3 August 2001, Volume 1, Number 25
AZERBAIJANOFFICIAL TRANSITION TO LATIN ALPHABET MADE. On 1 August, Latin script officially replaced Cyrillic as the official alphabet in Azerbaijan, almost 10 years after the country's parliament first voted to abandon Cyrillic and set a two-year transition period, until 31 December 1993, for doing so. The transition was suspended after the overthrow in June 1993 of the Azerbaijan Popular Front leadership headed by President Abulfaz Elchibey, and in recent years both alphabets have been used in advertising and street signs, at least in Baku. Elchibey's successor Heidar Aliyev issued a decree six weeks ago setting 1 August as the deadline after which all official documentation and street and shop signs must be in Latin script. Baku city workers began removing signs in Cyrillic late on 31 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
CZECH REPUBLICPOLL SUGGESTS CZECHS WANT TOUGHER PRESS. In a poll commissioned by the weekly "Respekt" and the Czech Service of RFE/RL, most Czechs think that the media need to be more critical of politicians, CTK reported on 30 July. In a poll taken in June by the INRA polling agency, 80 percent of respondents thought the media's greatest fault is presenting the work of politicians as better than it really is. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
KAVAN ACCUSES REPORTER OF LYING. Referring to an experiment conducted by Czech Television reporters where a Romany reporter was refused permission to fly to Great Britain while a Czech reporter was allowed to fly after providing the same information, Foreign Minister Kavan said the Romany reporter lied, CTK reported on 27 July. Kavan said that the address the Rom, Richard Samko, provided for his friend in Britain "couldn't exist." Czech Television rejected the allegation, and Samko said he did not lie to the officials. British Ambassador David Broucher insisted that Samko was not turned back because of his ethnic origin, but because he could not remember the address of his friend in the U.K. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
POPULAR TELEVISION JOURNALIST MURDERED. Georgi Sanaia, a journalist with the independent nationwide Rustavi-2 TV station and one of Georgia's most popular television journalists, has been murdered, according to the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters sans frontieres (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The 25-year-old journalist was found dead in his apartment by police and colleagues late on 26 July, after he failed to report to work, reports IPI. Police say he was shot in the back of the head with a single bullet. Sanaia presented TV news and hosted "Night Courier," a daily program of political analysis and interviews, notes RSF. President Eduard Shevardnadze has directed the minister of internal affairs, the prosecutor-general and the minister of state security to oversee the investigation and has asked for help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, reports CPJ. Sanaia's colleagues believe the murder resulted from his professional work, although they were not aware of any specific threats against him. Erosi Kitsmarishvili, executive director of Rustavi-2, told CPJ that the killers may have intended to intimidate the station, known for its investigative reporting on state corruption and misuse of power in Georgia. IPI notes that Georgian authorities have still not solved the October 2000 murder of Antonio Russo, who was reporting on the war in neighboring Chechnya for a radio station affiliated with Italy's Radical Party. (IFEX Communique, 31 July)
JOURNALISTS PROTEST COLLEAGUE'S MURDER. Some 200 journalists staged a demonstration in Tbilisi on 27 July to protest the murder of Georgi Sanaia, a journalist with the independent TV station Rustavi-2 who was found shot dead the previous day, Caucasus Press reported [see above and End Note]. President Eduard Shevardnadze cancelled a visit to Baku planned for 27 July and took personal control of the investigation into Sanaia's death. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
THOUSANDS MOURN MURDERED JOURNALIST. Between 1,000 and 3,000 people lined Tbilisi's main thoroughfare on 30 July to mourn murdered TV journalist Georgi Sanaia, Caucasus Press and Western agencies reported. In his customary Monday radio address, President Shevardnadze suggested on 30 July that the killing may have been a deliberate attempt to destabilize the political situation in Georgia. Parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania similarly predicted on 31 July that the political situation in Georgia will deteriorate if the murder is not swiftly solved. But Deputy Interior Minister Zurab Chkhaidze said on 30 July that the circumstances of Sanaia's death suggest the murder was not politically motivated, and that the killer's identity will be known within a few days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
