Post-Soviet Media Law & Policy Newsletter


Issue 36     Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law     April 20, 1997 

RUSSIA

    The Constitution provides for freedom of the press and mass information and the “right of each person to seek, pass on, produce, and disseminate information freely by any legal method.” The Government generally respects these provisions; however, the law contains provisions regarding secrecy of information that federal, regional, and local authorities have on occasion chosen to interpret broadly in order to limit access to information and to prosecute journalists and media organizations publishing critical information. Despite this, the major print media organizations, most of which are independent of the Government and represent Russia’s broad political spectrum, were able to work relatively unhindered. Independent and semi-independent television stations continued to develop, and the number of small private radio stations, mostly in the big cities, continued to increase. Nevertheless, reports of government pressure on the media continued, particularly when coverage dealt with the Chechen war, other security related issues, corruption, or criticism of the authorities. Furthermore, journalists were killed or beaten, and the Government was criticized for its apparent failure to investigate these cases.

    During the presidential election campaign, all candidates had access to the mass media, including both free broadcast time granted by law and paid advertising. However, candidates complained about unequal access and biased reporting. According to the European Mass Media Institute, President Yeltsin received more than 52 percent of television news coverage broadcast time, while his main rival, Communist Party candidate, Gennadi Zyuganov, only got 18 percent. Each of the other presidential candidates received no more than 7 percent. Reports proliferated that senior media figures received generous “retainers” from the Yeltsin campaign to assure their loyalty and that even junior journalists received compensation for positive stories. Immediately after declaring his candidacy, President Yeltsin dismissed Oleg Poptsov, the head of Russian state television (ORT), an action that human rights organizations asserted was in response to critical coverage of the war in Chechnya, a key election issue.

    Media organs openly appealed to their audiences to vote for a particular candidate, in most cases President Yeltsin, a fact that can be explained not simply by government pressure, but also by journalists’ fear of a crackdown on the liberal media if Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zyuganov had won. Igor Golembiovskiy, Editor in Chief of the Moscow-based Izvestiya, said that he and his staff had agreed that a Yeltsin victory was “in their interests.” In the print media, only a few pro-Communist, hardline opposition newspapers, such as Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya, gave positive coverage to Zyuganov. With some exceptions, journalists showed little interest in investigating important campaign issues that might have resulted in more balanced coverage.

    The press actively covered the war in Chechnya, providing the Russian and international publics with a wide range of information about the conflict despite physical danger to journalists and government attempts to restrict access. This coverage (which was often extremely graphic) was a determining factor in crystalizing public opposition to the conflict.

    Journalists were subjected to violence by both warring sides. The Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) reported that combatants violated journalists’ rights in Chechnya almost daily. Several journalists were killed; many were detained and beaten; and some were missing at year’s end. Natalya Vasenina, editor-in-chief of a newspaper published in Chechnya called Nezavisimost, was kidnaped from her home in Grozny on September 27 and forced into a car by two unidentified masked persons. A Chechen spokesman stated that regional and state security authorities were searching for her. Vitaliy Shevchenko and Andrey Bazvluka, Ukrainian journalists working for Lita-M Television Company, were last seen on August 11 in Grozny. Yelena Petrova, also of Lita-M, was kidnapped at the beginning of September and was believed held by Chechen forces in Achkoy-Martan.

    Journalists were also used in prisoner exchanges even though they are noncombatants. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on August 31 federal border guards detained Salman Betelgereyev and Bekhan Tepsayev, two Chechen journalists from the separatist television channel, at the airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, upon their arrival from Turkey. Federal troops released Betelgereyev and Tepsayev on September 22 at the Khankala military base outside Grozny in exchange for Russian MVD troops held by Chechen fighters.

    Foreign and Russian journalists covering the conflict in Chechnya alleged that Russian forces fired upon and threatened them. On August 8, Russian army helicopters opened fire on two cars marked WTN (Worldwide Television News, a British company) and “press.” On the same day in Grozny, Russian troops shot at a Cable News Network car.  Other reports of abuses by the Russian army included destruction of equipment, confiscation of exposed tape, and restriction of journalists’ access to certain parts of Chechnya.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists protested the “restrictive and aggressive manner in which Russian authorities” treated journalists in Dagestan during the Pervomayskoye events in January. The newspaper Izvestiya complained that official attempts to manipulate information were “unprecedented,” as journalists were denied free access to the released hostages. According to Russian press reports, the Russian military set up cordons 15 kilometers away from Pervomayskoye on January 16 and barred journalists from approaching the village. One reporter said that his car was fired on at a checkpoint by Russian soldiers; others were attacked by guard dogs at checkpoints. Two Russian journalists working for WTN had their equipment confiscated.

