbaijan from Armenia, the judge ruled that video recording of the session should be stopped. He also ordered Mushfig Dzhafarov, cameraman of the ANS independent TV and radio broadcasting company, to be "neutralized". His camera was confiscated and Dzhafarov himself was put behind bars with the accused persons. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN MAJOR TV STATION... In an unexpected videotaped message to his staff on 16 July, Faig Sulfuganov, one of Azerbaijan's most powerful independent broadcasters, said that his station would close indefinitely by the end of the day. The message came at a celebration of the station's second year and stunned its 200 staffers. Just hours after the announcement, tax authorities at 1 a.m. on 17 July stopped two trucks in Baku with allegedly $320,000 worth of ABA equipment they had removed from the station, according to the Turan news agency. The report referred to a Ministry of Tax press release which claimed the equipment had been obtained "illegally," but did not say what specific charge had been levied against the station. The ABA station, whose broadcasts can be seen by roughly half of Azerbaijan's population of 8 million, has been plagued with alleged tax problems over the past year. (Internews Azerbaijan, 17 July)
...AND ITS PRESIDENT ASKS FOR ASYLUM IN U.S. In a telephone call to journalists on 18 July, ABA president Faig Zulfugarov announced that he is seeking political asylum in the United States, but vowed to return to Azerbaijan. Breaking a two-month silence, Zulfugarov told 30 journalists during a 45-minute phone-in press conference at the Baku Press Club that his station, which went off the air yesterday, has been pressured by authorities "because we were independent." Zulfugarov claimed today that ABA is being victimized because he refused to cede control of his station to the family of President Heidar Aliyev and that government authorities are trying to seize control of his high-quality broadcast equipment. He also said that he has asked the U.S. government for political asylum, but his statement could not be independently confirmed. Citing an official from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Baku television station ANS reported on 18 July that Azerbaijani authorities will apply to Interpol to bring Zulfugarov back to Azerbaijan to face charges of slandering the country�s president. Zulfugarov did return to Azerbaijan after attending a conference in the U.S. two months ago, just days after his station�s chief financial officer was arrested on 22 May on charges of tax evasion. (Internews Azerbaijan, 18 July)
TRANSITION TO LATIN SCRIPT SPELLS TROUBLE FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA. The government of Azerbaijan has ordered that as of 1 August, only the Latin script can be used in publications. Independent newspapers will be hit hard by the 18 June decree of President Aliev, since most publications are printed in Cyrillic, according to Azerbaijani press reports. Requiring newspapers to switch at once to the Latin script will sharply cut readership, since most people over the age of 30 cannot read the Latin script. Decreasing circulation, changing fonts, and reprogramming computers will likely produce economic hardships at many independent newspapers. The chairman of the Yeni Nesil Journalists' Union, Arif Aliev, said the government should assume a financial obligation for the change from the Cyrillic to Latin script. So far, the government has not responded to Aliev's proposal. The transition to the Latin script was not unexpected, since the decision to switch from Cyrillic to Latin script was adopted in 1992. For nearly ten years, the Latin script has been taught in schools, but most written materials were still published in Cyrillic. Public opinion in Azerbaijan remains divided over the issue. Changes to the alphabet are not new to Azerbaijan. Before the Russian Revolution, Arabic was generally employed; in the 1920s, Arabic gave way to the Latin script; Stalin then imposed Cyrillic in the 1930s, which was used until the end of the USSR. (Independent Journalists Network, 16 July)
BELARUSCASE OF DISAPPEARED ORT CAMERAMAN GOES TO COURT. Belarusian Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman has sent the case against four suspected kidnappers of Dzmitry Zavadski, a cameraman of Russia's ORT television station, to court, Belapan reported on 12 July. Zavadski went missing at the Minsk airport on 7 July 2000. The Prosecutor-General's Office accuses Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, former members of Belarus's antiterrorist force Almaz, and two other persons of seven premeditated murders, including that of Zavadski, as well as of five armed assaults, two kidnappings, and other crimes. Investigators have not found Zavadski's body. In June, two former Belarusian investigators Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak accused top state officials, including Sheyman, of organizing a death squad to liquidate opponents of the regime. According to Petrushkevich and Sluchak, the death squad killed Zavadski as well as opposition politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
