27 July 2001, Volume 1, Number 24
INTERNATIONALCENTER FOR JOURNALISM IN EXTREME SITUATIONS ISSUES JUNE REPORT. On 24 July, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations issued its June report on problems faced by journalists and the media in the countries of the former USSR. See http://www.cjes.ru. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 24 July)
'GAZETASNG.RU' NAMES 20 CIS MEDIA LEADERS. On 16 July, the online daily "GazetaSNG.Ru" (http://www.gazetasng.ru) publicized the results of its first research on the CIS media. The survey was conducted by the information and analysis portal of "GazetaSNG.Ru" and the Fund for Study of the Newly Independent States, and tried to find out who are the leading media figures;. 3,654 respondents were surveyed in 12 CIS countries, including 67 media experts. The survey found that TV personalities were the most prominent, while the print media is rapidly losing its influence in most CIS countries. Consulting and PR structures are gaining power plus "behind-the-stage players" who represent the authorities or major business. Among them the CIS experts noted the increasing influence of Eurasian Media Group and its leader Vartan Toganian. As to those included into the rating of 20 CIS media leaders, most of them represent Russia (14), Kazakhstan and Ukraine are represented by 2 each, and Belarus and Armenia by 1 each. Tigran Naghdalian, the chairman of the Council of Public Television and Radio of Armenia was rated 11th in the list of media leaders. From 1995 until 1997, Naghdalian was a correspondent of the RFE/RL Armenian Service. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 14-20 July)
ARMENIAGOVERNMENT INFO-CLUB FOUNDED. A new NGO has been registered, the Info-Club, founded by the heads of the press services of 15 ministries, agencies, other state structures, including the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance and Economy, Industry and Trade, Energy, State Property, Health, Transport and Communications, Agriculture, Urban Development, as well as the Republic of Armenia Council of Court Chairmen, State Cadastre Committee, State Energy Commission, State Procurement Department, and the Information and Analysis Center of Economic Reforms of the government. The founders of the organization have not concealed that it was established at the suggestion of USAID. The Yerevan Press Club was told by the president of Info-Club, Manuk Ter-Yesayan -- the head of the Public Relations and Media Department of the Ministry of State Property -- that the organization's priorities include creating a single information space among state structures, as well as increasing cooperation with the media. In responding to some journalists' suppositions that the Info-Club will develop ways to help avoid communicating with the media, Manuk Ter-Yesayan replied, "Why not, if the situation dictates so?" ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 14-20 July)
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB IS SIX YEARS OLD. On 18 July Yerevan Press Club celebrated six years of operation. Founded in the post-Soviet period, YPC found its niche in the society in transition, aspiring to support and to develop independent and professional media and seeking to help strengthen democratic institutions in Armenia. The YPC is active in such issues as protection of freedom of speech, improvement of media-related legislation, development of contacts between the Armenian and foreign media, the establishment of professional ethical norms, and the training and retraining of journalists. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 14-20 July)
FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF 'LAW AND REALITY' REVIEW. On 18 July the biweekly law review "Law and Reality" celebrated its first anniversary. It is published by an editorial staff and the Armenian Court of Cassation. As its anniversary editorial declared, the publication tries to analyze the effectiveness of existing laws and to assess their "morality." One issue of the review published the Armenian draft media law, developed by the Yerevan Press Club. (http://www.ypc.am/English/legislation/main.htm). In its second year, the review will also publish articles on human rights issues. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 14-20 July)
AZERBAIJANJOURNALIST SENTENCED. On 19 July, the Republican Court on Serious Crime sentenced journalist Rahim Namazov, of the weekly "Eliller," to six years in prison. Namazov's colleague Rey Kerimoglu said that the journalist was charged for taking part in an illegal Society of Karabakh Invalids street rally and meeting in January and February. Namazov said he was only collecting news for his paper and was attacked by a group of policemen. His camera and tape recorder were confiscated and destroyed; he was arrested and charged. Currently, Namazov is the only journalist in prison in Azerbaijan. For more, contact Azer Hasret at firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://members.nbci.com/Azer2013/. (Azerbaijan Journalists' Trade Union, 19 July)