    Human rights activists cited government pressure on the media in the cases of Yevgenia Albatz, an investigative journalist, and Valeria Novodvorskaya. Albatz was fired by the newspaper Izvestiya after she had completed a major article exposing alleged illegal activities by the FSB. Human rights activists charged that FSB pressure on the newspaper was responsible for her firing, noting that her editor had promised her article front page coverage only days before.  Journalist and political activist Valeria Novodvorskaya was charged in 1995 with “promoting interethnic strife,” apparently for her criticism of Russian citizens in Latvia and Estonia. During her trial the judge ordered an investigation of her organization “Democratic Choice.” The Supreme Court subsequently overturned this order; however, her case is still pending. Human rights activists assert that the FSB is forcing the judiciary to prosecute Novodvorskaya.

    Journalists publishing critical information about local governments and influential businesses, as well as investigative journalists writing about crime and other sensitive issues, were subjected to threats, beatings, and even murder.1 Others were assaulted or harassed. In a report on violations of the rights of journalists, the Glasnost Defense Foundation found numerous instances of harassment, including financial pressure, physical assaults, and threats against journalists’ families. Aleksandr Krutov, a correspondent for Moskovskiye Novosti who had just published an article entitled “The Chechen Syndrome in the Volga Region,” was hit over the head with a metal pipe more than 10 times by two men in Saratov in February.

    In the regions outside the major media markets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, local authorities continued to use city-owned media premises, printing facilities, government subsidies, and charges of libel to pressure the media. Vecherniy Neftekamsk, a newspaper in Bashkortostan, published a series of articles that accused Bashkortostan President Rakhimov’s family of seizing control of the Bashkortostan oil industry and described corruption in the local government. As soon as the articles were published, the printing plants in Bashkortostan stopped printing the newspaper. In August the local prosecutor’s office started libel proceedings against the newspaper’s editor, Eduard Khusnutdinov, who also received phone threats.

    In June the Tatarstan Parliament passed a law to prohibit insulting and humiliating the President of Tatarstan.  According to the new law, journalists found guilty would be fined up to $5,900 (30 million rubles) and all copies of their publications confiscated.Tatarstan President Shaymiyev wrote in his letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists that Russian law prohibited insulting government officials, because doing so “encroaches upon the justice system and the established order of government.”

    In September the club of regional editors in chief announced that the head of the Komi Republic’s Administration for Media and Law Enforcement issued written orders to all 23 heads of city and regional administrations in the Republic to begin judicial investigations against the newspaper, Krasnoye Znamya, because it had published an expose of alleged squandering of funds by senior Komi government officials. The President’s Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes ruled in October that this action was unlawful and requested that the President of Komi take strong disciplinary action against his chief of staff who ordered this action. The Chamber, however, lacks the authority to enforce its decisions, and no disciplinary action was taken.

    Meeting with a group of senior Moscow editors, President Yeltsin promised personally to examine each case of absorption of independent news organizations by other businesses to prevent media intimidation. Yeltsin also said that all cases of threats and violence against journalists should be reported directly to his office. The Committee to Protect Journalists, however, noted that it had received no response to its letters asking the President to investigate the cases of journalists who were killed, kidnaped, or harmed.

    The Government’s information policy remained restrictive by Western standards. Facts, documents, and statistical data are still frequently kept from the press. For example according to the GDF, in the Orel region all documents containing statistics on the region’s economy are marked “not for the press.” The secrecy of information, and the resistance of senior officials to releasing it, were typically cited as pretexts for refusing to provide information. The higher an organization’s status, the more generally closed to the press it remained.

    1. Section 1a of the Reports includes the following additional information:

    Ten journalists have been killed by unknown assailants for their coverage of the war in Chechnya since December 1994— four of them in 1996—according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The body of Nadezhda Chaykova, a newspaper correspondent who had been missing for several months, was found in the Chechen village of Geikhi on April 11. Chaykova had been severely beaten, blindfolded, and shot in the back of the head. Chaykova was the author of articles on human rights violations in the Russian “filtration camps” in Chechnya. The body of Nina Yefimova, a correspondent for the newspaper Vozrozhdeniye, was found in Grozny on May 9. She had been kidnapped and then shot repeatedly in the back of the head. According to news reports, Yefimova had received threats in connection with her articles.

    Elsewhere in Russia, some journalists investigating crime and official corruption were also killed. Oleg Slabynko was killed in January, soon after producing a television program on government corruption. Photographer Feliks Solovev, who freelanced for the German newspaper Bild, was killed in Moscow on February 26. Viktor Mikhaylov, a journalist for Zabaykalskiy Rabochiy, was killed on May 12 in Chita while working on a series of articles on crime and the work of Russian law enforcement. At year’s end, no one had been charged with these murders.


ARMENIA

    The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, while the Government generally respects freedom of speech, it has placed some significant restrictions on freedom of the press. Most independent and opposition newspapers operate with extremely limited resources and depend on the Government for publication and distribution facilities—an arrangement that has continued intact from the Soviet period. However, the Government has begun to divest itself of the state publishing apparatus and has disbanded the Ministry of Information.