POLICE RAID OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER. Police officers on 12 July raided the office of the independent newspaper "Volny horad" in Krychau, Mahileu Oblast, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. They arrested three journalists, confiscated computers and publications they found, and sealed the office. Dzmitry Syarheyeu, a correspondent with "Volny horad," told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that the police raid was most likely politically motivated. The "Volny horad" editorial office is in the same building as the headquarters of the local campaign staff of Syamyon Domash, a challenger to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 9 September presidential elections. According to Syarheyeu, the local authorities are "afraid" of the activities of Domash's campaigners in Krychau. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS ACCUSED OF CONFINING PLAINCLOTHESMAN. Syarhey Nyarouny, Mikalay Matarenka, and Vadzim Stsepanenka -- three journalists of the independent newspaper "Volny horad" in Krychau -- are facing charges of "illegal confinement" of a plainclothes police officer during a police raid on their editorial office last week, Belapan reported on 16 July. The plainclothesman got trapped in the office when the journalists shut the door on other police officers who came with an order to seize the newspaper's equipment. In addition, Editor in Chief Nyarouny is accused of using equipment from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk in violation of the presidential decree on foreign gratuitous aid. If found guilty, the journalists face up to five years in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
NATIONAL BROADCASTING CORPORATION CHAIR RESIGNS. Viktor Chikin, head of the National Broadcasting Corporation, resigned on 13 June after 10 months. Chikin believed that Belarusian TV should be "the shaping, in the population and international community, of an image of the Republic of Belarus as a modern democratic state featuring a dynamically developing national economy, solid legitimate state power, and stable civil society...." Yegor Rybakov, Chikin's deputy, was appointed acting head of the corporation. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
BOSNIADEATH THREATS FOR REPORTING ON MILOSEVIC ARREST. The arrest and transfer to The Hague of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been the subject of many reports on Alternative Television (ATV). ATV reporting on this event and on the crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia is an attempt to remind the government and people of Serbia that they are obligated to cooperate with the ICT in The Hague. A group calling itself "Avengers of October 5" has accused ATV of treason and collaboration with Americans and announced that recipients of the letters and their families will soon be executed. Natasa Tesnovic, ATV general manager, and Zoran Popovic, ATV news editor, received death threats from the Avengers group on 10 July, as did Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor of the Banja Luka magazine "BUKA" who has been reporting for ATV from The Hague on Milosevic's arrest. (Natasa Tesnovic letter, 11 July)
BULGARIACOURT STRIPS PRIVATE TV STATION OF LICENSE. A high court on 13 July stripped one of Bulgaria's private TV stations of its nationwide broadcasting license after competitors appealed against it, AP reported. The Sofia-based Nova TV, which is owned by the Greek Antenna Group, won a government tender to start nationwide broadcasts in November 2000, but competitors in the tender, including the Swedish Modern Times, appealed in court, saying the tender had not been "transparent enough." The court heeded the appeal and its decision is final. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
HUNGARYTV HAS NEW HEAD... The board of trustees of Hungarian public television on 12 July elected Executive Deputy Director Karoly Mendreczky to a four-year term as the new head of Hungarian TV. The 45-year-old Mendreczky, who has worked for the television for 20 years, was chosen from among four candidates by 19 of the board's 23 members. The board consists solely of pro-governing party representatives. Mendreczky said he expects the parliament to provide the television network with financial assistance to solve its serious financial problems, including its public debt of 12 billion forints ($40 million). His predecessor, Zsolt Laszlo Szabo, resigned in February 2001 as a result of his being unable to resolve the network's financial difficulties. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
...BUT INTERNATIONAL PRESS GROUP HAS QUESTIONS... The International Press Institute (IPI) has sent a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressing its concern over Karoly Medreczky's appointment as the new head of the Hungarian state television network, Hungarian media reported on 16 July. The IPI fears that the government will attempt to use Medreczky, a former member of FIDESZ, to enhance its control over the public television network. The IPI says the appointment could influence freedom of press in Hungary, and calls on Orban to issue a firm statement in support of the independence of television. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
...CITING RECENT GOVERNMENT MEDIA INTERFERENCE 'TREND.' In its letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, the International Press Institute cited a "growing trend of government interference in MTV (Hungarian Television)" over the last two years. On 3 June 1999, Laszlo Juszt, editor of the "Kriminalis" magazine, and host of a television program of the same name, faced possible charges of disclosing state secrets, resulting in the termination of his contract with MTV. On 29 June 1999, an editor and several new show staffers were removed from their positions after a story that stated FIDESZ party members had received preferential treatment from the Postabank financial concern. There have also been a number of high-profile dismissals that have seen long-standing journalists removed from MTV and replaced with pro-government employees. Another problem at MTV is the current position of the "curatorium" which was created under Hungarian broadcast law to oversee the state broadcaster's independence. The "curatorium" was supposed to have equal representation from the government and the opposition. At present, the body is currently operating with only government representatives taking their seats. Although this would appear to breach the law, the Hungarian Constitutional Court has ruled that this is legally acceptable. (International Press Institute, 16 July)