TWO NEW MEDIA DECREES ISSUED. President Heidar Aliyev signed two new media decrees on 20 July. The first decree is meant to increase the role of the state in regard to the media. Claiming that "today there are over 650 media outlets, including newspapers, TV and radio stations, magazines, and news agencies, most of which are established by various political parties, private structures, plus many journalists' unions." The president requested that the Cabinet of Ministers and the president's Executive Apparatus submit to him within one month criteria for the state's role in mass media, due to the impending transition to the Latin alphabet. The decree also stipulates that the media will not be subject to income tax for three years and that customs taxes for newspapers will be decreased. The decree also proposes that a self-financed journalism institute be established. The second decree sets up a National Press, TV-Radio, and Internet Council with three commissions for the press, broadcast media, and the Internet which will mediate disputes between the public and the media and issue regular reports. The Council will have 39 members, 18 appointed directly by President Aliev, and the other 21 will be nominated by political parties, mass media and journalists' unions, trade unions, and other public organizations, and then appointed by the president. (Azerbaijan Journalists' Trade Union, 25 July)
BELARUSINDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER'S OFFICE ROBBED TWICE IN A WEEK. Unknown persons on 24 July burglarized the editorial office of the Minsk-based independent newspaper "Den" and removed four computers, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The robbery occurred following the newspaper's preparation of a special 250,000-copy special issue on the disappearances of people in Belarus. Last week, the "Den" office was robbed after the newspaper published documents implicating high law-enforcement officials in the assassination of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar as well as ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski. "Den" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Tamkovich noted a similarity between the two robberies, saying that the thieves managed to get into the office without breaking doors or windows, and mainly targeted equipment critical for the newspaper publication. The "Den" editorial office is located on the premises of the well-guarded state-owned motion-picture company Belarusfilm. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
CZECH REPUBLICPOLICE INVESTIGATE FAR-RIGHT NEWSPAPER. Police in the town of Nachod, east Bohemia, are investigating the far-right newspaper "Nachodsky necas" following accusations that it published articles denying the occurrence of the Holocaust, CTK reported on 24 July. This follows allegations by Culture Minister Pavel Dostal in the daily "Pravo" on 23 July that the paper broke the law by printing racist articles. The paper's editor, Jan Kopal, is the deputy chairman of the far-right National Social Bloc, which has been denied registration as a political party by the Interior Ministry. The party claims some 3,000 members. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
HUNGARYFAMOUS WRITER DIES. Miklos Meszoely, the well-known author and dissident movement leader, died on 21 July at the age of 80. Meszoely wrote numerous plays, poems, novels, short stories, essays, and children's stories and was blacklisted by the communists soon after his first book was published in 1948. He was involved in the revolt against Soviet control in 1956 and protested the Warsaw Pact countries' invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Meszoely was an active member of the dissident movement in the 1970s and 80s. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
POLANDGOVERNMENT DISBANDS COMMUNICATIONS MINISTRY. The government on 24 July decided to liquidate the Communications Ministry and subordinate its staff to the Economy Ministry, PAP reported. Last week, Premier Jerzy Buzek sacked Communications Minister Tomasz Szyszko for "inadequate supervision," after the Supreme Audit Chamber published a report suggesting the existence of a "corruption mechanism" within the ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
RUSSIAWITNESSES UNDERCUT CHARGES AGAINST PASKO... NTV reported on 23 July that witnesses in the closed military trial of journalist Grigorii Pasko have failed to prove that he is guilty of the treason charges against him. Pasko's lawyer, Anatolii Pushkov, said that one of the witnesses, the deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Aleksandr Konev, told the court that he personally gave Pasko permission to visit secret sites and make video films there. Another defense witness, Anatolii Fomin, who worked for the same military newspaper as Pasko, testified that he and Pasko secured FSB permission for all their activities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
...AND FSB SEEKS TO REGAIN CONTROL OVER TRIAL. Faced with adverse media coverage, the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate attached to the Pacific Fleet issued a statement on 24 July denouncing as "intolerable" all efforts to put pressure on the court hearing treason charges against former navy journalist Grigorii Pasko, Interfax reported. The FSB took this unusual step after the media reported that Admiral Aleksandr Konev, the former deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, told the court that Pasko had been given permission to film and report and that the accused had not revealed any state secrets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