    A growing number of printed publications present lively debate and a variety of views. The opposition press regularly criticizes government officials and policies; however, those who report on major corruption or national security issues risk government and other reprisal such as detention, beatings, threats, false prosecutions, and harassing tax audits. The Government provides a list of “forbidden subjects,” and accordingly journalists practice some self-censorship. 

    During the period following the postelection government crackdown in late September, the opposition press continued to print articles critical of the Government, including reports and analyses written by released opposition figures. However, security forces beat and detained some members of the press after the election. There was no access for the opposition to television or radio after the elections. Troops cordoned off state broadcasting outlets and independent HAI-FM radio station took itself off the air. The opposition’s Hairikhyan was given 10 minutes of airtime in October to announce the postponement of an opposition rally. The new Yerevan Press Club objected strongly to the Government’s restrictive draft press law, which was pulled back for renewed consideration. Armenian media organizations have submitted a new draft press law for government consideration. However, Dashnak party-affiliated media outlets, which were shut down in December 1994, remained closed.   Television and radio broadcasting is largely controlled by the Government. There are 3 functioning independent radio stations and 10 small independent television stations, the latter of which operate largely in the regions outside of Yerevan. 

    Broadcast media coverage of presidential candidates prior to the September election gave an overwhelming advantage to incumbent President Ter-Petrossian. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observer mission noted in its September 24 statement that Ter-Petrossian had 16 times more editorial coverage on state television than his nearest challenger in the weeks prior to the election. According to the OSCE, this “far exceeded what is normal in such contests elsewhere in the world.”  State television did, however, provide 90 minutes of free airtime per presidential candidate during the campaign, and provided more balanced coverage than during the 1995 parliamentary elections.

    The judge in a court case involving the ownership of the independent newspaper Azg ruled in favor of the local operators and against the Ministry of Justice, which was attempting to unilaterally transfer ownership to parties more supportive of the current Government.

    There is no evidence that the Government inhibits or censors importation of international newspapers and magazines.  The Internet and electronic mail have greatly increased the amount of foreign and domestic information available to both governmental and nongovernmental outlets. Middle and upper class Armenians have access to international satellite television from abroad, including Russian and Turkish television, which erodes the Government’s near monopoly on television.


AZERBAIJAN

    The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and specifically outlaws press censorship; however, the Government often did not respect these rights in practice. While the press debated a wide variety of sensitive topics, censorship limited the public’s ability to be informed about and discuss political issues. Censorship continued at approximately 1995 levels, although the Government did not prevent independent and opposition press from continuing to play an active, influential role in politics. Officially, the Government limited censorship to military topics. In practice, however, censorship of political topics continued. The Ministry of Information can legally close a newspaper for 1 month for violating censorship rules. Censors deleted portions of newspaper articles or entire articles. Journalists often exercised self-censorship and are forbidden to write about censorship. A major opposition newspaper claimed to have been subjected to 105 cases of censorship in the course of the year. Censors banned an entire issue of one opposition newspaper for having previously published a mildly satirical article about the President. The Ministry of Information took another independent newspaper to court and had it closed for 1 month due to previously published articles on sensitive foreign policy subjects. The President’s office rescinded this order 1 week later. On two occasions, the Speaker of Parliament banned a journalist from entering Parliament. In one of those cases, a court rendered an apparently prearranged verdict that confirmed the ban and ruled that the journalist had slandered Parliament. Authorities in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic banned an opposition journalist from Nakhichevan after she published an article critical of conditions there. On two occasions, police beat a journalist attempting to cover demonstrations that the Government had not authorized. In one of these cases, when the journalist filed a complaint about police behavior, the prosecutor’s office opened an investigation of police behavior. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

    Despite government censorship, articles critical of government policy and high government figures appeared routinely in the print media. Newspapers were able to publish articles opposing government views in sensitive areas such as Azerbaijan’s relations with Russia and Iran, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, conflicts within the President’s political party, and government failures in economic reform. 

    A large number of newspapers continued to publish. One reliable source put the number at more than 300. These include independent newspapers and newspapers with links to major and minor opposition parties. Government-run kiosks and independent news distributors distributed opposition and independent newspapers. Most independent newspapers, many of which operated with precarious finances, remained dependent on the Government for printing facilities.

    The Government tightly controlled most radio and television. Opposition parties had virtually no access to the official electronic media. The Government appointed a new director of state television, who said that it was the duty of state television to implement the policies of the President.  There is a limited range of private television stations, and some of them are accessible only to those local residents who own modern, foreign-produced television sets.  Independent radio, the choice of the overwhelming majority of listeners, is almost entirely entertainment oriented.  Independent television and radio broadcasters are reluctant to air controversial political topics for fear of Government retaliation.