KAZAKHSTANUNION OF JOURNALISTS REVIVED. The new Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan (UJK) has started its work. The Union of Journalists that existed earlier convened for the last time in 1991. After the law on public associations was adopted in 1996, the Union failed to re-register and ceased to exist. Seitkazy Matayev was elected chairperson of the new UJK's board. The Union's main aims are to facilitate a dialogue between the media, authorities and society, to protect the freedom of expression and the legal and economic interests of the journalists, and also the rights, honor and dignity of journalists performing their professional duties. In Matayev's opinion, the UJK's weakest point is financing, as, according to the UJK's charter, the Union cannot carry out commercial operations. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
INTERNET IN KAZAKH. The website of the Khabar news agency (http://www.khabar.kz) launched a news section in Kazakh. Aleksei Gostev, Khabar's press secretary, said: "We are the first to post information on the Internet in the [Kazakh] state language...the use of the state language will develop further." ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
MACEDONIANEWSPAPERS CLOSE DOWN... Publishers of the daily "Makedonija Denes" and the weekly "Denes" said in Skopje on 17 July that they have ceased publication, at least until September, dpa reported. The publishers added that the government forced them to shut down by using financial and "indirect political pressure" because of the papers' independent line. "Makedonija Denes" began publishing on 16 September 1998. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
...BUT GOVERNMENT DENIES PRESSURE ON PAPERS. Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski denied allegations that the Macedonian government had urged the closing down of the privately owned newspapers "Makedonija denes" and "Denes," "Dnevnik" reported on 18 July. "At the moment, the government has more important tasks than to deal with this newspaper. The government did not exert pressure on 'Makedonija denes.' This is a privately owned company, and they have to decide whether and how to work," Milosovski said. The editor of "Makedonija denes" announced on 17 July that the newspaper will cease publication due to financial problems and government pressure. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
MOLDOVAPARLIAMENT BANS MEDIA FINANCING BY FOREIGN STATES. Parliament adopted an amendment to the country's Press Law banning financial support of Moldovan news media by foreign countries. Exempt from the ban are publications for children, researchers, and those produced by various arts' unions. Under the new amendment, all exemptions have to be approved by interstate accords. The faction of the Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD) in parliament voted against the amendment. According to sources from the legislature, the amendment is aimed primarily against the PPCD newspaper "Tara," which has received financial support from Romania (Curier Media). ("Moldova Media News," 16 July)
ETHICS COMMISSION PROTESTS COMMUNIST BROADCAST POLICIES. Members of the National Ethics Commission (NEC) have protested what they called the "dictatorial policies" of the ruling Communist Party vis-a-vis the national public broadcaster. Arbitrary firings, cancellations of public interest programs for political reasons, biased coverage of events - these were some of the recent developments at Teleradio-Moldova company mentioned at the NEC meeting in July. According to commission members, this leads to the "violation of political rights and indoctrination of society." Participants at the meeting launched an appeal to representatives of civil society to unite in defense of democratic freedoms in Moldova. They called for a ban on political interference in the editorial work of news organizations. ("Moldova Media News," 16 July)
RUSSIAPASKO DOUBTS HE'LL RECEIVE FAIR TRIAL. Grigorii Pasko, a journalist who is again facing trial in Vladivostok on charges of state treason for publishing documents about ecological damage caused by the Russian fleet, said in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 July that he does not believe he will get justice. For that reason, he said, he has already filed a suit to the European Court in Strasbourg. Meanwhile, a Krasnoyarsk court rejected a request by Valentin Danilov, a scientist charged with selling secrets to China, to release him from detention because of his health, Interfax reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
COURT SATISFIES NIKITIN'S SUIT AGAINST NEWSPAPER. On 5 July, a St. Petersburg court settled the lawsuit filed by Alexander Nikitin, employee of the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona, against the St. Petersburg newspaper "Chas Pik" (Rush Hour) and journalist Yevgeny Zubarev. The court ruled that the newspaper's administration must publish a refutation "based on all the plaintiff's demands," Nikitin's lawyer Yury Shmidt told Interfax. The court ruled that the information in an article entitled "When Politicians Speak, Femida is Silent" published on 14 May 2000, was untrue. The article accuses Nikitin of "trading in secret information about the naval potential of Russia, and the essence of the verdict of not guilty brought out by the city court and the Supreme Court was distorted," the lawyer said. (Interfax News Agency, 5 July)