BELGOROD REPORTER TO STAND TRIAL. The trial of Olga Kitova, Belgorod journalist and regional Duma member, will begin on 1 August. The five criminal charges against her may result in a prison term. The regional prosecutor has requested that the regional Duma withdraw deputy Kitova's immunity from prosecution, but it refused. On 16 July, the Belgorod regional Duma agreed to forward the criminal case against Kitova to court. She was also made to sign a pledge not to leave her present place of residence and may be taken into custody. Kitova is a reporter for the newspaper "Belgorodskaya Pravda;" on May 28, 2001 the regional Prosecutor-General's Office brought charges against her for defamation and verbal assaults, intentional interference with the investigator's work with the purpose to obscure the investigation, and physical and verbal assaults of officials. The criminal lawsuit against Kitova was filed by citizen Lubjanova for "distribution of defamatory information." In May 2000, Kitova published an article in "Belgorodskaja Pravda" in which, according to regional Prosecutor Pavel Kondrashov, the journalist "attempted to obscure and mislead investigation of the crime committed by a group of students of the Consumers' Cooperation University, and to slander Lubjanova's son, who had been injured in the incident, by suggesting that he was mentally ill." Four of the suspects, whom Kitova was trying to protect, were sentenced by a Belgorod court in June to long terms in prison. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
DEFAMATION SUITS RAMPANT IN PRIMORE REGION... In five years, the number of defamation/honor-protection lawsuits and lawsuits about causing moral harm by distributing false and slanderous information has increased six times in Primore. In 2000, the courts heard 173 cases. In 1998, when there were half as many such cases, the media had to pay 509,173 non-denominated rubles on account of "reimbursement of moral harm caused by distributing false and slanderous information". The Leninsky court of Vladivostok fined one newspaper ("Primore") 583,000 rubles for moral damage; and in all, this court "resolved" 27 similar disputes. Such judicial practices have resulted in the radical deterioration of the independent media's economic situation, even to the point of complete devastation and bankruptcy. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
...PAPER IS NEXT TO GO BEHIND THE WOODSHED... The most recent example is an incident with the newspaper "Utro Rossii." In April, "Utro Rossii" published an article by Yelena Stepanjuk "While the Militia Produce Timber...." The article was about violations, occurring in Dalnerechensk region in the felling, skidding, selling, and transporting of timber. The Administration of the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in Primorskii Krai has filed a lawsuit, having decided that its personal honor and dignity were insulted and that it suffered physical and moral damage. Surprisingly, even though only private individuals are entitled to protection of their honor and dignity, and legal entities do not possess "honor" and "dignity" by definition, the Frunzinsky court of Vladivostok found the assertions of their superiors substantial and has compelled both the newspaper and the journalist to pay monetary compensations -- to recover the honor and dignity of the judges -- of 15,000 and 5,000 rubles, respectively. Last week, at the hearing at the regional court, it was confirmed that the officers of the department have suffered. Only the compensation amount was reduced by two-thirds. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
...EVEN JUDGES TRY TO GET EVEN. The judges of the Arbitration Court have also been concerned with their honor and demanded to file a criminal lawsuit against the editor of the newspaper "Konkurent" for publishing a number of unpleasant articles about the Arbitration Court's work. And the Prosecutor-General's Office has conducted a vigorous investigation and search, and withdrawn the editorial computer (supposedly for the needs of the investigation). ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
MORE MOVES ON MEDIA FRONT. On 24 July, Media-MOST spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii publicly disagreed with Gazprom-Media's Alfred Kokh, who had said that embattled media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky could not possibly raise more than a third of the debt secured by Gazprom-Media by means of a deal with American media magnate Ted Turner, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Media-MOST announced that a Spanish court has refused to satisfy a Russian court's request for the seizure of Gusinsky's property. Also on 24 July, Mikhail Berger, the former editor of the now- closed "Segodnya," told Interfax that he is preparing for the launch of a new publication. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