    An order from the Ministry of Justice in June ordered the closing of all independent television stations pending the passage of a national law regulating independent television.  The authorities closed three stations, pending receipt of applications for broadcast licenses. Authorities closed another station after it interviewed a leader of an opposition party. Six independent television stations continue to operate in Baku and other regions. Broadcasts of several foreign television stations can be seen in Azerbaijan, and there are no restrictions on reception of foreign stations via satellite. 

    The Government did not pursue a case against those responsible for beating the head of an independent TV station in Baku in 1995. There is no evidence that the individual filed a complaint with the police.


BELARUS

    The Constitution provides for freedom of speech, but the Government does not respect this right in practice. The executive branch, through the head of the President’s Chief Directorate for Public Information, further increased direct suppression of freedom of expression through its near total monopoly on the means of production and distribution of mass media and by restricting the access of independent media to official sources of information. The Government increased economic pressure on the independent media by pressuring advertisers to withdraw advertisements and by ordering intrusive, prolonged inspections of their financial activities.

    The defamation law makes no distinction between private and public persons for the purposes of lawsuits for defamation of character. A public figure who has been criticized for poor performance in office may ask the public prosecutor to sue the newspaper that printed the criticism.

    In January the President signed a decree ordering that all editors in chief of state-supported newspapers would henceforth be official state employees and would become members of the appropriate level government council. Another decree granted the Ministry of Press authority to assign graduates of state-supported journalism schools to work in state-owned media organizations as a means of payment for their schooling.

    In December 1995, on instructions from President Lukashenko, the state publishing house refused to renew printing contracts with the four leading independent newspapers. These publications continued to circulate in Belarus, but they are still denied access to the state-controlled system of distribution and publishing facilities.

    The Belarusian Television and Radio Company (B-TR) maintained its total monopoly as the only nationwide television station. B-TR Director Grigory Kisel instructed the state television company to cease broadcasting the opening session of Parliament. Despite parliamentary resolutions calling for time on state television, B-TR did not broadcast the Constitutional Court’s annual address to the nation, which was highly critical of many of President Lukashenko’s actions. On April 18, the Parliament adopted a resolution that claimed that the B-TR “regularly broadcast information which discredited the activities of the highest legislative body.” On September 27, in response to what it termed consistently tendentious coverage, Parliament withdrew B-TR’s press accreditation. (Russian television networks continue to have access to Supreme Council sessions.)

    The Government regularly restricted the access of independent media to official sources of information. On many occasions, representatives of the independent media were not granted accreditation to government press conferences.  The Cabinet of Ministers announced on February 8 that the Russian news agency Interfax would not be granted further access to information for “grossly distorting” the meaning of testimony by the Prime Minister before Parliament. In accordance with a presidential decree, the Government broke the lease on the editorial offices of the independent news agency “Belapan” and the opposition newspaper “Svaboda” and forced them to move without compensation.

    Police beat journalists attempting to cover the April 26 anti-government rally during the melee that followed the rally, and detained two journalists. Radio Liberty correspondent Eduard Terlitsky and Cezary Golinski of the Polish daily “Gazeta Wyborcza” were seriously injured.

    Journalists covering a peaceful May Day rally were harassed and roughly handled by unidentified security officers in civilian clothing, reportedly members of the Presidential Guard service. The film of two journalists was exposed and videotapes were removed from the camera of the Moscow-based NTV correspondent. The prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation, but it has not produced results. Journalists claimed that the incidents were an attempt to intimidate them and influence their coverage of future civil disturbances.

    On the night of June 20-21, two men reportedly broke into the apartment of Radio Liberty correspondent Yuri Drakokhrust and physically abused his wife Galina.  Drakokhrust, who was away on a business trip, was a vocal critic of the Lukashenko administration. Galina Drakokhrust claimed that the men used a key to enter the apartment, stole nothing, and insisted that she “tell her husband” what happened.

    The Government used the State Tax Inspectorate and the “President’s Control Board” to harass the independent media. The publisher of Belarus’ leading independent newspapers claimed that the tax inspectorate had received instructions to “keep looking through the books until they find a reason to close them down.” The bank accounts of five independent newspapers were frozen for period of about 1 month but were no longer frozen at year’s end.

    The Government closed down Radio 101.2, Minsk’s only independent Belarusian language radio station, on September 1. After the Government initially claimed that the antenna interfered with security force communications, the President admitted that “a government transmitter and government frequencies . . . would not be used for antigovernment policies.” In fact Radio 101.2 purchased the transmitter and antenna, but due to government prohibitions on private ownership of broadcast equipment, transferred title of the equipment to the Ministry of Communications and was renting the equipment back from the Government. In October Belarusian authorities closed down Radio NBK, the only independent station in Grodno, for alleged financial irregularities. State television and radio consistently denied access to the opposition, including the Speaker of the Supreme Soviet, prior to the November referendum despite repeated appeals by the Parliament. An analysis of media coverage during the November 9-24 referendum by the European Institute for Media concluded that of the 2,000 minutes devoted to referendum reporting on television, 90 percent openly supported the President’s position; the other 10 percent was considered nonbiased. Radio coverage during the same period similarly contained no coverage that could be considered supportive of the opposition to the referendum or the Parliament.


