Debate - Opinion in English, Russia and Baltic States
Debate - Opinion in English
Tillbaka till Tonis hemsida
Russia continues to be an intensely dangerous place to work Russia continues to be an intensely dangerous place to work as a journalist. Several murders were reported this year and violence and intimidation are commonplace. Corruption and cronyism also make their presence felt in media circles. Russia also continues to have problems with breakaway republics; this year saw a revival of the Chechen conflict with the official justification that it serves as a safe haven for Islamic rebels, who twice invaded the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan last summer. Moscow also blames the militants for apartment bombings that killed 300 people in several Russian cities in September. Journalists that had to report on these events faced many obstacles and hardships, among them official censorship, government harassment, kidnapping, assaults, and even death. Supian Ependiyev, a correspondent with the Groznensky Rabochiy newspaper, was mortally wounded when covering Russia's penetration into Chechnya. On the evening of October 27 several rockets hit a crowded outdoor market in central Grozny. Ependiyev went back to the market an hour after the attack to cover the incident for his paper when a new round of rockets fell about 200 metres from the market. Ependiyev suffered severe shrapnel wounds and died the following day in a Grozny hospital. Two days later, on October 29, Ramzan Mezhidov, a freelance correspondent with the Moscow TV company TV Center, and Shamil Gigayev, a cameraman with the independent Nokh Cho television station in Grozny, were also killed. The journalists covered a convoy of refugees on route from Grozny to Nazran when a Russian bomber fired several rockets from the air, hitting a busload of refugees. Both journalists left their vehicle to film the carnage when another Russian rocket hit a nearby truck, fatally wounding both of them. Moreover, as in recent years, journalists covering Chechnya run a very real risk of being kidnapped. Late in the evening of March 28 a group of armed, unidentified men broke into Said Akhmedovich Isayev's home and abducted him. Isayev was working for the Russian Itar-Tass news agency and was posted in Grozny. According to some of Isayev's colleagues, his balanced reporting of the political situation in Chechnya may have upset political power holders in the region. The day after the kidnapping the Itar-Tass offices received a phone call from a person claiming to call from Chechnya, warning that the office was mined. Police searched the premises but found no bombs. Isayev was released on June 19 in good condition and apparently without any payment of ransom. Just before Isayev's abduction, Anton Marianov, a journalist for the daily Natcheku in the Volga region was released. Marianov had been detained since the beginning of this year. In 1997 over a dozen journalists were kidnapped in the region. None of the journalists' abductors have been arrested or prosecuted by authorities. On August 13, Vladimir Yatsin, a photographer with Itar-Tass, disappeared in the Nazran region of North Ossetia (Caucus region). His Chechen kidnappers demanded US$ 2 million for his release. Commenting on the kidnappings, Dagestani Minister of Information Zagir Arouhov said that "we will not be responsible for their [reporter's] security and we will not provide them with any logistics support." Russian Vice-Minister of Information also warned journalists not to broadcast declarations of Chechen Islam militants without "adequate" commentary. And on August 17, the Russian Ministry for the Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting and Media Affairs issued a formal warning to Russia's national television networks barring them from broadcasting interviews with any of the Islamic rebel leaders. A few days earlier, on August 9, Dagestan's regional executive, Magomedali Magomedov, imposed official censorship on the republic's media. The statement required that all print and broadcast media submit their reports on the conflict to the Minister of Nationality Police and Information for approval. Six days later Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced a month-long ban on the work of all local media, except for state-owned television. On October 26, Alexei Ritchenko, chief of the department controlling the activities of foreign media told Petra Prokhazkova, a reporter with the Czech agency Epicentrum, that it would be difficult for her to obtain further accreditation. The reason given was that Prokhazkova's reports had created an "anti-Russian" mood in Slovakia, according to the Russian Slovak ambassador. The agency was also criticised for having published reports with Chechen separatists. Journalists covering the Chechen conflict have also been physically attacked by authorities. On October 25, Oleg Kusov was hit by an officer near the Chechnya border. Kusov, a correspondent with Radio Liberty, was hit on the head with the butt of a rifle after he had demanded an explanation as to why a Russian officer had taken his dictaphone. Reporters have also been refused entry into Chechnya by Russian military. Anthony Loyd, a military correspondent with The Times newspaper and Tyler Hicks, a freelancer contributing to the New York Times, were detained at a federal forces checkpoint on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. federal forces said that the two reporters were lacking sufficient documents to be allowed over the border. However, the Glasnost Defense Foundation consider the detention arbitrary since at the time no official state of emergency or military operations had been declared therefore making the accreditation demand void. Cases of journalists being murdered are regularly reported across Russia. The motives are rarely established and the culprits almost never found. Photojournalist Gennady Bodrov was murdered in Kursk in February. He had received a telephone invitation to take pictures of a wedding party. Camera in hand, he got in a car that was waiting for him, and was driven away. He never came home. On February 16, his mother and friends, having searched for him in vain, reported his absence to the police. On February 19, Gennady Bodrov's mutilated body was found in a forest on the outskirts of Kursk. The body of Andrei Polyakov, press secretary of the magazine Rossiisky Advokat, was found in one of the buildings in Moscow's Dmitry Donskoy Boulevard on March 4. The journalist had been stabbed to death by an unidentified person in an elevator. Vadim Rudenko, a journalist with Chelovek I Zakon, was found dead in his apartment in Moscow on June 30. His neighbours, choking from the smoke that came from behind the journalist's door, had called the fire brigade. But the police say the man had received several knife wounds before his home was set on fire. Lyubov Loboda, editor of the district newspaper Vesti, was killed in the city of Kuybyshev, Novosibirsk region, on August 30. Her body was found with three stabs wounds in Panshev Street. On September 14, the Novosibirsk law-enforcement bodies announced that Loboda's case was closed. According to the Kuybyshev police, her suspected killer, together with his hirer and an intermediary, had been tracked down, arrested, and taken to the investigation prison in Kuybyshev. Loboda's assassination appears to have been ordered by the editor of a rival newspaper. Oleg Chervonyuk, founder and publisher of the newspaper Novosti St. Petersburg, was shot dead on the doorstep of his apartment building. His brother Sergei also died from multiple gunshot wounds in