KOKH DENIES PRESS FREEDOM UNDER THREAT. Speaking in Moscow on 13 July, Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh said that "there are no problems with press freedom in Russia, but there are problems with democracy," Interfax reported. He added that "the discussion about press freedom raised by Vladimir Gusinsky and Media-MOST have brought harm, first of all to Media-MOST and its journalists." He also said that observers should not create in this area imaginary dragons that they can then try to slay. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July)
LEBED SEEKS TO TAKE OVER CRITICAL NEWSPAPER. RFE/RL's Krasnoyarsk correspondent reported on 10 July that Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed is trying to regain control over the region's largest newspaper, "Krasnoyarskii rabochii." The newspaper's chief editor, Vladimir Pavlovskii, has received copies of two almost identical lawsuits that have been filed in an arbitration court in the krai. The first suit was signed personally by Lebed, while the second was signed by the chairman of the krai's committee on administration of state property. The newspaper is currently owned by an enterprise formed in May 1998 by seven journalists who worked at the paper. However, Lebed contends that the paper is in fact government property, since none of the krai's agencies gave authorization for the paper to be privatized. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 July, Lebed himself signed an agreement with the paper's editor in October 1998, promising to provide various kinds of help for the paper. The paper had supported Lebed's candidacy in the gubernatorial election that year, but over time relations between the governor and the newspaper "went bad," and more and more articles critical of the krai administration started to appear. Editor Pavlovskii believes that the governor's bid to take over the newspaper is connected with the approach of the next gubernatorial elections scheduled to take place before the end of the year. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 July)
NEWSPAPER OFFICE ROBBED IN VLADIVOSTOK. Interfax-Eurasia reported on 11 July that the Vladivostok bureau of the Moscow newspaper "Trud" was robbed the night before. The thieves made off with two computers, a scanner, and several floppy disks said to contain confidential information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
RUSSIAN MEDIA BULLETIN. The European Institute for Media presents the June issue of its bulletin on media developments in the regions of the Russian Federation. The 13-page newsletter contains information on news, government, law, conferences, and new technology. This project is partly funded by the Commission of the European Union. To receive the newsletter in Russian write to Ljudmila von Berg at email@example.com (European Institute for the Media, 16 July)
DUMA DEPUTIES CAN'T SMOKE ON TV. The bill on tobacco use Putin signed into law on 11 July will prevent Duma deputies from smoking when they appear on television, something that is likely to be a hardship for many of them, Interfax reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
ON THE WRONG SIDE OF INTERNET DIVIDE. Irina Khakamada, a leading member of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), was quoted in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 July as saying that "Russia is the only country in the world where the number of computers in schools is falling." At present, there is fewer than one computer for every 500 school children, and only 1.5 percent of Russian schools are linked to the Internet. As a result, the paper said, Russia is on the wrong side of the Internet divide between those countries looking to the future and those mired in the past. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported the same day that e-commerce in Russia is growing more slowly, with 30-40 new Internet sites offering goods and services appearing each month compared to a growth rate of 150 such sites during 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
RULES SET FOR GOVERNMENT INTERNET USE. The Communications Ministry has prepared rules governing the nature and amount of information that state agencies can put on the Internet, Interfax reported on 12 July. According to Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, these rules were prepared at the orders of the Russian president. Reiman added that "unfortunately" not all government agencies are taking full and correct advantage of this channel. Meanwhile, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky said in Moscow the same day that the Internet should be used to help ensure honest elections with information about ballots placed on the web to prevent fraud, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
PLISETSKAYA WINS SUIT AGAINST MOSCOW PAPER. Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya won a libel suit against "Moskovskii komsomolets" for the paper's false report that she had given birth to a daughter in secret, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 July. The court awarded the 75-year-old dancer 10,000 rubles ($342) to be paid by the paper and 8,000 rubles to be paid by the journalist who wrote the article. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
SERBIAJOURNALIST'S MURDER ALREADY FORGOTTEN? The murderers of journalist Slavko Curuvija have not yet been discovered, although that case should have been a high priority for the new authorities, as they promised during the election campaign, Jovo Curuvija, brother of the murdered journalist and owner of the papers "Evropljanin" and "Dnevni telegraf" told the press on 12 July. Jovo Curuvija, brother of Slavko Curuvija, appealed to Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Dusan Mihajlovic to fulfil their promise, and to make public by 11 July the information on who had commissioned, organized, and perpetrated the murder of his brother. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not respond. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 July)