KAZAKHSTANINSIDERS SAY OFFICIALS SEEK TO INFLUENCE MEDIA. Journalists still working in Kazakhstan's privately owned media say the government of President Nursultan Nazarbaev uses a variety of methods to influence and control print and electronic media in the country. Oleg Kviatkovski, the executive director of Almaty's Channel 31 television channel, described for a recent RFE/RL briefing audience a system whereby Kazakh officials use the country's tax police and other economic levers to "closely supervise" the media. He noted that open censorship of the media is outlawed by Kazakhstan's Constitution, but he acknowledged the Kazakh law that prohibits persons "publicly insulting the dignity and honor of the president." Kviatkovski said he considers his own station an "oppositional channel," but he "does not allow live coverage, particularly with members of the Kazakh opposition" because "live reporting is a minefield" and he "doesn't want to risk violating the laws." He said that government officials monitor media programs and take action against media outlets. Kviatkovski also said the national security organization KNB leaks stories to media in Kazakhstan. For example, he said, in May 2001 KNB agents provided video to his station that showed Almaty police discovering 88 kilograms of drugs in the car of the Tajik ambassador to Kazakhstan. (RFE/RL, 27 July)
FREE MEDIA ELIMINATED, JOURNALISTS SAY. Two independent journalists from Kazakhstan told a recent RFE/RL briefing audience that there is "no more opposition press nor independent media in the country" because of the government's sophisticated methods of intimidation and legal controls. Sergey Duvanov, an independent journalist who has started several media outlets that have been closed by official pressure, said that the Nazarbaev government often charges journalists with "insulting the dignity and honor of the president" if they dig too deeply into corruption-related news stories. His colleague, Tatiana Deltsova, who had served as news director and anchor on Channel 31's nightly news program, said that she was fired in March 2000 not only because of her program's coverage of repression directed at opposition politicians, but also as a preventative measure to keep Channel 31 from airing a series of investigative reports looking into charges of corruption on the part of Nazarbaev and his family, who control major segments of the media, banking, and oil sectors. Duvanov noted that, in addition to the deployment of tax police against journalists and media companies, the state security service, the KNB, pressures journalists into modifying their behavior, either through physical beatings perpetrated by masked "hooligans" or through what Deltsova called "psychological blackmail." Both independent journalists called for the government of Kazakhstan to live up to its obligations under the OSCE to allow a free and independent media in the country, or to withdraw from the organization. As Deltsova said, "if you declare your country to be a democracy, then live up to that responsibility." (RFE/RL, 27 July)
MACEDONIAALBANIA CRITICIZED OVER MINORITY BROADCASTS. In a statement sent to "RFE/RL Newsline" on 26 July, the Macedonian Broadcasting Council protested to Albania's National Council for Radio and Television that Radio Korca has stopped broadcasting its program for the ethnic Macedonian minority. The broadcast has not, in fact, been aired for some months. The statement notes the extent to which Albanian-language programs are broadcast by Macedonian Radio and Television, as well as by private broadcasters in Macedonia. The statement calls on Albania to "provide [comprehensive] implementation of internationally accepted standards of electronic media" at a time when both countries seek "to become part of the Euro-Atlantic integration process." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
LANGUAGE ISSUE BEDEVILS TALKS. Talks between leaders of Macedonia's four largest governing parties, President Boris Trajkovski, and Western mediators James Pardew and Francois Leotard continued for a fourth day in Ohrid on 31 July without definitive results, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The mediators put forward a new proposal aimed at ending the deadlock over the official status of the Albanian language. Pardew told AP afterward: "We have some progress. We feel good today." He did not elaborate. An unnamed "Western source" told Reuters that "we're very, very close" to an agreement on the language issue. Talks resumed at 12:00 noon on 1 August. Elsewhere, several minor violations of the cease-fire were reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
MONTENEGROCROATIAN JOURNALISTS TAKEN TO COURT. The government of Montenegro and President Milo Djukanovic filed a lawsuit in Zagreb on 25 July against four journalists from the private weekly "Nacional," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In a recent series of articles, the four charged that Djukanovic and Djindjic are part of a regional cigarette-smuggling ring. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
RUSSIAPASKO WANTS NAVY CHIEF TO TESTIFY. Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko on 25 July demanded that the court hearing his trial on charges of treason call navy Commander in Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov as a witness, AP reported. The court has refused Pasko's request, the agency said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
MEDIA ASK COURT TO OPEN UP TRIAL OF ALLEGED TERRORISTS. Journalists in Stavropol Krai have appealed to the Supreme Court asking that the trial of five accused terrorists be open to the public, RFE/RL's Stavropol correspondent reported on 25 July. The five residents of Karachaevo-Cherkessia are accused of taking part in the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow in the fall of 1999. Two Stavropol newspapers, "Stavropolskaya pravda" and "Vechernii Stavropol," argue that the closure of the hearing violates the constitution, the criminal code, and law on mass media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