the attack that is thought to be a contract killing. Valentina Neverova, editor of Pravo, died in a fire at the regional police headquarters in Samara on February 9 where she arrived to fulfil a professional assignment. Valentina and Nikolai Mirolyubov, husband and wife and members of the National Journalists' Union, were killed at home in Yaroslavl on February 25. A VCR, a computer, and some audio and video cassettes were stolen from their apartment. In the previous months they had been in the publishing business; before that they had worked for the local news media. On September 27, Cristopher Reese, a British producer working with the STS television channel was found stabbed to death in his Moscow apartment. Police suspected a domestic motive rather than a contract killing. On December 1, Igor Rostov, General Director of the independent TV/radio company Kaskad was assaulted in Kalingrad. Rostov was beaten on his head with iron bars by two unidentified persons and had to be taken to hospital with skull injuries and concussion. Rostov believes that the attack could have been connected to a series of articles published in the Kaskad newspaper which had been critical of the local administration's way of dealing with budget issues among other things. Russia's regional authorities, in particular, have shown that they will come down hard on critical media outlets. Radio Lemma, for instance, has been under constant threat for broadcasting interviews with opponents of the local administration in the Primorye region. Vladivostok Mayor Yuriy Kopylev urged Radio Lemma to stop its broadcasting and on July 15 a local building management company shut off electricity to its studios claiming the bill was unpaid, despite proof the station had to the contrary. And on August 31 the regional commission for the Federal TV and Radio Service (FSRT) issued a formal warning that Radio Lemma's license would be revoked if the station didn't broadcast on a 24-hour basis as was specified in their license agreement. Managers of the station said that the agreement in fact doesn't say that they have to broadcast the full 24-hours. The staff of Radio Lemma, one of the few independent media in the region, have also been exposed to physical threats and abuse. The attacks are thought to be connected with the station's broadcast of investigative reports about Vostoktranslot, the largest refrigerated shipping line in the region. On June 29, three unidentified men attacked correspondent Yuri Stepanov as he was walking home in the evening. The three aggressors beat Stepanov and kicked him in the chest when he fell to the ground. Stepanov spent a month recovering from broken ribs and a cracked skull. Efforts have also been made to silence the station by harassing family members of the staff. On July 6, two men forced the daughter of station director Valeriy Moravyov into a car and told her that her father should mind his own business. She filed a complaint with police and shortly after received anonymous telephone threats ordering her to drop the charges, the police closed the case saying that they had no evidence. The tactic of threatening reporter's families has also been used in other parts of Russia. In early May, Sergei Zhubinsky, a reporter with private television station XXI Vek television in the Krasnoyarsk region started to receive anonymous phone calls. The caller threatened Zhubinsky and his family, urging the reporter to stop broadcasting a series of investigative reports about corruption at the Achinsk Alumina plant. The reports that were broadcast accused the plant of insufficient safety standards and also accused the plant's director of embezzling funds from the company. On August 19, Zhubinsky found an explosive device attached to the underside of his car which was parked outside his house. The bomb was removed by regional authorities. The director of the plant was later removed by the Krasnoyarsk Governor for corruption. On November 17, Andrei Yegonyants, a correspondent with the Moscow Newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, was severely beaten by militia officers in the Belgorod province. The journalist was stopped by militia men who asked for his papers, which he produced. The militia officers claimed that Yegonyant's photo was improperly pasted and that a stamp was not clearly visible. The journalist was taken to a minibus with dark windows and license plates covered by mud. In the van he was badly beaten with a baton and kicked. After that he was taken to the fourth militia department in Belgorod and placed in detention. Yegonyants was later diagnosed with dull stomach trauma and injuries to his thorax and kidneys. A long-running story related to freedom of expression came to an end this year. Grigory Pasko, a naval commander and editor of the navy newspaper Boevaya Vakhta, received a three-year sentence but was freed under an amnesty because he had already served more than one-third of the sentence. Pasko had been jailed since his arrest in November 1997 after he was accused of "collecting state secrets with the aim of passing them on to a foreign organisation" under article 275 of the penal code. Pasko had been seen filming liquid radioactive waste being emptied into the Sea of Japan from the Russian oil tanker TNT 27. The footage was broadcast by the Japanese TV channel NHK causing an outcry in Japan. Pasko had also written reports on the involvement of Russian secret service (FSB) in nuclear waste trafficking. Many measures related to Pasko's trial and detention were considered arbitrary. The Glasnost Defense Foundation said that all Pasko's contact with Japanese media were either sanctioned or co-ordinated with the leadership of the Pacific Navy and that the material Pasko published had been passed by a censor. Pasko was also barred from seeing his wife while in detention, and the case judges removed his lawyer accusing him of making misplaced statements during the trial and contravening the ban of not giving information to the press. One of the witnesses, Yuri Ralin, has since come out saying that he was pressured by intelligence services to give false testimony in an effort to implicate Pasko. Another imprisoned reporter was also released this year. Altaf Galeev, director of the independent radio station Titan in Ufa, Bashkortostan, was released on April 30, on his own recognisance. Galeev had been in custody since May 1998 for armed hooliganism after he had fired a gas gun into the air when the station was attacked. Titan had provided equal air time to alternative candidates for the presidency and had been under increasing pressure from the authorities for doing so. Water and electricity supplies had been cut off but the station resumed broadcasting with its own electric power station, which probably led to the attack. On February 9, Mikhail Razgadov, chief correspondent of the western bureau of the Stolitsa S weekly, was beaten by a Major General of the Russian army. Razgadov was taking photographs of the Major General's mansion that allegedly had been built by forced labour prisoners. The Major-General, V. P. Krasnoputsky, beat Razgadov, ruined his film and confiscated his camera. Razgadov was later detained for some five hours and threatened with administrative arrest if he kept on pursuing the story. On April 15, Arutiunian, a reporter with the human rights weekly Express Chronicle was sentenced by a Moscow court judge to a ten-day prison term for "hooliganism." The journalist was arrested after he tried to take pictures outside the same court that sentenced him for a story on the justice system. He was accused of trying to enter the court with his camera