TV DOCUMENTARY ANGERS NATIONALISTS. State-run Serbian Television (RTS) broadcast a BBC Television documentary on Srebrenica on 11 July. RTS General Director Aleksandar Crkvenjakov told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service the next day that the station received "hundreds" of phone calls in which the callers swore and objected to the broadcast. He added that there were also some favorable messages from viewers. In the Serbian parliament, legislators from Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party and some other nationalist groupings accused the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition of attempting to assign "collective guilt" for the massacre to all Serbs, which, the Radicals said, was the message of the BBC program. Speaking for DOS, Cedomir Jovanovic said that the new government wants to break with the past and not conceal unpleasant facts from the public. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
POLICE MINISTER: PUBLISHING EXTRADITION PHOTOS 'SCANDALOUS.' Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic on 7 July condemned publication of photographs showing Slobodan Milosevic being extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague as "scandalous." He added that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had already started an investigation into how the daily "Nedeljni Telegraf" managed to acquire the photos. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 July)
MINISTER: BROADCASTING ACT IS READY. Federal Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic told B92 on 7 July that he expected that tenders for frequency allocation would be invited by the end of the year. He said that the Broadcasting Act was finished and a regulatory body for frequency allocation would be established. Tadic added that the new Broadcasting Act would soon be submitted for the parliamentary procedure. ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 July)
OPPOSITION DEMANDS LIVE PARLIAMENT COVERAGE. The 13 July session of the federal parliament's lower chamber began with opposition deputies' demands that it be covered live. Dragoljub Micunovic, the president of the lower chamber, announced the possibility of agreements with the deputies' groups in order to provide live TV coverage of the next parliamentary session. According to Ljubomir Ilkic, the deputy head of the Socialist Party of Serbia deputies' club in the lower chamber, "the Board of Directors of Radio Television of Serbia refused to produce live coverage." The deputy continued: "The Radio Television of Serbia Board of Directors cannot act as if they were above the parliament and the state, they cannot be a state within the state...[particularly] because the majority in that Board of Directors consists of members of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia.... [A]ll the remaining groups of deputies asked that a lasting agreement be concluded...respecting the principle of the compulsory nature of live coverage." ("ANEM Media Update," 7-13 July)
TAJIKISTANMEDIA LAWS GIVE POWER TO THE STATE... Sayed Yusunuf, a lawyer with a Tajik human rights watchdog, said on 10 July that the government is stuck in a Soviet-era mentality. He told IRIN that despite media laws introduced after 1991, Tajikistan had lagged behind in international norms on media freedom. Yusunuf explained that despite earlier liberal media laws, a 1998 amendment to existing legislation tightened the government control over local independent media, amounting to government censorship, he maintained. The new laws gave the official broadcasting committee the right to control the content of any program or material before or after its production, the lawyer added. Similarly, in the run-up to the presidential campaign in November 1999, the authorities suspended all independent media outlets, depriving Tajiks of differing views on the presidential elections -- as they had before the 1994 and 1992 elections. (United Nations/ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 10 July)
...PLUS MONOPOLY CONTROL OVER PRINTING... The government retains control over the only publishing house in Tajikistan, enabling it to exert a direct influence on anything published. The authorities do not need to issue decrees that require parliamentary approval; instead they telephone the publishing house and tell it not to print an article, Yusunuf argued. "Nejat," a monthly publication linked to the former opposition Islamic Movement of Tajikistan, recently had its printing rights denied by the authorities. Journalists suggested this had been in response to what was seen as criticism of the lack of effective public services. (United Nations/ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 10 July)
...MEDIA POLICY DICTATED BY POLITICS... In the north of the country, 16 independent TV and radio stations offer Tajik communities an alternative to official channels in the northern Sugd Province, bordering Uzbekistan. But local journalists assert this liberal media policy was prompted by government concern over regional nationalism, after a survey found that local Tajiks thought they were living in Uzbekistan. Faced with no similar threats to national identity elsewhere, most applications for independent radio and TV stations languish with the State Committee for Television and Radio. For example, Asia-Plus, a Tajik news agency, told IRIN that after operating a newspaper and wire service, the agency has been trying to obtain a radio broadcast license for three years. There have been attempts to close down the Khojend TV station, SM-1, after controversial programs were aired last year. (United Nations/ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 10 July)