MILITARY TIGHTENS RESTRICTIONS ON JOURNALISTS IN CHECHNYA. Under strict new rules prescribed by the Russian military, journalists covering the ongoing conflict in Chechnya must be accompanied by an official from the press service of the Interior Ministry at all times. According to NTV, the commandant of the Russian military base of Khankala in Chechnya imposed the new restrictions on 26 July after a TV crew traveling with Chechen security forces tried to enter the Chechen capital, Grozny, without permission from Russian authorities. The media's access to the war-ravaged region is already severely restricted by cumbersome accreditation procedures and rules that make travel within Chechnya dependent on the permission of local officials. Reporters say the new regulation represents another Russian military attempt to control press coverage of the Chechen conflict. Journalists say the new escort requirement provides the military with significant leverage, since officials will select journalists whose coverage they consider more favorable. Journalists based in Khankala say their reporting will also be limited by the military's lack of resources. But their colleagues say journalists will not be deterred by the latest bureaucratic barrier. Vyacheslav Ismailov, who covers military affairs for Moscow's independent newspaper "Novaya gazeta," told CPJ: "We're not in the pay of the army and we're not writing for them. Journalists will get round this, just as they have the previous restrictions. Ultimately, the authorities' actions are ineffective because we have our own sources and they will tell us the real situation." (Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 July)
MILITARY TO SET UP OWN CHECHNYA STUDIO? According to an NTV report on 26 July, the Russian military plans to set up its own alternative military broadcasting studio to provide film coverage of the conflict, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
CHECHEN WEBSITE SAYS MOSCOW JAMS THEIR RADIO STATIONS. The pro-independence Chechen news agency Kavkaz-Tsentr's website said on 26 July that the Russian authorities are seeking to jam all three of the pro-independence Chechen radio stations, two of which are located in the republic and one of which is located at an unspecified place abroad. But the website added that "we shall continue to broadcast trustworthy information about the war and not fairy tales like the Russian radios." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
'X-FILES' PRODUCER PLANS TO DO SERIES ON 'HEROIC' KGB OPERATIONS. Bob van Ronkel, a producer of the popular U.S. television program "The X-Files," has opened talks with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) about the possibility of creating a Russian television series on some of the most spectacular KGB operations, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 27 July. The paper said that the FSB is enthusiastic about this plan because it could help to improve the image of the KGB in the minds of Russians and others. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
FSB DENIES MEDIA REPORT ON ITS ECONOMIC ROLE. The FSB on 29 July denied a report in "Argumenty i fakty" that Yuri Ovchenko has prepared an FSB paper calling for a radical change in Moscow's economic policy away from privatization and toward greater currency controls. In a statement, the FSB said that Ovchenko has never been employed by the agency and that the FSB had nothing to do with the report on economic policy to which the "Argumenty i fakty" article refers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
FSB CALLS FOR FULL TAKEOVER OF MASS MEDIA. The FSB's Economic Stability Institute has drafted a report calling for a radical change in Russia's economic policies and the transformation of the current system of oligarchic rule to a national system, "Argumenty i fakty" reported on 25 July. To ensure that the population supports these measures against the oligarchs, the FSB report calls on the government to take full control over all mass media outlets with a circulation or viewership of more than 200,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
BEREZOVSKY TRANSFERS TV-6 TO MEDIA-MOST... Boris Berezovsky told reporters in Paris on 30 July that shareholders in TV-6 have transferred management of that station to Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST group, Russian agencies reported. Yevgeni Kiselev, TV-6's general director, will represent the group's interests at the station. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 July, Kiselev said that former ORT anchorman Sergei Dorenko, who is considered a protege of Berezovsky, may come to work at TV-6. According to Kiselev, "Dorenko is a star of the first order and one [should] not throw such people away." Kiselev denied that TV-6 will become a political weapon in the hands of Berezovsky, asserting that the "primitive myth" that Berezovsky is a "mercenary, evil oligarch" is a "caricature of Berezovsky -- far from reality." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