and was taken by police officers to a room where he was forced to the ground and beaten. All his materials were also seized. On August 3, a group of unidentified individuals threw a grenade inside journalist Igor Michine's home in Ekaterinburg. Michine, in charge of the local television station Kanal 4, was not home during the attack which wrecked his whole apartment. Kanal 4, owned by the Most Media Group, supports Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a candidate in the race to succeed Boris Yeltsin for the presidency. The station had earlier complained of searches carried out on their premises which they had called "an effort to muzzle the press prior to the elections." As the presidential elections approach, the media moguls are jostling for position. Just as in the 1996 presidential elections, the media continue to have a strong say in the outcome. The Russian media wield great influence over the political landscape but they can hardly be branded free as owners use their outlets as propaganda conduits. There have been several instances of mudslinging between the Kremlin and different Most Media Group outlets. The Media Most Group has accused the government of trying to interfere in its reporting and the Kremlin says that the group is trying to influence areas of government prior to the elections. There have also been concerns about the acquisition of Kommersant by financier Boris Berezovsky. Kommersant, a business and political newspaper well-respected for quality reporting and independent analysis, has been critical in the past of Berezovsky and many believe that the acquisition will turn the paper into a mouthpiece for Berezovsky's personal opinions. With the upcoming elections, the stakes are high. The media is considered crucial in the elections and this has worried both government and opposition politicians. It is believed that by buying the paper Berezovsky can exert heavy influence, helping politicians he considers allies. During the year, Russia has seen an escalation in the media war with different outlets supporting their favourite candidate. Kommersant was forced to close down the week Berezovsky took over due to inadequate fire safety standards The general director of the paper, Leonid Miloslavsky, said that the closing, which stopped publication for a week, was politically motivated and that in all probability Mayor Luzhkov was behind it. The fire department responded by saying that the paper had been warned in advance but had done nothing to improve its safety standards. Russian authorities have also clamped down on the media in connection with elections. On September 2, Russia's Minister of Mass Media, Mikhail Lesin, suspended the broadcast license of a St Petersburg television company for screening programmes that mocked several leading politicians. St Petersburg's Governor said that he considered the move a "first step toward censorship," with regard to the elections. The shutdown lasted for 24 hours. top | Back to Europe selection | Back to World selection | 1998 World Press Freedom Review The obstacles facing the media in Russia are manifold: assassination is still tragically used to good effect to silence unwanted voices; cases of intimidation and harassment are commonplace; the 'oligarchs' blithely manipulate the media for personal gain; and a Communist-led Duma introduces legislation to censor and control. Murder has shown itself to be the preferred method of censorship in at least five cases in Russia this year. On June 8, Larissa Yudina, editor-in-chief of the daily Sovietskaya Kalmykia, was kidnapped and murdered in Elista, the capital of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia. On the evening of June 7, an unknown person claiming to be a representative of the Agency for Co-development, reporting to the President of Kalmykia, had made an appointment with the journalist. He was to give her documents on the misappropriation of funds, which implicated the President of the Republic, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The next morning her body was found with several stab wounds in a dam in the town. Yudina was also regional vice-president of the opposition party Yabloko. Her newspaper was in constant conflict with President Ilyumzhinov, who is also an influential businessman. Sovietskaya Kalmykia has published numerous articles criticising his authoritarianism and denouncing the corruption and misappropriation of funds under his presidency. For the past eighteen months, Yudina had also been inquiring into a company connected to President Ilyumzhinov, called Aris, which granted tax exemptions to firms setting up in an off-shore area of the republic. In her newspaper she claimed that the practice was accompanied by bribes paid by firms to the Kalmykian President. Sovietskaya Kalmykia, the only opposition newspaper in Kalmykia, has often been threatened with closure by authorities. Since 1993, Yudina had also received numerous threats due to her articles on the wealth and personality of President Ilyumzhinov. Two suspects arrested in connection with the Yudina murder confessed to the crime in June. Sergei Vaskin, a former aide to Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and Tyurbi Boskomdzhiev, Ilyumzhinov's representative in Volgograd Oblast, were charged with premeditated murder. Authorities are still searching for a third suspect in the case. Investigators believe Yudina's murder was linked to her journalistic activities in Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya which is the only local newspaper that criticises Ilyumzhinov. President Yeltsin remarked that "not everything" relating to the investigation can be shared with law enforcement officials in Kalmykia. On 21 August, Anatoly Levin-Utkin, deputy editor-in-chief of Yuridichesky Peterburg Segodnya, was reportedly assaulted by two unknown assailants on the porch of his house in St. Petersburg. He was found unconscious, suffering from serious head injuries. The journalist's briefcase, containing material for the next paper's issue, as well as photo equipment and exposed film, were missing. On August 24, following neurosurgery, Levin-Utkin died from his injuries without having regained consciousness. According to neurosurgeon Sergei Yevdokimov, the nature of the journalist's injuries give reason to assert that he was murdered. Yuridichesky Peterburg Segodnya, which had only commenced publishing three weeks prior to the murder, had published two articles on corruption in St. Petersburg's banking circles. According to GDF, the banking management - the focus of articles to have been published in the next issue - demanded that the newspaper name its sources for the articles. Previously, the vehicle carrying the previous issue of the newspaper had been detained by militia, allegedly under false pretext. CPJ reported that on March 31, 56-year old Ivan Fedyunin, a reporter with the local Bryanskie Izvestia newspaper, was murdered. Fedyunin was stabbed to death in his apartment. Fedyunin's colleagues at the Bryanskie Izvestia said that he had recently published articles concerning the alleged criminal activities of local companies involved in renovating apartments. As a reporter for the "politics" department of the paper, Fedyunin covered the activities of the Duma, the local legislative body, as well as on current regional and national political events. On May 2, Major Igor Lykov was shot twice at point-blank range in his apartment in Saratov (southeast of Moscow). Lykov had repeatedly published articles in the local and Moscow press concerning corruption and unlawful actions in the law-enforcement bodies, GDF reported. He