GEORGIA

    The Constitution and the 1991 press law provide for freedom of the press, but the Government constrains some press freedoms. Security and law enforcement authorities attempted to intimidate the press through public comments and private meetings.

    Numerous independent newspapers operate and the press increasingly serves as a check on government, frequently criticizing the performance of high-level officials.  However, no independent newspapers have a national audience and most citizens get their news from television. The Government finances and controls two newspapers and a radio and television network, which have a national audience and reflect official viewpoints.

    The State also exerts influence over the press in other ways. For example, it owns and operates the major printing facility. Earlier this year, the Government proposed to a number of independent newspapers that they centralize their operations and accept government assistance. They refused. Independent newspapers and television stations are harassed by state tax authorities.

    Rustavi-2, a member station of the fledgling independent television network, TNG, for the second successive year encountered government attempts to shut it down. In spite of the legal decision in 1995 that confirmed Rustavi-2’s right to broadcast television, the Ministry of Communications revoked the station’s license in July and awarded its broadcast channel to a company with strong ties to government officials. Rustavi-2 had been broadcasting in Tbilisi only for a short time, but had demonstrated independence. Rustavi-2 appealed the revocation but lost in the district court. The subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court was successful. In November the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision. Other independent stations reported pressure by local governments to support them.


KAZAKHSTAN

    The Constitution and the 1991 Press Law provide for freedom of the press, and the Government generally tolerates independent media; however, the media practices self-censorship. The Government continued to own and control most printing and distribution facilities and to subsidize periodicals, including many which were supposedly independent. The potential for Government control, as well as reports of specific instances of Government officials making suggestions about what a journalist should and should not cover, resulted in widespread media self-censorship. The key subject considered to be “off limits” by journalists was personal criticism of the President and government officials.

    In April the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda printed an article in which Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called for the reintegration of northern Kazakstan with Russia. The Prosecutor General’s Office charged the newspaper with stirring up ethnic discord (a violation of Article 39 of the Constitution) and calling for the violation of Kazakstan’s territorial integrity. The Prosecutor General demanded that the newspaper be suspended from publishing in Kazakstan for 6 months and its circulation throughout the country banned. Independent journalists quickly called on the Medeo district court of Almaty to reject the suit as contradictory to democratic ideals. The suit was dropped in July after the newspaper published a statement disassociating itself from Solzhenitsyn’s remarks.  Circulation of the newspaper was not affected.

    In July a journalist for the Kazak-language service of Radio Liberty was detained for several hours after he admitted to police that he was on his way to cover an “illegal demonstration” against Chinese nuclear testing. The journalist was not charged. He then sued the government for about $85,000 (6 million tenge) in “moral damages.” In September the court awarded him about $140 (10,000 tenge).

    In the summer, a Russian citizen correspondent of the newspaper Izvestia, Vladimir Ardayev, was warned “unofficially” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that foreign correspondents should not interfere in internal Kazakstani affairs after he appeared on a local talk show. In September President Nazarbayev was angered by Ardayev’s publication of a “confidential” letter from Uzbekistani President Karimov regarding integration within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Nazarbayev told the press that “Ardayev was already once driven out of Kazakstan, and if we drive him out again, he will never return.” However, no official action was taken against Ardayev and he continued to live and work in Kazakstan.

    Despite these examples of official heavy-handedness, the press was generally permitted to criticize government decisions. Official corruption remained an acceptable topic for critical coverage. Many journalists have criticized the new bicameral Parliament as a “tame parliament in the President’s pocket.”

    Most political opposition groups freely issued their own publications. However, according to press reports, in December 1995, the editor of the Republican Party newspaper in Kokshetau oblast (province) was arrested and sent to a mental hospital after he criticized the akim (governor). In addition human rights activists reported that Yuri-Buravlyov, editor of the newspaper Era of Mercy, was detained by local authorities after publishing an article critical of the head of the north Kazakstan province administration. There are several independent newspapers that act as voices for the opposition, particularly Delovaya Nedelya (Business Week) and Novoye Pokoleniye (New Generation).

    There are many radio and television companies, both public and private, but the Government controls all broadcasting facilities. An association of independent broadcasters of Central Asia exists. However, Government officials and representatives of the state television corporation continued to call for a state-sponsored union of independent television stations.

    In October and November, several independent television and radio stations in Almaty had their broadcasting frequencies temporarily turned off, were told to prepare to vacate their technical offices in the state television tower, and were told that the frequencies they utilized would be sold to the highest bidder. The stations have independent news and political commentary as well as standard programming.  With one exception, all of the independent electronic media continued to broadcast after brief interruptions. A government tender for the frequencies was announced in December. Bids will be accepted until January 14, 1997 and results will be announced on January 24, 1997. Bidders were required to pay $500 to bid. No minimum bid price was established. The “M” broadcasting company’s television transmission from the television tower continued to be suspended because of allegations that its signal was interfering with another independent station; Radio M continued to broadcast on a radio cable network. Human rights activists and several media outlets claimed that these actions were part of a concerted government effort to harass and even eliminate independent media. The Government denied any intent to limit free speech and asserted that it was acting in its own fiscal interest.