...AS FORMER NTV TEAM LOSES ANOTHER COURT CASE. Also on 30 July, a Moscow city court threw out an appeal by former NTV General Director Kiselev and other former members of NTV's board. Kiselev's appeal challenged an earlier decision by a lower court that allowed an NTV shareholders meeting to take place on 3 April. That meeting resulted in sweeping changes, including Kiselev's replacement by U.S.-born financier Boris Jordan. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 July, Media-MOST on 2 August will challenge a 29 May Moscow arbitration court decision that approved liquidation of Media-MOST in federal arbitration court. The company's chances of winning are considered slim. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
PAPER WARNED FOR PUBLISHING FAKE PUTIN MESSAGE. The Media Ministry has sent a warning to the editors of Yekaterinburg's "Oblastnaya gazeta" for publishing a supposed message of greeting from Putin to Russian Defense Expo-2001 that Putin did not write or sign, Interfax reported on 25 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS IGNORE PUTIN PRESS CONFERENCE. According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 26 July, 56 percent of Russians said they knew nothing about Putin's press conference last week. Only 8 percent watched the entire session on television, another 19 percent of the sample said they watched part of it, and a third group of 17 percent said that they had heard something about the session from other sources. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
SAMIZDAT RETURNS -- IN DEPOLITICIZED FORM. In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 July, Aleksandr Suetnov, who tracked samizdat publications at the end of the Soviet period, said that samizdat publications are now making a comeback, but that most of the new samizdat journals are for sports fans or others with distinctive but nonpolitical interests. He bemoaned the fact that there is no general guide to these publications, but he said that it is clear that those who are interested know where to find them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
IS DOBRODEEV TO BECOME HEAD OF PARDONS COMMISSION? "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 July that rumors are circulating that Oleg Dobrodeev, the head of the State Radio and Television Company (VGTRK), will be named head of the Presidential Pardons Commission. VGTRK spokesmen have denied these rumors, the paper said. But it noted that there is now a power struggle in the commission among those who want officials to take control of the commission, those who favor the current public member system with some modifications, and those who would like to abolish the commission altogether. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
JOURNALISTS COVERING RELIGION SUBJECTED TO PRESS ATTACKS... According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii" on 25 July, members of the recently established Guild of Religious Journalists are being subjected to increasingly frequent attacks by nationalist and extremist groups that oppose the guild's commitment to accurate and balanced coverage of religious questions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
...WHILE UNIVERSITY RECTOR SUES ORTHODOX CHURCH BUT SETTLES BEFORE TRIAL. Vladimir Tretyakov, the rector of Yekaterinburg's Urals State University, filed suit against the local Russian Orthodox Church eparchate because church officials had accused him of sponsoring totalitarian sects and promoting drug abuse among students, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July. The paper said that such a suit is "unprecedented." On the day the case was to be held, the eparchate's leadership apologized to Tretyakov, who agreed to accept the retraction of the church's denunciations of him. "I do not want to be the Pontius Pilate of the Urals," the university rector said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
PUTIN WANTS ALL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES TO BE ONLINE. Putin has ordered all government agencies to launch websites on the Internet and update them on a daily basis, "Vedomosti" and "Vremya novostei" reported on 27 July. Deputy presidential administration head Aleksei Volin said that those agencies that fail to update their sites on a daily basis will be considered as having "done nothing or nothing useful" that day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER PLEDGES TO INCREASE INTERNET USE TENFOLD BY 2010. In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 26 July, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said that the government's "Electronic Russia" program would seek to increase the number of Russians online from 2.5 million today to more than 25 million by 2010. Meanwhile, an article in "Izvestiya" the same day noted that up to 60 percent of Russian web surfers go on line for news and political information. The article noted that there are dozens of useful news sites in the Russian language, including about 180 representing the country's political parties and movements. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
MOSCOW WON'T GIVE COMPUTERS TO REGIONS THAT FAIL TO FUND PROGRAM. "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July that Education Minister Vladimir Filippov has told the leaders of 12 regions that they will not be given computers for their schools if they do not allocate their equal share of the cost of the program. Among the first two that are to be cut out of the computerization program are Tatarstan and Omsk Oblast, the paper reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