RECTOR FILES SUIT AGAINST ORTHODOX PAPER. The rector of Ural State University, Vladimir Tretyakov, has filed a lawsuit with the Verh-Isetsky district court against the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular, against the Missionary Department of the Ekaterinburg Episcopate and the Episcopal youth newspaper, "Pokrov." As the news agency Russian Regions reported, the judge is determined to reconcile the opposing sides. Tretyakov claims that "Pokrov" has repeatedly published materials which insult his honor and dignity, including accusations that he is "providing assistance to satanic and sectarian organizations," and has labeled the university a "nursery of sectarianism." The newspaper's criticism is due to Tretyakov's decision to allow the Scientology Church to give lectures on university premises, while restricting Orthodox priests' lectures to church history. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
BATTLE OVER PRESS CONTINUES IN LEAD-UP TO IRKUTSK ELECTION. Governor Boris Govorin appealed on 23 July to the local prosecutor, Interior Ministry department, and the oblast Election Commission to defend him against libelous materials appearing in the local press, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Govorin is running for re-election in a ballot scheduled for 29 July, which he is expected to win. The head of Govorin's campaign headquarters told journalists in Irkutsk the newspaper "Vostochno-Sibirskie vesti" incorrectly reported that Govorin has not paid all of his taxes. Last month local police seized that newspaper -- the 19th such seizure). Meanwhile, an RFE/RL correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 5 July that an observer for the Glasnost Defense Fund recently found that the pro-governor mass media in the oblast, particularly regional television, continues to openly violate election legislation. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 July)
FIRST ISSUE OF CHECHEN OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER SCRAPPED. In response to a request to subscribe to "Vesti respubliki," the new newspaper published by the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, RFE/RL was informed on 23 July that the entire print run of the first issue of that paper, which was to have appeared in early July, was destroyed on orders from the Chechen government for reasons that remain unclear. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
REGIONAL DIFFERENCES PROMPT PAPER TO ADD NEW RUBRIC. "Novye izvestiya" announced in its issue of 24 July that it is adding a new rubric, "A Varied Country," to survey on a regular basis the increasing differentials of Russia from one region to another. In the first installment of this series, the paper noted that top 10 percent of incomes amounts to 14.1 times as much as those of the bottom 10 percent countrywide, but that the ratio for these two groups in Moscow is more than three times as great. It also pointed out that the difference between the most and least expensive regions in terms of purchasing food products is 3.5 times. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
VLADIMIR OFFICIALS PLEDGE TO EASE ACCESS TO INFORMATION. On 17 July, the administration of the Vladimir region and the local branch of the Union of Journalists signed a cooperation agreement. In the opinion of President of the Union of the Journalists of Russia Pavel Gutiontov: "A document of this kind has been signed in Russia for the first time. The authorities shall not perceive the press as their enemy, but as an objective opponent." The regional administration has made a promise to "assist journalists in getting answers from the officials to critical publications," while the state-operated media have been guaranteed "respect for their professional independence." From now on, the journalists from the Vladimir region are not supposed to encounter problems with access to information. It is not clear why the norms established by the Law on Mass Media of the Russian Federation needed to become a subject of a separate agreement between government officials and journalists, noted the Glasnost Defense Foundation. ("Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," 23 July)
INTERNET USERS SAID MORE EDUCATED, RICHER, MORE MOBILE THAN EUROPEAN COUNTERPARTS. According to a survey by The Internet Monitor reported by "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 July, Russian Internet users are more educated than European surfers, with 69 percent of the former having higher educations compared to only 48 percent of the latter. They also are more likely to have traveled abroad and have a higher income. The paper speculated that perhaps Russian oligarchs had taken part in the survey. The TIM survey also found that the average Russian user goes online for 49 minutes at a time and that most began to use the Internet in the last two years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
30 CELL PHONES FOR EVERY 100 MUSCOVITES. Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said that there are now 30 cell phones for every 100 residents of the Russian capital, but only two for every 100 residents of the rest of the country, Interfax reported on 21 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