...RESULTING IN PREVALENT SELF-CENSORSHIP. One local media expert, who asked to remain anonymous, told IRIN that there was still an innate fear of persecution in Tajikistan, since citizens have no rights. Journalists are afraid to write anything controversial for fear of reprisals, he said. People have little faith in the judicial system, and there is a tradition of severe prison sentences. Any journalist who wrote an unfavorable article was likely to be harassed by the authorities. Therefore most journalists chose self-censorship, he said. If a journalist touches on political topics, especially the ruling party or the presidency, then there will be an immediate reaction, Tajik lawyer Sayed Yusunuf said. It was common practice for government officials, such as a tax official or local prosecutor, to harass journalists who had produced displeasing material. (United Nations/ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 10 July)
UKRAINEU.S. CONGRESS MOVES TO REDUCE AID OVER SLOW REFORM, MURDERS OF JOURNALISTS. William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for assistance to the newly independent states, said in Kyiv on 12 July that the U.S. Congress may reduce assistance to Ukraine because of concerns about the slow pace of reform and the killings of two journalists, Heorhiy Gongadze and Ihor Aleksandrov, AP and Interfax reported. The previous day, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to put a cap of $125 million next year on assistance to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act, down from a cap of $170 million for 2001. The move must be approved by the U.S. Senate. "A key component of the rule of law [in Ukraine] is, of course, the investigation into the Gongadze and Aleksandrov cases," Taylor noted. He added that Washington will continue to support independent Ukrainian media through training, legal assistance, and monitoring programs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
LAWMAKERS, INTERNATIONAL GROUP URGE SOLUTION OF JOURNALIST'S MURDER. The parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information has appealed to the government to use all possible measures to find out who killed journalist Ihor Aleksandrov last week, Interfax reported on 11 July. The committee said the killing of Aleksandrov testifies to "the continued onslaught on the freedom of expression in Ukraine." The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also appealed to President Leonid Kuchma to organize a thorough investigation of Aleksandrov's slaying. The organization said the case causes concern, especially as there is no end in sight to the probe into the notorious murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
PARLIAMENT DISSATISFIED WITH THE MEDIA. The Supreme Rada assessed as unsatisfactory the state of affairs in the area of media, freedom of expression, and access of people to information. This was the main conclusion of a decree issued on 7 June. The decree recommended that the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the State Committee for Information Policy and Broadcasting, and the National Council for Broadcasting take measures to ensure the observation of legal provisions in the information area and to implement citizens' rights to freely receive, use, and disseminate information. The deputies also proposed that the Cabinet of Ministers denounce the agreement between the governments of Russia and Ukraine on cooperation in the area of broadcast media that was signed on 23 October 2000. The deputies believe that the agreement inflicts damage to Ukrainian broadcasters. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
OPPOSITION DEMANDS AIRTIME. The Council of the Forum for National Salvation demanded that airtime be provided to the Forum in national TV and radio channels. In a letter to the top officials of the Ukraine National TV and Radio Broadcasting companies, the opposition organization demanded that airtime be provided in relation to the fifth anniversary of the Ukrainian Constitution and on the basis of the "PACE's April resolution." The opposition has been asking for access to the electronic media for almost half a year to no avail. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
DIGITAL TV PLANNED FOR KYIV. The State Committee for Communications and Information Processing and the Radio and TV Broadcasting Corporation will soon submit to the government a proposal to create a test area for digital broadcasting in Kyiv; there are plans for later extending digital broadcasting to the entire country. Oleg Shevchuk, the Committee's chairman, said that the Corporation had already purchased the needed equipment. Digital broadcasting will be tested by five national TV channels. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
JUNE MEDIA BULLETIN ISSUED. The European Institute for Media released its second online version of its bulletin on media developments in Ukraine in the "Ukrainian Media Bulletin" for June. This 11-page bulletin contains information on media news, media and government, media law, media conferences, and new media technology. To receive the bulletin in Ukrainian contact Svetlana Selyutina at firstname.lastname@example.org (European Institute for the Media, 16 July)
UZBEKISTANJOURNALIST ESCAPES ATTACK. On 12 July, Ruslan Sharipov, president of the new Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan and correspondent for the Russia-based news agency "Prima," managed to escape by taxi from an attack on a Tashkent street. Eight men, including four alleged employees of the National Security Service (NSS) of Uzbekistan, reportedly were preparing to attack him with a blunt object. The journalist went to the OSCE local office in Tashkent and contacted the U.S. Embassy. Further details are not available yet. (Azerbaijan Journalists' Trade Union, 19 July)