TELECOMS LINES BEING EXTENDED ALONG TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILROAD. "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July as part of its coverage of the centennial of the Trans-Siberian railroad that both government agencies and private companies are working to extend telecommunications lines alone the railroad corridor, thereby linking many settlements into the larger world. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
MARRY ONLINE, DIVORCE ONLINE TOO. According to an article in "Izvestiya" on 26 July, 14,788 Russian couples have availed themselves of an online marriage by going to the virtual marriage palace at http://www.wed.ru. For those whose marriages online or via more traditional marriage ceremonies do not work out, there is now a virtual site for divorce as well, http://vikanna.narod.ru/razvod2.html. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
COURT HEARINGS NOW POSSIBLE ONLINE. A Rostov-na-Donu court last week held a trial in which the accused appeared via online videoconferencing, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
MOSCOW POLICE ARREST CRIMINAL HACKER GROUP. The Moscow police working together with the interagency center to combat money laundering told Interfax-Moscow on 26 July that they had broken up a criminal hacker group that had inflicted several million dollars in damages by breaking into foreign news services' computer systems, stealing and then storing on its own services copyrighted materials, and illegally disseminating these materials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July)
SERBIAFORMER SECURITY SERVICES ORDERED TRAILING OF MURDERED JOURNALIST? Serbian state security head Goran Petrovic said on 26 July that Serbian secret police -- by order of the former department head Milan Radonjic -- had followed Slavko Curuvija, journalist and owner of the daily "Dnevni Telegraf," up to the time of his murder. "The order was not typical for the work of this service, because Radonjic ordered that virtually every step of the journalist was to be reported to him only," Petrovic said. Petrovic added more time was needed before the identity of Curuvija's murderer could be made public. Only print media representatives were present during the first press conference of a secret police head in the history of this service. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
REPORTER ATTACKED IN BELA PALANKA. Radio Otpor in Bela Palanka, the subject of an ongoing legal proceeding, announced it would bring charges against local men for attacking one of its journalists. Dragan Jocic, a journalist of Slobodni Radio Otpor (Radio Free Otpor) in Bela Palanka, reported in the evening of 19 July from the exceptional electoral meeting of the football club Jedinstvo, a former Serbian League member. The journalist said that he was attacked by people associated with the Socialist Party of Serbia, but that he did not know whether they were still members. "I have to say that the man who assaulted me is a close friend of the former mayor," Jocic added. The president of the Municipal Committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia in Bela Palanka, Miomir Krstic, said that socialists had nothing to do with this incident, reported B92. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
JOURNALISTS WANT MORE PROTECTION. The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) sent an appeal to the local authorities to do more to protect journalists, so that they could freely report on local events. Commenting on Valjevo-based Blic correspondent Predrag Radojevic, who was interrogated by local police, a NUNS workgroup for the protection of journalists concluded that the interrogation had been connected to Radojevic's articles on local events. Radojevic told workgroup members that his investigative articles had exposed him to both public and private pressures from authorities in Valjevo, FoNet reported. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
NEW RADIO TELEVISION SERBIA EDITORS. Gordana Susa, Milorad Petrovic, Zoran Petrovic Pirocanac, and Sanda Petrusic are candidates to become editor in chief of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) news programs, FoNet news agency was unofficially informed on 25 July by sources close to RTS, with a final decision slated for 11 August. According to the same source, RTS General Director Aleksandar Crkvenjakov has appointed Rade Veljanovski as his assistant for Radio Beograd. Nikola Mirkov was elected editor of RTS Cultural and Artistic Programs. Dusan Radulovic will be the editor in chief of Radio Beograd's Channel One, Nebojsa Spaic will become the editor in chief of the program Beograd 202, while Obrad Savic was elected as editor in chief of the Channel 3 of Radio Beograd. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
HUNGARIAN PAPER GOES ON WARNING STRIKE... The readers of the only Hungarian-language daily newspaper in Yugoslavia, "Magyar Szo," were left on 24 July without their newspaper, because the Workers' Union of the editing committee organized a five-day warning strike to demand that their founder, the Vojvodina parliament, double employees' salaries. The strike committee announced that only the paper's online edition would appear until 29 July, and that it would contain only news about the strike. Most "Magyar Szo" employees support the strike, while others advocate a complete halt to publishing the paper until it becomes financially independent. However, Radio 021 reported on Monday that a number of employees, dissatisfied with the decision to go on strike, seceded from the Association of Workers' Unions of Serbia, and joined the Association of City Workers' Unions Nezavisnost. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