RUSSIA DENIES VISA TO RFE/RL'S BELARUSIAN SERVICE BROADCASTER. The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied an entry visa, without giving any explanation, to Syarhey Navumchyk, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, Belapan reported on 24 July. Navumchyk intended to go to Moscow to interview Russian politicians, political analysts, and public figures on Belarusian-Russian relations in the context of Belarus's presidential elections. "A Belarusian citizen has been denied entry to Russia for the first time [in history]," Navumchyk commented. Navumchyk, a prominent activist of the Belarusian Popular Front in the past, fled Belarus in 1996 for fear of being arrested and was given political asylum in the U.S. Navumchyk travels with a U.S.-issued refugee travel document, which is accepted by other countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
SERBIANGO SLAMS 'PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS' IN SERBIA. The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) said in an open letter to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on 24 July that Serbian police have recently "invited" two journalists for "informative discussions," meaning interrogation sessions. The letter also noted death threats and other threats made recently against several other Serbian journalists. SEEMO pointed out that some of the best-known murders of journalists under the former regime remain unsolved. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
TAX ON UNSOLD NEWSPAPER COPIES. On 24 July, the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) "voiced its support for demands made by daily newspapers that the proposed tax on unsold copies be abandoned." The tax, to be levied on publishers of dailies with profits of over 10 percent, is a provision of a proposed Finance Ministry decree. Currently, only profits of more than 15 percent are subject to the tax. The publisher of the daily "Danas" noted that the tax was introduced for political reasons under Slobodan Milosevic. The head of the Blic Press, Miodrag Djuricic, said that adopting the decree would worsen the already difficult conditions under which print media operate. "The tax on unsold newspapers is yet another burden for publishing houses, which already have to cope with a sales tax of 20 percent - the largest in Europe," he said. "It is as if somebody wanted to close down the print media." Djuricic added that the situation for newspapers is currently worse than under the previous regime. (ANEM Press Release, 24 July)
COMMISSION TO EXAMINE BROADCAST OF SREBRENICA FILM? Opposition parties in the Serbian parliament demanded that a commission be set up to find out why the documentary film "Cry from the Grave" was broadcast on state-run television. The move to set up a commission on the film, on the massacre of over 7,000 Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, was opposed by the vice president of the Democratic Alternative, Nada Kolundzija. It is a bad way to defend national interests, Kolundzija said on 13 July. She criticized the Democratic Party of Serbia for joining these demands. She added that her party was trying to establish a commission to investigate what had occurred in Srebrenica. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
BROADCAST BILL AMENDED. The draft of the Broadcast Act was completed on 12 July, and was in due course sent to the Serbian government, Rade Veljanovski announced the next day, reported B92. The Broadcast Act will be put on the Serbian parliament's agenda by the end of the summer, according to one of the law's authors. Veljanovski mentioned certain amendments, which, after public discussion, were changed in the draft. The minimum obligatory program production for broadcast on private radio and TV stations has been reduced from 50 to 25 percent. The provision under which private broadcasters had to reserve 10 percent of their programming for private independent productions was eliminated. Only the public service and local radio and TV stations must still meet this requirement. Radio/Television Novi Sad should have one TV and two radio channels, while Serbian Radio Television will have two television and three radio channels. In addition, viewers throughout Serbia and Vojvodina will pay the same subscription fee, but a formula to distribute that money to the republic and provincial public service still needs to be worked out. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
DO POLICE KNOW WHO MURDERED JOURNALIST? The police know the identity of the person who murdered the journalist Milan Pantic from Jagodina, the daily "Blic" reported on 14 July. According to an officer of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, who wanted to remain anonymous, the police knew the murderer's identity, but would not arrest him for some time, because the person was a member of a special police unit. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
POLICE INTERROGATE JOURNALIST ON SOURCES. The branch of the Otpor movement in Valjevo sent a protest on 14 July to Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Dusan Mihajlovic about a recent incident. The "Blic" reporter from Valjevo, Predrag Radojevic, was taken to a police station for interrogation on his sources of information. The reporter had published a series of articles on mafia activities in Valjevo. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