INDEPENDENT TV STATION AGAIN DENIED LICENSE. On 28 June, the Interagency Coordination Commission of the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan, under Vice Prime Minister K.S. Karamatov, again refused to grant a license to the independent broadcasting company ALC in the Khorezm region of Urgench. The U.S. State Department, German Foreign Minister Joshka Fisher, and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Mass Media Freimut Duve appealed in vain to the Uzbekistan government on behalf of the TV station. The minutes of the commission meeting, received by the director of ALC-TV Shukhrat Babadjanov, state that the company was refused a license for two reasons: That there are discrepancies in the company name in the documents (one refers to "ALC," and another to "TV ALC") and that ALC currently does not have a broadcast frequency. The Telecommunications Agency cancelled ALC's right to use their frequency on 4 April 2001, after the station submitted reregistration documents to the Interagency Coordination Commission. As of now, the frequency is not used, although the state regional television of Khorezm (KTV) wanted to use the frequency, but does not have the needed transmitter. For more, contact email@example.com or see http://www.internews.uz. (Ferghana Valley Mailing List, 16 July)
OFFICIALS JUSTIFY PRESS RESTRICTIONS... Although Uzbekistan's laws speak of press freedom, government practice means that many issues -- particularly on Islam -- are covered only from the official viewpoint. Officials suggest that state security concerns -- especially those connected with the insurgency conducted by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- override free press principles. In a 27 June address on Press and Media Workers Day in Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov intimated that journalists would suffer consequences if they continued to complain about restrictions. "At present one can notice in the press, television, and radio that a bombastic note is very often predominant in reporting everyday events, news developments, and the activities of certain senior officials," said Karimov, in comments published by the Khalq Sozi. "The times demand that we give up certain approaches and views that we have grown accustomed to." (Eurasianet, 3 July)
...WHILE SOME JOURNALISTS RESTIVE... In recent months, reports Eurasianet, some journalists have started to resist state pressure on media coverage. Tashpulat Rakhmatullaev, publisher of the weekly independent newspaper "Samarkand," in April published an article, "Who loves his motherland more -- the one who praises it, or the one who criticizes it?" The article included a blank section to indicate that officials had ordered a call for the end to censorship in Uzbekistan cut from the story. Newspaper editors often receive demands by telephone from the State Press Committee and the presidential administration that they rewrite their articles, most often demanding a more positive spin. Independent TV stations also function under intense government scrutiny. Those who try to offer alternative perspectives often suffer harsh consequences. Shukhrat Babadjanov, director of the independent ALC-TV in Urgench, has seen his station shut down four times since 1995; in April, the government finally took away the station's broadcast frequency. (Eurasianet, 3 July)
...BUT MOST SELF-CENSOR. Many journalists are so fearful of official reprisals that they engage in self-censorship. After prominent local journalist Imin Usmanov died on 10 March in the basement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nothing was written about it in the local press. Another factor contributing to self-censorship is that most reporters are not aware of the traditional watchdog role played by the media in a democratic society. Therefore, the mentality of these journalists also needs to be changed. For more, see http://www.eurasianet.org. (Eurasianet, 3 July)
REGIONALNEW PUBLICATION ON SOUTH CAUCASUS. A pilot issue of the "Caucasus Media News" has been published. The weekly will start publishing, also in an online version, on a regular basis in July. The weekly will have six co-editors based in Tbilisi, Baku, Yerevan, Sukhumi (capital of Abkhazia), Tskhinvali (capital of Southern Ossetia), and Stepanakert (capital of Nagorno-Karabakh). The new periodical is published by the international journalist association Southern Caucasus with financial support from the Agency for International Development (Canada). The Association strives to protect journalists' rights, improve standards of journalism, and support the role of civil society in the media, and was formed in 2001 with the support of the OCSE mission in Georgia and funding from the Swedish government. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
CENTRAL ASIAN JOURNALISTS COOPERATE. An Otkrytaya Aziya (Open Asia) office has opened in Osh, devoted to the economy, history, and culture of Central Asia. Journalists working in the non-governmental broadcast media in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are its main participants. ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITESNEW ATHEIST JOURNAL APPEARS IN RUSSIA. The first issue of "Novii bezbozhnik," published by the Atheist Society of Moscow, has gone on sale and is reviewed in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii," No. 13. The editors of the new journals said that "we want to show our opponents and our supporters that atheism is alive in Russia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
NEW PUBLICATIONS LAUNCHED IN MOLDOVA. Three local newspapers were recently launched in Moldova. In the Gagauz autonomous region, local authorities published a monthly supplement to the official paper "Vesti Gagauzii" with articles on local politics, economy, and the environment. Another new Gagauz-region paper, entitled "Halk Birlii," aims at promoting Gagauz national values and traditions and is produced by a local NGO, "Unity of the People." The third publication was launched in Orhei in central Moldova by the Salvation Army; "Salvation Army News" covers the activities of the Salvation Army charity mission in Moldova, reported Curier Media. ("Moldova Media News," 16 July)