was repeatedly punished for publishing the articles, including having nine criminal suits brought against him and twice being dismissed from the militia service. After a number of articles by Lykov on the methods of recruiting militia agents were published in the local press, there was an attempt to accuse him of divulging State secrets. On January 30, Vladimir Zbaratski, a staff member of ITAR-TASS news agency was murdered on Mosrilmovskay Street, Moscow, as he was returning home from his office late at night. Several other journalists met with violent deaths in Russia in 1998 and the crimes are currently under investigation to determine whether the killings were related to the journalists' professional activity. Laws and decrees relating to the media have played a significant role in the political debates this year. Chief editors of over 30 publications signed an appeal in October urging the State Duma not to adopt proposed amendments to the Mass Media Law. The draft law expands the list of grounds for closing media outlets and increases the number of officials who have the right to do so. If the law is adopted, the appeal says, supervisory councils will appear in the editorial offices and these will be, in essence, censoring councils. Moreover, under the pretext of combating monopolies, the authors of the draft law propose restricting the broadcasting of television channels and radio stations to one constituent part of the federation which, the media chiefs say, will lead to the closure of nation-wide television and radio companies. Overall, the adoption of such a law will mean an increase in the control exercised by state bodies over the state media and possibly arbitrary control by bureaucrats over the private media, and can only have irreparable consequences for freedom of speech in the country, the appeal says. Communist Party officials launched a public campaign against television media, pledging to establish a "public committee" to draw up accusations. The move came on November 7, the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, RFE/RL reported. Earlier that week State Duma Deputy and Communist Party faction member Aleksandr Kuvaev accused several prominent television journalists of "maiming and raping public consciousness" and "collaborating with the regime and its crimes against society," the Moscow Times reported. Hearings were held in the Duma on "problems of morality, social harmony and censorship on Russian television channels." The Duma, which has a Communist Party majority, referred euphemistically to censorship devices as "ensuring psychocultural safety measures." Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov recently told reporters that while the Communist Party does not require that state television be "nationalised", it must improve its compliance with the nation's media law. Zyuganov added that his party will continue to push for the establishment of supervisory boards in the mass media. He also told a press conference that his party will demand that the leadership of All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company be replaced. Meanwhile, the Duma overrode a Federation Council veto of a law on privileges for the media, thereby extending breaks on value-added tax and profit tax for media holdings for another three years. It failed, however, to override a bill on customs tariffs that would have extended a similar exemption for the same period. As a result the price of newspapers and magazines printed outside Russia might rise two to three times. A controversial decree, "On Forming a Production-Technological Complex of State-Owned Electronic Mass Media." was signed on July 27. The heads of a number of Russian private TV companies protested at the advantages given to the state-controlled Russia TV by the reorganisation of the state broadcasting company, VGTRK. Among other things, VGTRK will enjoy tax breaks and exemptions, and it will run - and charge for the use of - the regional transmission centres used by its rivals, giving it a virtual monopoly on signal distribution and the possibility of realising large profits from the charges it makes for the use of its facilities. The other television companies claim that the new law gives VGRTK an unfair advantage and is inconsistent with Articles 8 and 27 of the constitution. ITAR-TASS news agency reported that a total of 99 state TV and radio broadcasting companies, as well as other organisations, were being transformed into federal state unitary enterprises which would be VGTRK affiliates. Mikhail Shvydkoy - VGTRK's recently-appointed head who is directly answerable to Yeltsin - dismisses fears of undue state interference and said: "I'd quit rather than pull the plug on private broadcasters." As the presidential election set for June 2000 looms closer, many see this initiative as a Kremlin attempt to jostle for a strong media position to enable it to effectively compete with rivals who already have a strong media presence - for example Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov with his TV Centre consortium or Aleksandr Lebed, now governor of Krasnoyarsk region, who has been lent media support by Boris Berezovsky in the past. When finally signed, the decree did not contain the particularly contentious suggestions of giving the VGTRK $860m in budget money in 1999 from foreign loan proceeds. Nor did it include the state enterprise Space Communications on the list of subsidiaries. Earlier in the year the RIA Novosti news agency, which has valuable properties all over the world, was attached to the VGTRK, changing its name to RIA Vesti. Reports indicate that regional leaders, keen to hold on to media assets, transferred items of value from the books of the broadcasting stations while the decree was being debated. As a result, the VGTRK holding is considerably less valuable than it might have been. President Yeltsin made an outspoken attack on Russian media tycoons in May, accusing them of censoring news for their own purposes. In a speech delivered to the International Press Institute World Congress in Moscow, Yeltsin said that objective, accurate reporting was being jeopardised by corporate ownership which openly interfered in editorial policy. He called it unreasonable and said he would be meeting the heads of the three main channels later in the week to express his indignation on this issue and, in particular, in connection with the "tone" of their coverage of the miners' strike. The President likes to point his finger at the media at any opportunity. When he met with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, the Vietnamese leader said Yeltsin looked "younger than in photographs," to which a smiling Yeltsin replied that the fault lay with the photographers, not his health. The health of the President continues to make news around the world. He abandoned a Central Asia trip after appearing very weak this year and afterwards snapped at enquiring reporters, saying, "You do not even let me sneeze!" While Yeltsin's treatment of the media is far from deferential, most pundits view him as a president who's willing to tolerate a free press and accepts this freedom is necessary in order for society to develop. The mounting fear is that his successor may not share these sentiments. Russia's press was up in arms in September after Yevgeni Primakov, the recently appointed Prime Minister, banned members of his government from talking to the media until further notice. In a move that smacks of Soviet-era censorship, Primakov insisted that all press inquiries be channelled through the information department. Russia's leading Kommersant Daily called Primakov's