MISIC TAKES THE REINS AT POLITIKA. Milan Misic, the acting editor in chief of the daily newspaper "Politika," was officially appointed to this position on 13 July. Misic said that the personnel changes in the leadership of the newspaper had been at the top of the agenda for some time. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
MILOSEVICH JAILER DEMOTED FOR BOOK? The former head of the Central Prison in Belgrade, Dragisa Blanusa, was dismissed from that position on 18 July and transferred to a new position within the Serbian Ministry of Justice after he published his book "Cuvao sam Milosevica" (I Was Guarding Milosevic) describing the imprisonment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. For the past week, the Belgrade daily "Glas Javnosti" published a series of articles based upon Blanusa's book. In a conversation with Radio B92, Blanusa denied accusations that he overstepped his authority in any criminal manner, saying: "The head of the Scheveningen Prison [in The Hague] communicates directly with the press.... If a democratic society has really been instituted now, we should understand the need to do away with some old, well established rules, which meant to publish certain things [only] twenty years later.... My intention was to publish such things as soon as possible, so that people would learn what happened behind those thick walls as soon as possible." Blanusa stressed that he hadn't published the book for financial profit, and that he would give away the larger part of the profit from the book to humanitarian purposes. He claimed that he could have earned "a hundred thousand marks" for photographs of Milosevic in prison. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 14-20 July)
UKRAINEU.S. URGES POLITICAL REFORM, MEDIA FREEDOM. On 25 July in Kyiv, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice delivered a strongly worded warning to Ukraine, saying its integration into Europe depends on political reforms, transparent probes into the recent killings of journalists, and fair elections, AP reported. "A very strong message is sent about political reform, about free press...judiciary reform and transparency in the [murder] cases that are of worldwide attention here. We hope to have good relations with Ukraine...but it can only be on the basis of forward movement on these very important issues," the agency quoted Rice as saying. Rice met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, and other officials. "Our Congress does have an important role to play in American foreign policy, but I think that you can be certain that the U.S. administration understands the importance of funding to civil society in Ukraine," Rice said, referring to the debate in U.S. Congress on a possible cut in aid to Kyiv. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
KYIV PAPER REQUESTS HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTISE. The newspaper "Vecherny Vestnik" (Evening Herald), a Russian-language newspaper in Kyiv, intends to expand its treatment of human rights issues by running a regular section in the paper titled "The Defender of Human Rights." According to Vladimir Leonidovich Gumenuk, manager of "Vecherny Vestnik" (circulation of over 400,000), the newspaper receives about 50 letters a week from readers describing conflicts with authorities over laws and rights. The newspaper would like to become known as a more vigorous defender of citizens' rights, and a regular column, managed by a trio of experts, legal and journalistic, is the proposed answer. Gumenuk said the proposed section is intended "to raise public activity in Ukraine in a direction of upholding of protection of rights and freedom of the person." For further information, contact V. L. Gumenuk at email@example.com or see http://www.vv.com.ua/. (Center for Civil Society International, 26 July)
REGIONALU.S. SAID WAGING INFO WARS AGAINST KUCHMA, LUKASHENKA. Konstantin Zatulin, who serves as the director of Moscow's CIS Institute, told strana.ru on 19 July that current media campaigns about attacks on journalists and the disappearance of opposition figures are being directed from "a single center," the United States. He said that Washington is hoping to overthrow Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma because the Americans have lost interest in him, and Belarus leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka "for reasons of principle." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July)
END NOTEKREMLIN SEEMS TO ACCEPT INDEPENDENT STATUS FOR EKHO MOSKVY
By Alexander Verkhovsky
Ekho Moskvy, the oldest and the most authoritative independent radio station -- formerly part of Vladimir Gusinsky's media empire -- apparently has managed to avoid NTV's fate. In any case, the conflict between the shareholders -- the head of Gazprom-Media, Alfred Kokh, and the creative team headed by Alexei Venediktov -- has not escalated into a political crisis. On the contrary, the situation has calmed down. How does one explain these different situations?