...TO THE DISPLEASURE OF ITS FOUNDER, THE VOJVODINA PARLIAMENT. The Vojvodina parliament announced on 24 July that "Magyar Szo," which went on a week-long warning strike, was not performing the minimum expected amount of work, Beta news agency reported. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
TV NOVI SAD BROADCASTS CROATIAN PROGRAM. On 20 July, "Magyar Szo" will begin broadcasting its first Croatian-language program on TV Novi Sad. The program is put together by journalists and camera operators from Subotica who have prepared twenty half-hour programs entitled "TV tjednik" (TV weekly) in Croatian, broadcast by the local television station Super TV, reported B92. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
ANTIC ACCUSED OF COPYRIGHT VIOLATION. The First Municipal Court in Belgrade announced on 26 July that they were investigating cases against Hadzi Dragan Antic, Goran Kozic, and Slavenko Bojovic. All three are accused of violating copyrights by broadcasting films on TV Politika as part of their serial programs, "Film iznenadjenja" (Film as a Surprise) and "Filmski maraton" (Film Marathon), reported FoNet. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
B92 TOPS LIST OF YUGOSLAV NEWS WEBSITES. The B92 website took first place on the list of news websites in Yugoslavia on 21 July, according to the international web statistics organization Alexa Internet (www.alexa.com), ranking higher than the websites of Yugoslav news dailies "Glas javnosti," "Blic," and "Politika." According to the same list, B92 is the third-most-visited website in Yugoslavia, followed by Krstarica and Pretrazivac. ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 21-27 July)
UKRAINEKUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD THREATENS TO GIVE SECRET RECORDINGS TO WESTERN EXPERTS. Ukrainian legislator Oleksandr Zhyr told journalists on 25 July that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will pass the secret recordings he made in Ukrainian President Kuchma's office in 2000 to Western experts if Ukraine fails to organize an appropriate investigation into the "tape scandal," Interfax reported. Zhyr said he recently met with Melnychenko in the U.S., where Melnychenko told the legislator that he has not passed his original recordings to anybody, and therefore he is neither a traitor nor a defector. According to Zhyr, Melnychenko wants the authenticity of his recordings to be confirmed by a commission formed in Ukraine. Zhyr also suggested that Melnychenko has recordings implicating top Ukrainian officials in illegal trade in weapons. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
UKRAINE AGREES TO MOTHER'S WISH NOT TO BURY GONGADZE. The Ukrainian government said on 27 July that it would not bury the decapitated body of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze until his mother agrees to do so, Reuters reported. Although independent DNA tests have shown a greater-than 99 percent chance that the body belongs to Gongadze, his mother Lesya Gongadze is not absolutely certain it is her son. The Prosecutor-General's Office had given a Kyiv morgue permission last month to bury the body. Deputy Health Minister Antoliy Kartysh said the ministry is prepared to help conduct a new DNA test with foreign experts to help convince Mrs. Gongadze that the corpse is indeed her son's. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
REGIONALDISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN IN MACEDONIA, SERBIA? Press reports have appeared in Macedonia and elsewhere in the region in recent weeks, suggesting that NATO -- and in particular the U.S. -- is actively helping the UCK in Macedonia. One such report claimed that a KFOR helicopter landed arms for the UCK on Macedonian territory, which brought a protest to NATO from the Macedonian authorities and a swift denial from Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. The German weekly "Der Spiegel" in its 30 July issue strongly suggests in an article entitled "The Americans' Hidden Agenda" that the U.S. is aiding the UCK. The article adds that this alleged American role in fomenting the conflict in Macedonia is irritating "the Europeans." In yet another twist, the Serbian news agency Beta reported that the U.S. authorities recently approached Serbian officials to request a "99-year lease" on the Camp Bondsteel area in Kosova and on several Yugoslav military facilities. The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic denied the report, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 30 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
END NOTEGEORGIA ROILED BY TV REPORTER'S MURDER
By Zurab Tchiaberashvili
The killing of popular TV journalist Georgi Sanaia has sparked a series of popular protests in Tbilisi, postponement of a session of the Georgian parliament, and even the delay of a planned visit by President Eduard Shevardnadze to Baku. Most Georgians are convinced that no one would dare to kill a prominent journalist for personal reasons and consider it a political assassination, while most law enforcement agencies emphasize personal motives for the murder.