moratorium an "iron curtain" and said it would be naive to believe the Government's claim that the move is a temporary one. The newspaper points out that this kind of censorship is constitutionally illegal but that no legal action can be taken against Primakov because his decree was verbal rather than written. The economic crisis that hit Russia this year has all but crippled the media. Newspaper production costs rose 70 percent in one month and the advertising market has virtually collapsed. Since the rouble plummeted, income from subscriptions is practically worthless. Thousands of media workers have lost their jobs or are working without pay. Media owners see the upcoming presidential elections as the possible glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. For once the audience won't need money, just a valid voting card, to be attractive to advertisers. Russia's ORT television station, 51 percent owned by the state and with the largest coverage of the former Soviet Union, is threatened with seizure because of unpaid debts of several million dollars. Bailiffs carried out an inventory in the luxurious offices of ORT's director-general and head of programmes in November. The bailiffs seized some equipment and Director General Igor Shabdurasulov announced that he had been ordered to hand over keys to the station's vehicles. ORT officials, predicting possible bankruptcy, see a political tinge to the legal moves being made against them, citing the company's anti-Communist stance. "ORT's debts are of course very serious but everyone has debts these days. This is not a financial question, it is part of the pre-election campaign and the war to win television and media time," Sergei Mikhailov, a political analyst at the Russian Socio-Political Centre told Reuters. Around the same time bailiffs were confiscating ORT's equipment, firemen were demanding that the influential Ekho Moskvy radio station be shut down for failing to comply with safety standards. In November the state-owned RTR television pulled the plug on the Californian soap opera Santa Barbara. Bearing placards, a small group of middle aged women mounted a picket outside RTR in Moscow. RTR said the station was forced to take the programme off the air because of falling advertising revenues in the wake of the August financial crisis. An estimated 10.5 million people watched the programme every evening, making it by far the most popular soap on Russian television. Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev announced he will sue a St. Petersburg newspaper for accusing him of Russian Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova's murder in November. He told reporters that television is presenting Starovoitova's murder in "such a way as to promote the election campaigns of certain candidates to the St. Petersburg assembly". Marina Kalashnikova, a journalist for Kommersant-Daily, was reportedly sacked for criticising Russia's relationship with former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Kalashnikova wrote that Meciar has referred to Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as "Slovakia's ambassador in Russia". Yastrzhembskii apparently called Raf Shakirov, editor-in-chief of Kommersant-Daily, and said that support for Meciar was in Russia's interests, and so demanded that all articles be written accordingly. Kalashnikova said she was reprimanded by her editor-in-chief but continued to write critical articles on Meciar's style of government. Kalashnikova was refused entry into her office on March 23 and her work pass was confiscated. While she has not been officially dismissed, she is unable to work, her salary has been frozen and the paper's management refuse to meet with her. Igor Rudnikov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Noviye Kolyesa and deputy of City Council of Kaliningrad was assaulted on July 1 by an unknown person, who struck the journalist's head repeatedly with an iron tube wrapped in a sheet of polyethylene, injuring him seriously. Rudnikov's colleagues consider that the assault might be connected with his investigative reporting. GDF reported that the offices of Noviye Kolyesa have come under attack twice this year. On February 6, an explosion was set off outside the newspaper's office and on March 1, two Molotov cocktails were thrown into the editor-in-chief's office window. The Glasnost Defence Foundation have documented numerous other instances of attacks against independent media leaders since the beginning of 1998, including the following: On 2 January, an unknown person badly wounded Yakov London, vice-president of NTN-4 TV channel (Novosibirsk); on 21 January, unknown persons set fire to the car of Boris Fradkov, Director General of the Samara branch of Europe Plus radio station, and later he was threatened with murder in a phone call; on February 5, an armed attack was committed on the apartment of A.Baranov, editor-in-chief of the magazine Stolichny Optovik (Moscow); on 18 February, two unknown persons burst into the apartment of Anatoly Kovyrshin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Express-Reporter and beat him; on 21 March, unknown persons beat Eduard Markevich, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Noviy Reft (Sverdlovsk region); on 11 April, Alexei Nevinitsin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Zolotoye Koltso was beaten in Yaroslavl; on 22 April, Lyudmila Stakhovskaya, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Zarya Timana (Komi Republic) was beaten by unknown persons; on 30 April, Grigory Zabolotsky, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Volgodonskaya Nedelya Plus was threatened with physical violence; and on May 15, Igopr Myasnikov, director of the newspaper Volzhsky Bulvar (Ivanovo region) was mortally wounded. A journalist with the independent newspaper Otechestvo, Sergei Fufaev, was attacked by unknown individuals on August 14, in the city of Ufa in the Republic of Bashkortostan. Fufaev, who had received several threatening phonecalls in connection with his reporting, said one of the assailants told him: "You know what this is for." The persecution of journalists by authorities and unknown individuals in the Republic of Bashkortostan has become more frequent, according to GDF reports. In January, the Neftekamsk City court, in examining the decision of the Ministry of Press and Information of Bashkortostan to revoke the licence of the privately-owned newspaper Vecherny Neftekamsk, ruled in favour of the ministry. In June, on the eve of presidential elections, broadcasts by Russian television in the republic were often tampered with by local TV companies. In addition, issues of Russian newspapers that criticised Murtaza Rakhimov, President of Bashkortostan, were unavailable for sale. Further harassment of the media included efforts to obstruct the work of the correspondent of the Russian TV programme "Vesti". On July 2, in the city of Beloretsk, staff of the local economic crimes prevention unit confiscated 5,000 copies of the opposition newspaper Otechestvo from distributors. On August 7, in Ufa, Victor Shmakov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Vmeste, was assaulted. Timur Kukuyev and Yuri Safronov, members of a film crew for the local M-5 television station and stringers for the Russian public television company ORT in Makhachkala, Dagestan, were beaten by a group of men dressed in paramilitary uniforms as they tried to film at the Daghestani-Chechen border on March 13. Their attackers, CPJ reported, destroyed the crew's video camera and confiscated their videotapes. The crew members were not seriously injured, but they were