NEW TRANSDNIESTER WEBSITE. The Independent Journalism Center launched a new website, "Transdniestrian Conflict in the News Media" at http://www.iatp.md/transnistria with electronic versions of articles published in Chisinau and the Transdniestrian region in September 1991-June 1992. The site is available in Romanian, Russian, and English and has received financial support from Soros Foundation-Moldova. ("Moldova Media News," 16 July)
WEBSITE FOR RUSSIAN PAPER IN MOLDOVA. The Moldovan edition of the popular Moscow weekly "Argumenty i Fakty" launched its own website at http://www.aif.ist.md on 30 June. ("Moldova Media News," 16 July)
TAJIK INFORMATION CENTER FOR WOMEN. The NGO Nadzhoti Kudakon (Salvation of Children) has launched in Kulyab, southern Tajikistan, a new information center called Rushdi Zanon (Development of Women), financed by the international NGO Mercy Corps. The new center will help women to find jobs, improve their legal and civil awareness, and also assist women in obtaining their rights. Rushdi Zanon will also publish a 10-page information newsletter "Khurshedi Rakhshon" (Sun Brightness). ("European Institute for the Media CIS Newsletter," June)
UKRAINIAN COUNCIL FOR INTERNET BROADCASTING. The National Council for Broadcasting has launched its own website (http://www.nradatvr.kiev.ua). Visitors can find information on the regulatory base of the broadcast media and organizational structure of the Council, announcements about scheduled tenders for channels and frequencies, and also results of the contests carried out. ("European Institute for the Media Ukraine Newsletter," June)
END NOTEWHEN JOURNALISTS BECOME TARGETS
By Paul Goble
Reporters sans Frontieres, RSF, a Paris-based media defense group, has called on Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to take action against a rising tide of violence directed against journalists, a development that threatens prospects for democracy there.
In an open letter released on 19 July, RSF said that "not only violence against the press but also the general impunity of those who commit such actions is the awful day-to-day reality of modern Ukraine." The organization issued the letter because of three attacks on journalists since the beginning of July.
On 3 July, TOR television director Ihor Aleksandrov was killed in Slaviansk by bat-wielding assailants who have not been identified or arrested. On that same day, Oleh Breus, the founder of the Luhansk newspaper "XX Vek" was shot and killed while entering his office. Again no one has been charged in the case. And on 11 July, Oleh Velychko, the head of the Aversk media group in Lutsk, was badly beaten. He survived but remains hospitalized.
These attacks come on the heels of the much publicized killing in September 2000 of Heorhiy Gongadze, an Internet journalist who reported on corruption in the Ukrainian government. That case has attracted international attention and led many media groups and governments to condemn the Ukrainian government for its failure to move expeditiously to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
The open letter of RSF is only the latest criticism of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states for attacks against journalists and even more for the failure of the governments involved to find and bring charges against those responsible.
Both the attacks and even more the failure to punish those responsible have created a climate of intimidation in which journalists are constantly looking over their shoulders to determine whether and how they should report a particular story.
Poorly paid and with relatively low social status, journalists in these countries appear increasingly reluctant to look into stories involving official corruption or other issues that may invite reprisals. Such a climate feeds on itself: as journalists report less out of fear, their readers and listeners decide that the media are ever less useful, the status of journalists falls still further, and so on in an often vicious circle.
But the events that RSF have called attention to have a significance far beyond the lives of journalists and their work. Such attacks, coupled with widespread efforts by governments in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere to take control of the media, are reducing the ability of the media to play a major role in a democratic society.
And that in turn means that the attacks on journalists that RSF have chronicled represent in fact attacks on democracy itself. In Western democracies, attacks on journalists typically quickly generate popular outrage, but in countries like Ukraine, these attacks have not had that effect, sometimes because the state-controlled media do not report them and sometimes because the audiences does not fully understand what is at stake.
Consequently, international groups like RSF or its sister organizations like the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists have a special role in post-communist countries, not only in helping to spark public outrage in these states but also in bringing to the attention of the wider world the unpunished crimes against journalists and others, crimes that are preventing these societies from making the transitions to democracy.
A decade ago, many in these countries and in the West assumed that journalists would be able to play their positive role in promoting democracy in these countries with freedom . But the murders and attacks on journalists across this region have shown that the need for a free press and for watchdog groups that seek to protect it has not gone away and is unlikely to do so anytime soon.