Part of the answer may lie in that Ekho Moskvy, unlike the old NTV, did not take part in the information wars and did not fight for Gusinsky�s corporate interests. In Russia, where no genuine party system has yet been created, NTV was the core of Gusinsky's political group. Ekho, however, did not play any role -- or almost no role -- in Gusinsky's group. Therefore, the Kremlin today may have reason to hate Kiselyov, but no reason to hate Venediktov. And during the past two months, Venediktov has behaved like a negotiator, and not as if he were in a war.
And the Ekho journalists wanted to get much more from Gazprom than the NTV journalists -- they wanted to get the company�s controlling block of shares. The Ekho journalists already owned 28 percent of shares in their station, and Gusinsky was willing to give them another 14 percent (the court still holds these shares for the Gazprom debts; therefore these shares carry voting rights, but can not be transferred), so it assumed that the journalists intended to buy from Gazprom another 9.5 percent from its 42.5 percent share of stock. And, in principle, Kokh was ready to sell the shares, most likely to deprive himself of the controlling block of shares.
It is useless to speculate if Kokh was sincere, but it is known that he gave up this idea after the reconciliation conference on freedom of speech scheduled for 13-14 July was scrapped. The conference had been organized by three sets of irreconcilable opponents: Gazprom-Media and Ekho Moskvy; the Independent Union of Journalists of Russia (UJR) and the alternate Media-Union, which is strictly controlled by the Kremlin; the Ministry of the Press and the human rights fund Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), plus the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Boris Nemtsov, the head of the SPS, as in the NTV story, tried to act as an intermediary. The UJR and GDF delegated their authority in the organizational committee to Venediktov and the latter insisted on signing the agreement on the sale of 9.5 percent of shares as a preliminary condition for holding a conference. In his turn, Kokh labeled this blackmail.
In this situation it is not so important whether Venediktov's demand was too tough -- or not tough enough -- but the fact that Ekho Moskvy took a firm position in a very definite political confrontation inside the media community. After that, the Kremlin could never sanction the transfer of the controlling block of shares to Venediktov.
This is why Kokh then proposed giving Nemtsov the 9.5 percent share as an intermediary. As a result, no one would have a controlling block of shares. In this situation, it was anticipated that Nemtsov would transfer his shares to the control of some kind of public council. But the SPS party did not want to play the role of an intermediary co-owner. Therefore, during a 12 July joint "Politsovet" (political council) with Yabloko, it was decided that the shares should be transferred to Ekho.
As a party leader, Nemtsov had no choice but to obey that decision. He found, however, another solution: the shares would now be transferred to the veteran liberal economist and SPS Duma deputy Yevgeny Yasin, who is also an Ekho commentator and simply a man about whom there are no compromising materials. As for obeying the letter of the party decision, Yasin will suspend his membership in the SPS Political Council. Yasin was also suitable to the journalists. Unlike Nemtsov, Venediktov will not label him a looter.
Kokh is also in agreement with this arrangement. This can mean only one thing -- that Gazprom and the Kremlin are not ready to continue risking their reputation in order to seize Ekho. First of all, total control of the radio is not a Kremlin priority at least for the time being. Second, it seems as if it would be more difficult to rebuild the Ekho team of journalists than that of NTV. And Gazprom does not at all need the radio station.
Now, if Yevgeny Yasin collects from individuals and organizations interested in politics $1 million in order to buy the block of shares, an agreement can be signed relatively soon. If all this can be done, an acceptable outcome will be attained. It will not be important who has more shares -- Gazprom or the Ekho journalists -- or whether the court will finally award Gazprom Gusinsky's 14 percent stake. In any case, Yasin is a man who will not permit limitations on freedom of speech at Ekho, but he will also not permit Gazprom to be deceived as a shareholder.
The conflict between the rights of the owner and freedom of speech that tormented SPS so much during its NTV struggle, will be successfully resolved in this case. The outcome seems so successful that one can hardly believe it. And, furthermore, the agreement on giving up the 9.5 percent stake has not yet been signed. This time, however, there are some grounds for hope: Kokh is not alien to SPS. For Kokh, it is more difficult not to keep his word to Yasin than to Kiselyov and his colleagues. (Translated by Yulia Aleksandrovskaya)
Alexander Verkhovsky is the vice president of the independent Panorama Research and Analytical Center in Moscow.