shocked that the Daghestani border guards who witnessed the incident failed to intervene. On March 16, Kukuyev, the cameraman, was severely beaten in central Makhachkala by unidentified men who warned him against "filming anything else on a foreign territory in the future" as they assaulted him. He was admitted to a hospital with broken ribs, a concussion, and a badly disfigured face. On May 11, Stanislav Kholopov, editor-in-chief of the weekly Stolitza-C, was stabbed twice with a knife near his home in Saransk (240 km south of Gorki) on April 16, RSF reported. He was immediately taken to hospital. A militia officer said that the attack could be linked to Kholopov's journalistic work. Local sources have indicated that the attack could have been prompted by articles written by Kholopov concerning the militia's use of torture, articles which have led to criminal cases being brought against regional high-ranking civil servants. Sergei Bachinin, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Vyatskii Nablyudatel in Kirov, was badly beaten by unknown assailants on July 1. He suffered severe concussion and other skull injuries. Bachinin, who has been the victim of a variety of attacks in the past, believes the crime is linked to the editorial policy of Vyatskii Nablyudatel, which is critical of local authorities. Bachinin ran for mayor of Kirov in 1996 and was the main rival of the candidate who won that election On May 27, Police raided the offices of Radio Titan, the only independent radio station in the Republic of Bashkortostan, beating and rounding up staff members and supporters, CPJ reported. Employees and listeners had been keeping a round-the-clock vigil around the station's building, in anticipation of official reprisals after Radio Titan aired interviews with three opposition candidates who were barred from the June 14 presidential elections. Police seized the radio's equipment and detained the whole staff, including manager and news director Altaf Galeyev and Lilia Ismagilova, its executive director. Although Ismagilova and the others were released the next day, Galeyev was held for firing several shots in the air with a handgun when police stormed the radio's offices. On 4 June, Galeyev was charged with "hooliganism" and "illegal use of firearms" under article 213(3) of the Bashkir penal code. If found guilty, he faces a possible prison sentence of four to seven years. Attacks on Radio Titan by the strong-arm regime of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, who exercises full control over the media, have been common since 1994, when Radio Titan began re-broadcasting Radio Liberty and Voice of America programmes. On May 25, Radio Titan quoted from several articles in Moscow newspapers revealing the allegedly corrupt practices of President Rakhimov's regime, his total control over the local oil industry and his tight grip on the media. Staff members maintain that, as a result of the broadcast, local authorities made several attempts to silence the station by shutting off the electricity, water supply and phone lines. After Galeyev called on listeners to defend his station, the government-controlled Russian Radio Ufa aired interviews with Rakhimov's press secretary and a psychiatrist, who questioned the "psychological health" of Radio Titan's reporters. Grigori Pasko has been imprisoned since 20 November 1997 in Vladivostok. The charges against Pasko - a naval captain and correspondent for the newspaper of the Russian Pacific Fleet, Boyevaya Vakhta, who also operated on a freelance basis for some Japanese media outlets - are based on his publications in the Russian and Japanese media over a three-year period. These publications described the problem of nuclear waste caused by the deterioration of the condition of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet in the Far East, as well as other radioactive nuclear waste disposal problems that have created a major environmental danger. The authorities admit that none of the facts he published revealed state secrets or endangered national security. Moreover, all Pasko's contacts with the Japanese media were sanctioned or co-ordinated with the leadership of the Pacific Fleet, and all material published in the Fleet's newspaper were passed by the military censor. Nevertheless, the authorities argue that the net effect of his publications resulted in revealing a pattern whose exposure constitutes a challenge to Russian state security. Pasko's appeal was rejected in November. Aleksandr Nikitin - writer, environmental activist and retired naval officer - is currently facing high treason charges for drafting a report for the Norwegian environmental organisation Bellona Foundation on the dangers of nuclear contamination caused by Russia's Northern Fleet. His trial is on-going. On July 24 all TV channels in Chechnya including private ones were shut down. On the following day, the leadership of the Chechen Republic decided to let Russian RTR and ORT companies resume partial broadcasting in the republic, however, according to press secretary of the Chechen President Mayarbek Vachagayev, only non-political programme are to be allowed broadcast. The decision to cease broadcasting by Russian mass media over the republic's territory was taken as the Chechen leadership found their interpretation of what is happening in the republic to be "preconceived, distorted and harmful." According to Vachagayev, Russian mass media can fully resume broadcasting in Chechnya only after their leadership promise to truly cover events in the republic and offer their official apologies to the Chechen people. Vachagayev blamed Russian mass media correspondents accredited in Chechnya for betrayal of national interests and venality, and threatened to deny foreign correspondents accreditation if they do not stop carrying out orders by their agencies. Seven journalists from the rebel republic of Chechnya who were seized on Christmas Day 1997 in the southern Russian region of Dagestan were released on January 2. The Chechen residents, working for Reuters, Worldwide Television News (WTN), Associated Press and two major Russian television networks, ORT and NTV, were reported missing after crossing into Dagestan to report on the aftermath of an attack on a Russian tank unit there. A group calling itself the People's Militia of Dagestan had said it was holding them and wanted ethnic Dagestanis being held hostage in neighbouring Chechnya to be freed in exchange for their release. However, ITAR-TASS news agency quoted the Dagestani Interior Ministry as saying their release had been unconditional. The Moscow Arbitration Court on February 11 upheld a lawsuit brought by the private network NTV against the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. In December 1997, the committee instructed the Communications Ministry to charge NTV commercial rates for using state-owned transmission facilities. Those rates would have more than doubled transmissions costs for the company, which since January 1996 had been charged government rates for transmission services. The Prosecutor-General's Office officially charged retired Colonel Pavel Popovskikh with planning and taking part in the murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, Interfax reported on February 12. On February 26, Major Vladimir Morozov, a paratrooper, was also charged with plotting Kholodov's assassination. Kholodov was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase in October 1994. Popovskikh formerly headed the intelligence department of the Airborne Troops. Sources in the Airborne Troops say investigators searched Popovskikh 's office last year. They