    In December the Government decided to suspend the broadcasting of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (RTR) into Kazakstan. Although an independent station alleged that the decision was related to frequencies problems, the Government reported that RTR’s broadcasting was suspended because of a $480 million debt to Kazakstan.

    The law against insulting the President and other officials remained on the books and the Constitution provides for the protection of the dignity of the President. In August Nina Sidorova, the leader of an ethnic Russian political movement, was arrested and charged with insulting a prosecutor.  In December Sidorova was sentenced to 2 years in prison after being found guilty of insulting officials of the court, insulting government officials, and assault and battery of court representatives. Sidorova’s sentence was immediately suspended under a general amnesty declared earlier this year in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of independence.

    Several laws control advertising in the mass media. One law restricts alcohol and tobacco advertising on television, as well as “pornography” and “violence” during prime viewing hours. Another law restricts the amount of advertising in newspapers to 20 percent of the total material in each issue.  The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Press and Mass Media have interpreted this law as restricting paid articles, but not commercial advertisements.


KYRGYZ REPUBLIC

    A 1992 law calls for freedom of the press and mass media but also provides guidelines proscribing publication of certain information. The law supports the right of journalists to obtain information, to publish without prior restraint, and to protect sources. However, it also contains provisions that the Government used to restrict press freedom. For example, the law prohibits publication of material that advocates war, violence, or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups; desecration of national norms, ethics, and symbols like the national seal, anthem, or flag; publication of pornography; and propagation of “false information.” The law also states that the press should not violate the privacy or dignity of individuals. It requires all media to register with the Ministry of Justice and to await the Ministry’s approval before beginning to operate. The Ministry has ruled that foreign entities are not entitled to register. An amendment to the Constitution makes the dignity of presidents or former presidents inviolable.

    There are fully independent newspapers and magazines, as well a few hours daily of independent television broadcasting and some independent radio stations. However, almost all electronic media and a significant portion of print media receive government subsidies, which permit the government to influence media coverage, especially on radio and television. Two print journalists are still barred from practicing their profession under a 1995 conviction for libel. No overt efforts to interfere with the press were observed in 1996, although at least one journalist complained of harassment by police and procurators for expressing independent views.  The conviction of two campaign workers and one journalist for criminal defamation of the President during the election campaign emphasized the limits to freedom of speech.  They were given 1-year suspended sentences in April and then released. 


MOLDOVA

  The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and the press, although with some restrictions. The Government does not abridge freedom of speech and the print media express a wide variety of political views and commentary. National and city governments own a number of newspapers, but political parties and professional organizations, including trade unions, also publish newspapers.

    There were several assaults on journalists engaged in investigations of alleged official corruption. Circumstances and identities of perpetrators are difficult to establish. The perpetrators in one case were arrested; they were reportedly nonpolicemen engaged in a robbery attempt. However, no arrests have been made in the other cases. It is too early to tell if these attacks have had an inhibiting effect on the willingness of the press to investigate corruption.

    Several independent radio stations broadcast in Moldova, including a religious one. An independent television station broadcasts in the Chisinau area. The independent media outlets maintain news staffs and conduct a number of public interest programs. The Government owns and operates a television channel that covers the whole country as well as several of the major radio stations. The city government of Balti operates its own television and radio stations.

    Parliament removed language in the press law enforcing the prohibitions contained in the Constitution, which forbid “contesting or defaming the State and the people,” and political parties that “militate” against the country’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. However, these restrictions remain in the Constitution. They appear to be aimed at journalists publishing material in favor of reunification with Romania or questioning the legal right of the Republic of Moldova to exist.

    The Government does not restrict foreign publications.  However, Western European and American publications do not circulate widely since they are very expensive by local standards. Some Russian newspapers are available, but do not circulate widely due to their expense. Moldova receives television and radio broadcasts from Romania and Russia.  Cable subscribers receive Cable News Network, the U.S. National Broadcasting Corporation, Super Channel, Euro-News, and a number of other news and entertainment networks.

    Of the two major newspapers in Transnistria, one is controlled by the regional authorities and the other by the Tiraspol city government. The latter criticizes the regime from time to time. Other print media in Transnistria do not have large circulations and appear only on a weekly or monthly basis. Nonetheless, some of them also criticize local authorities. The one independent cable television station is under constant pressure from the authorities. It had to restrict its activity when it lost a libel suit brought by the local authorities this spring. Most Moldovan newspapers do not circulate in Transnistria. Circulation of all print media in Transnistria is greatly hampered by the local economic crisis, which is more severe than in the rest of Moldova.