All of Georgia was shocked at 9 p.m. on 26 July when the "Courier" news program of the independent TV station Rustavi-2 did not start its 9 p.m. broadcast. A few minutes later, viewers were shown the photograph of the show's popular commentator, Georgi Sanaia, along with the message: "Georgi Sanaia has been killed."
After word spread about Sanaia's murder on the evening of 26 July, people gathered near his house. Among the first to arrive were Zurab Zhvania, parliament chairman and Mikheil Saakashvili, the minister of justice. Some journalists and human rights activists gathered in front of the presidential residence to protest. As the protestors said, when a prominent journalist is killed, it is the government that is primarily responsible.
The next day, parliamentarians, journalists, and others gathered near the parliament building. A special session of parliament planned for noon on 27 July -- which was supposed to consider a new law on local self-government, election law amendments and setting up the office of prime minister -- ended after a minute of silence. Parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania declared that the journalist's murder was "an assault not only on Georgi Sanaia, but on all journalists. I consider it to be an action against the free media." He asked parliament to honor Sanaia's memory with a minute of silence.
As a result of the public outcry over Sanaia's murder, President Shevardnadze postponed a planned visit to Baku. In the evening of 27 July, he invited U.S. Charge d'Affairs Philip Remler to a private meeting; it was decided that the FBI would be involved in the investigation of Sanaia's killing. The president assigned Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili to head a team of 15 to investigate the reporter's murder.
Fearing intense public reaction, officials -- especially those from law enforcement -- claim that Sanaia's killing was planned to give rise to public actions against President Shevardnadze. Soso Alavidze, the chief of Tbilisi police, thinks that certain forces want to make use of Sanaia's death.
The fears of Shevardnadze and his officials are not groundless. Sanaia's assassination and the intense public reaction reminded people of Shevardnadze's friend, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and what happened after the murder of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (who has a Georgian name), who worked in Ukraine. The analogy is strengthened by Shevardnadze's request that the FBI be involved in the investigation.
"It is the fault of the state, not of a single person or a group, a state that does not punish kidnapping, assaults on foreigners, the assassination of a journalist," - this is the opinion of protesters who, on July 30, made a living chain stretching from the building of the Constitutional Court to the President's Chancellery along Tbilisi's main street, Rustaveli. The hour-long silent action was to show the authorities that society will not tolerate the terror in Georgia.
Opposition parliamentarian Georgi Targamadze rules out any possibility that personal motives are behind Sanaia's murder and is convinced that political reasons are.
In reaction to the murder, another parliamentarian, Koba Davitashvili, known for his critical attitude towards law enforcement agencies, said: "It is due to the syndrome of the lack of punishment that exists in the country. I don't want to raise the issue of responsibility of the law enforcers right away. Not because I cannot or I'm afraid, but because it would be incorrect now. Let us give them some time, though society has justified doubts and skepticism regarding their activities. Let us follow the law. Political murder is the most likely version. When a leading journalist is killed in his apartment with a gun with a silencer, it obviously cannot be a murder committed because of jealousy."
A third parliamentarian, David Gamkrelidze, said, "It is a good way out for a government in crisis and until the case is finished and they tell the whole truth, I can only regard this to be a political murder."
"Georgi is the first on the list of journalists who are to fall victims to political orders. We have strong reasons to think that the list will increase." This was the assessment of the "Droni" newspaper. Gia Iakobashvili, a journalist from the "Resonance" newspaper, said: "This murder is a test for Georgian society.... If people do not react, then everyone will think that it is possible to do anything...even leave Russian military bases for another 14 years."
According to an official statement made by Georgian journalists, "the murder of Georgi Sanaia is a logical consequence of the anarchy in our country. Beating, abusing, threatening, and persecuting journalists for their work has become a usual thing in Georgia in recent years. Unfortunately, none of the criminals has been punished. Moreover, the law enforcers cynically ignore and overlook the crimes in which they themselves are often involved." The journalists' statement claims that after 10 years of independence, Georgia is losing even the formal signs of democracy, and is turning into a provincial totalitarian state.
(Zurab Tchiaberashvili is an independent journalist and writer in Tbilisi.)