reportedly uncovered documents listing the names of journalists who were particularly critical of former Defence Minister Pavel Grachev and suggested actions to be taken against those journalists. Grachev was defence minister when Kholodov, who reported on military corruption, was murdered. Valerii Kucher, the editor-in-chief of Rossiiskie Vesti, informed readers in a commentary in April that the newspaper is no longer the official publication of the presidential administration. Kucher promised that Rosskiiskie Vesti has been "de-ideologised" and will in future represent the interests of ordinary citizens and the middle class. He also said that owing to the loss of financing from the presidential administration, the newspaper has been forced to switch from daily to weekly publication for the time being. Kucher accused the Kremlin of failing to meet its financial obligations toward Rossiiskie Vesti and of trying to force the newspaper to publish only official materials. top | Back to Europe selection | Back to World selection | 1997 World Press Freedom Review THE BANKERS put their intentions delicately, recalled Anatoly Kostyukov. Only as the journalists were about to sign away their newspaper to the ponderous emissaries from Bank Imperial did they realise what the new owners had in mind. "They never said directly that they'd strictly control every step we took," he said. "They just said 'It wouldn't be a bad idea if the patriotic alignment of the paper could be reinforced a bit. You know most newspapers are under the Jewish bankers, and in such conditions who is going to further the interests of our brother Slavs?' " Kostyukov, deputy editor of the weekly Obshchaya Gazeta, draws little satisfaction from his paper's refusal to sell out to the bankers. As with just about every so-called independent - that is, non-government - media outlet in post-Communist Russia, Obschaya Gazeta's journalists have exchanged the censorship of Soviet times for heavy-handed pressure from rich new patrons whose handouts they depend on. In August, the paper was obliged by one of its sponsors to carry an anonymous front-page article, in the best Soviet traditions, accusing a faction in the government of seeking to become dictators. Asked why they had run the piece, Kostyukov smiled. "Orders from the Central Committee," he said, jokingly referring to the supreme body of power under the USSR. One by one, independent newspapers have been bought up by Russian financiers, less as promoters of an ideological line or an investment - low cover prices and low advertising revenue make them a losing proposition - than as vehicles to trash their business rivals and pressure the government for favours. One of the most powerful and ambitious of Russia's financier-industrialists, Vladimir Potanin of Uneximbank-MFK, has already left his stamp on two big Russian papers left over from Soviet times - Izvestiya and Komsomolskaya Pravda, in which he has bought stakes. Not content with that, he launched another broadsheet daily, the Russky Telegraph, in mid-September. In its opening broadside, the paper cried out against a "deficit of respectability" in the media. "In the whole of Russia, there is not one daily publication which would even vaguely correspond to the Western understanding of a solid newspaper," said a front-page editorial. Yet what was striking about the first edition of Russky Telegraph was how similar it is to the clutch of other loss-making, small-circulation broadsheets run by rival tycoons and read by a narrow group of less than half a million, mainly inside the Moscow ring road, in a country of 142 million. "This Russky Telegraph is designed to be a newspaper of influence for a narrow political and business elite," said Kostyukov. "Everything is aimed at influencing them. Everyone is aiming for the same readers." Potanin has a long way to go before he can catch up with his chief rivals, the former Presidential security council aide and tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, and the media magnate and banker Vladimir Gusinsky. Although he insisted that he had put his shares in a blind trust while he holds state office, Berezovsky was believed to retain effective control over two TV channels and one daily newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta. His current ally, Gusinsky - the other one of the "Jewish bankers" ominously referred to - runs another national television channel, NTV, a satellite TV network and Sevodnya newspaper. The one thing which unites virtually all the Russian media, state and privately-owned - the main exception being the Communist Sovietskaya Rossiya, its message marred by anti-semitism and crude propaganda - is that it shies away from criticism of the real centre of power in the country, President Boris Yeltsin. Instead of the lop-sided promotion of parties and their policies which corrupts the British media, the Russia media reflect a growing consensus among the elite in favour of patriotic, oligarchic capitalism, where the only debate is over which banker gets what property. Brave, intelligent investigative reporting is still to be found in the Russian press - in September, a Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter was murdered, possibly as the result of investigating official corruption - but it comes at the price of heavy political compromise. "There used to be ideological control. Now it's purely the interests of clans and different groups," said Kostyukov. "The interests of business." JAMES MEEK Open Appeal From the Delegates of the IPI World Congress to the Russian Government We call upon the Russian government to put an end to the situation involving a jailed writer and Naval Captain, Grigori Pasko. Pasko has been imprisoned since November 1997 in Veadirostocu on charges of espionage. These charges are based upon his publication of a series of articles in the Russian and Japanese press over a 3 year period. These articles described the problem of nuclear waste caused by the deterioration of the condition of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet in the Far East, and other radioactive nuclear waste disposal problems that have created a major enviromental danger. But his indictment has been classified secret, and he subsequently cannot defend himself properly. The authorities admit that none of the facts he published revealed state secrets or endangered national security. Nevertheless, Pasko's lawyers say, the authorities argue that the net effects of his publications resulted in revealing a pattern whose exposure constitutes a challenge to Russian state security. In other words, Captain Pasko did what any good journalist should do in bringing out a threat to the public interest. If they have a case that can be produced in open court, the authorities should try Captain Pasko. Otherwise they should release him forthwith. Furthermore, we encourage the world's press to look into and report on this case, which has received minimal international attention to date. ### (RSF) - According to RSF, in the early morning of 8 June 1998, Larissa Yudina, editor-in-chief of the daily "Sovietskaya Kalmykia", was kidnapped and murdered in Elista, the capital of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia (in the south of the country). On the evening of 7 June, an unknown person claiming to be a representative of the Agency for Co-development, reporting to the President of Kalmykia, had made an appointment with the journalist. He was to give her documents on the misappropriation of funds, which implicated the President of the Republic, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. On Monday