TAJIKISTAN

    Despite the Constitution and the 1991 law protecting freedom of speech and the press, the Government severely restricts freedom of expression in practice. Journalists, broadcasters, and individual citizens who disagree with government policies cannot speak freely or critically. The Government exercises control over the media both overtly through legislation and less obviously through such mechanisms as friendly advice to reporters on what news should not be covered. The Government also controlled the printing presses, the supply of newsprint, and broadcasting facilities, and subsidizes virtually all publications and productions.  Editors fearful of reprisals exercise careful self-censorship.

    Journalists of the newspaper Sadoi Mardum, published by the Parliament, were not permitted to publish an article critical of a parliamentary deputy. The journalists were able to publish the article in the executive branch newspaper, but were then threatened by the subject of their article. An independent television station in the northern city of Khojand, linked to a former provincial chairman, was closed by the regional government.

    On March 28, Viktor Nikulin, an ethnic Russian native of Tajikistan who worked for a Moscow television station, was murdered in Dushanbe by unknown persons. No progress has been made in solving this death.

    There were some improvements regarding freedom of speech and the press. Several new, semi-independent publications appeared, although they are largely nonpolitical.  Letters critical of the official version of the antigovernment demonstrations that took place in the northern city of Uro-Teppa in May were printed in Dushanbe in August. A semi-governmental Dushanbe television station that had been closed in September 1995, resumed limited broadcasting under a new name in September. A seminar to discuss the proposed new electronic media law was held in Dushanbe in August.


TURKMENISTAN

    The Constitution provides for the right to hold personal convictions and to express them freely. In practice, however, the Government severely restricts freedom of speech and does not permit freedom of the press. Continued criticism of the Government can lead to personal hardship, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment.

    The Government completely controls radio and television.  Its budget funds almost all print media. The Government censors newspapers; the Committee for the Protection of State Secrets must approve prepublication galleys. There is at least one monthly newspaper that purports to be independent, but it is still censored. Russian language newspapers from abroad are generally available only to organizations by subscription; individuals are rarely able to subscribe.  Individual issues are available in at least one Ashgabat hotel, but are sometimes confiscated from passengers arriving at international airports.

    After publishing a series of articles critical of the Government in the Russian newspaper Pravda, Turkmen journalist Marat Durdyev was fired from three state jobs: at the state-owned newspaper; an archeological site, and a state school; and he was harassed by the KNB and other government organs.

    The Government prohibits the media from reporting the views of opposition political leaders and critics, and it rarely allows even the mildest form of criticism in print. The Government press has condemned the foreign media, including Radio Liberty, for broadcasting or publishing opposing views, and the Government has subjected those quoted in critical foreign press items to threats and harassment. It revoked the accreditation of the Radio Liberty correspondent because of broadcasts by an opposition politician in exile, although it has not prevented him from continuing to file reports for broadcast.


UKRAINE

    The Constitution and a 1991 law provide for freedom of speech and the press; however, the Government occasionally attempts to control the press. Criticism of the Government is tolerated; however, some journalists practice self-censorship, and the Government largely controls the broadcast media.

    The print media, both independent and government-supported, demonstrate a tendency towards self-censorship on matters sensitive to the Government. The executive branch, through the Ministry of Press and Information, subsidizes the operations of some large-scale publications. The Ministry has warned some periodicals against fomenting ethnic tensions and conducting antistate propaganda and has applied to the prosecutor’s office to open investigations into those newspapers. However, no newspapers are known to have been prosecuted as a result. Private newspapers have also been established and are free to function on a purely commercial basis. However, they practice self-censorship and are subject to various pressures such as control of access to affordable state-subsidized newsprint; dependence on political patrons who may facilitate financial support from the State Press Support Fund; close scrutiny from government officials, especially at the local level; and politically motivated visits by tax inspectors. Foreign-owned newspapers are permitted.

    The broadcast media remain largely under state ownership. They are managed by the State Committee on Television and Radio (“Derzhteleradio”), whose head, according to the new Constitution, is appointed by the President and confirmed by Parliament. The President and the Parliament each appoint half of the members of the regulatory board for broadcasting, the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. Under current legislation, private and foreign companies are entitled to establish and operate their own transmission facilities, provided that they obtain a license from the National Council. News programs that cover domestic political developments, notably “Vikna” (“Windows”) and “Pislamova” (“Epilogue”), have fended off attempts by Derzhteleradio to preview and revise the content of their programs. Derzhteleradio denied the independent news program “Vikna” its time slot. However, with widespread popular and official support, Vikna fought its way back on the air. Derzhteleradio suspended without warning the broadcast contract of “Pislamova,” an investigative news show, which was unable to broadcast on a state channel for 8 months. During that time Pislamova was broadcast on a less widely received private channel. It returned to the state channel on September 6. In Kharkiv a television correspondent was fired and his editor reprimanded for criticizing the presidential draft of the Constitution.  The Government disavowed any connection with the incident. Most local observers believe that it was the doing of an independent, overzealous local bureaucrat.

    In 1994 President Kuchma abolished the State Committee for the Protection of State Secrets that had enjoyed broadly defined powers over all media. The Committee was absorbed into the Ministry of Press and Information, where it is now the Main Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets. According to journalists, this Department has not interfered with the practice of their craft. In 1996 the State Committee for State Secrets and Technical Protection of Information was reestablished. State secrets are prohibited from publication. An editor of the newspaper “Opositsiya” (“Opposition”), Ivan Makar, was sentenced by a metropolitan court to a suspended prison term of 2 years for libeling the President and his staff. The newspaper was closed by order of a Kiev court for publishing caricatures of the President and his staff. Its equipment was confiscated. In June more than 70 prominent journalists issued an appeal protesting increasing political and commercial pressure on the media.

    Reporting on organized crime and corruption in the Government, including misconduct by high-ranking cabinet and administration officials, is becoming increasingly bold.  Journalists contend that they have been subject to threats, including the threat of arrest, and violent assaults for aggressively reporting on crime and official corruption. The journalistic community links the suspicious death of an investigative reporter in Cherkasy to the corrupt elements he was investigating.


UZBEKISTAN

    Although the Constitution provides for “freedom of thought, speech, and convictions,” the Government continues to severely limit these rights.
    A 1991 law against “offending the honor and dignity of the President” limits the ability to criticize the President.  Journalists and ordinary citizens remain afraid to express views critical of the President and the Government.
    Information remains very tightly controlled. Although the Constitution prohibits censorship, it is widely practiced and the Government tolerates little, if any, criticism of its actions. Newspapers may not be printed without the censor’s approval. Journalists and writers who want to ensure that their work is published practice self-censorship. Several speakers at the OSCE conference openly challenged the Government’s assertion that there is no censorship.
    Although the President made several speeches advocating more freedom of the press, Vatan, the newspaper of the progovernment Fatherland Progress Party, ceased publication temporarily after publishing an analytical piece about the President’s August 29 speech to Parliament on human rights, reportedly under pressure from government officials displeased by the article.
    The Uzbekistan Information Agency cooperates closely with the presidential staff to prepare and distribute all officially sanctioned news and information. Nearly all newspapers are government owned and controlled; the key papers are organs of government ministries. State enterprises control the printing presses.
    The last opposition newspaper to be published was that of the Erk party. In 1993 it was banned and has not been published since. Magazines and weeklies have to be registered, a procedure that includes providing information about the sources of funding, means of distribution, founders, and sponsors. A resolution by the Cabinet of Ministers bans private persons and journalist collectives from founding newspapers or magazines. Foreign correspondents based in Tashkent report that the security services have harassed and threatened their translators and other local employees. Limited numbers of foreign periodicals are available, but the Government does not allow the general distribution of foreign newspapers.

    Television broadcasting is state controlled. Although there are local stations in various regions, nationwide programming is on two state-run channels that fully support the Government and its policies. The Ostankino channel from Russia broadcasts during the evening. Its news broadcasts are blacked out when they are critical of the Government. A cable television joint venture between the state broadcasting company and an American company broadcasts the Hong Kong-based “Star TV” channels, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Cable News Network world news, to Tashkent and a few other locations.

    However, there were instances in which the Government eased its restrictions. For example, at a human rights conference in Tashkent in September sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), numerous dissidents, including the head of the HRSU, the son of the missing Andijon Imam, and the former vice president were allowed at the last minute to participate and express views critical (in some cases extremely so) of the Government. In the wake of the conference, the head of the HRSU and another dissident were interviewed on government radio. Government television also aired a program in which short clips of critical speeches were aired, followed by longer rebuttals from government supporters.

    In May the Government allowed Radio Free Liberty to open a bureau in Tashkent, staffed by two local Uzbek stringers. Radio Liberty, the Voice of America, and BBC radio, along with the more expensive cable television channels noted above, are among the few sources of uncontrolled news.

    In addition to state-controlled television, at least one major station in Samarkand considers itself independent. It claims not to receive any government subsidy and to exist wholly on income derived from advertisers. It currently has two channels and plans a third, devoted to business news.  However, it is clearly sensitive to political concerns from the center and concentrates on nonpolitical news but claims not to be formally censored.

    There are no private publishing houses, and government approval is required for all publications.

2. Section 1f of the report adds the following:

    The Government does not allow general distribution of foreign newspapers (with the exception of two or three very conservative Russian ones) and other publications.  However, limited numbers of foreign periodicals began to appear in Tashkent’s two major hotels, and authorized groups can obtain foreign periodicals through subscription.  The publication of the local editions of Izvestia and Pravda and the sale of their Moscow editions remained suspended throughout 1996.