morning, the police, alerted by Yudina's husband, found her body with several stab wounds in a dam in the town. Yudina was also regional vice-president of the opposition party Yabloko. Her newspaper was in constant conflict with President Ilyumzhinov, who is also an influential businessman. "Sovietskaya Kalmykia" has published numerous articles criticising his authoritarianism and denouncing the corruption and misappropriation of funds under his presidency. For the past eighteen months, Yudina had also been inquiring into a company connected to President Ilyumzhinov, called Aris, which granted tax exemptions to firms setting up in an off-shore area of the republic. In her newspaper she claimed that the practice was accompanied by bribes paid by firms to the Kalmykian President. "Sovietskaya Kalmykia", the only opposition newspaper in Kalmykia, has often been threatened with closure by authorities. Since 1993, Yudina had also received numerous threats due to her articles on the wealth and personality of President Ilyumzhinov. (GDF) - On 29 June 1998, in the city of Kirov, Sergei Bachinin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Vyatsky Nablyudatel", was found semi-conscious in his apartment with a fractured skull. This is the latest in a series of attacks against Bachinin. Previously, he had been attacked on 3 March 1996 when an unknown individual stabbed the journalist. Authorities suspected then that the attack might have been connected with the professional activities of the journalist, who had criticised local authorities in the newspaper. On 27 November of that year, a criminal case was commenced against Bachinin owing to those criticisms. On 6 August 1997, police officials searched the office of "Vyatsky Nablyudatel", ostensibly in regard to an anonymous report that an explosive device was to be set off. During the search, in Bachinin's office was unexpectedly found 0,4 gram of marijuana. Bachinin is a non-smoker. The journalist was detained for three days; however, after he had gone on a hunger-strike he was released on his own recognizance. On 30 March 1998, Kirov city court, in spite of its failure in proving a charge of storing narcotics «in large amounts» and possession of arms, handed down a one-year suspended sentence against Bachinin with a two-year probation period. The sentence was later abrogated due to the Russian Parliament Amnesty Decree. (GDF) - GDF is deeply disturbed by the cruel assault in Kaliningrad on Igor Rudnikov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Noviye Kolyesa" and deputy of City Council of Kaliningrad. On 1 July 1998, an unknown person attacked Igor Rudnikov on the porch of his house, striking the journalist's head repeatedly with an iron tube wrapped in a sheet of polyethylene. At present Igor Rudnikov is in the hospital with serious head trauma and an injured arm. His condition is extremely serious. Rudnikov's colleagues consider that the assault might be connected with the intention of the newspaper's editorial staff to publish information about the Governor's son, who was a guilty party in a car accident. A second theory is that the attack was in revenge for the journalist's previous publications about the former Governor of the Kaliningrad region. In June 1996, the Leningrad district court of Kaliningrad commenced two criminal lawsuits against Igor Rudnikov on the claim of the deputy head of Kaliningrad's regional administration, who had discovered "slander" and "insult" in the newspaper's reports. The cases were closed in December of the same year. Close to two years later, two acts of terrorism were committed against the editorial staff: on the night of 6 February 1998, an explosion was set off outside the newspaper's office; on 1 March 1998, two bottles with Molotov cocktails were thrown into the editor-in-chief's office window. There have been numerous instances of attacks against independent media leaders since the beginning of 1998, including the following: On 2 January, an unknown person badly wounded Yakov London, vice-president of NTN-4 TV channel (Novosibirsk); On 21 January, unknown persons set fire to the car of Boris Fradkov, Director General of the Samara branch of "Europe Plus" radio station, and later he was threatened with murder in a phone call; On 5 February, an armed attack was committed on the apartment of A.Baranov, editor-in-chief of the magazine "Stolichny Optovik" (Moscow); On 18 February, two unknown persons burst into the apartment of Anatoly Kovyrshin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Express-Reporter" (Tambov) and beat him; On 21 March, unknown persons beat Eduard Markevich, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Noviy Reft" (Sverdlovsk region); On 11 April, Alexei Nevinitsin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Zolotoye Koltso" was beaten in Yaroslavl; On 16 April, there was an attempt on the life of Stanislav Kholopov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Stolitsa-S" (Saransk) ; On 22 April, Lyudmila Stakhovskaya, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Zarya Timana" (Komi Republic) was beaten by unknown persons; On 30 April, Grigory Zabolotsky, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Volgodonskaya Nedelya Plus" was threatened with physical violence; On 15 May, Igopr Myasnikov, director of the newspaper "Volzhsky Bulvar" (Ivanovo region) was mortally wounded: On 7 June, Larisa Yudina, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya" was murdered; On 29 June, there was an assault on Sergei Bachinin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Vyatsky Nablyudatel". (CPJ) - On 27 May 1998, police raided the offices of Radio Titan, the only independent radio station in the Republic of Bashkortostan, beating and rounding up staff members and supporters. Employees and listeners had been keeping a round-the-clock vigil around the station's building, in anticipation of official reprisals after Radio Titan aired interviews with three opposition candidates who were barred from the 14 June presidential elections. Police seized the radio's equipment and detained the whole staff, including manager and news director Altaf Galeyev and Lilia Ismagilova, its executive director. Although Ismagilova and the others were released the next day, Galeyev was held for firing several shots in the air with a handgun when police stormed the radio's offices. On 4 June, Galeyev was charged with "hooliganism" and "illegal use of firearms" under article 213(3) of the Bashkir penal code. If found guilty, he faces a possible prison sentence of four to seven years. Galeyev, who is in poor health, was allowed to see a lawyer, but no court hearing has yet been scheduled. Attacks on Radio Titan by the strong-arm regime of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, who exercises full control over media, have been common since 1994, when Radio Titan began re-broadcasting Radio Liberty and Voice of America programs. On 25 May, Radio Titan quoted from several articles in Moscow newspapers revealing the allegedly corrupt practices of President Rakhimov's regime, his total control over the local oil industry and his tight grip on the media. Staff members maintain that, as a result of the broadcast, local authorities made several attempts to silence the station by shutting off the electricity, water supply and phone lines. After Galeyev called on listeners to defend his station, the government-controlled Russian Radio Ufa aired interviews with Rakhimov's press secretary and a psychiatrist, who questioned the "psychological health" of Radio Titan's reporters.
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