Post-Soviet Media Law & Policy Newsletter
Issue 36 Benjamin
N. Cardozo School of Law April 20, 1997
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Although the Constitution provides for “freedom of thought,
speech, and convictions,” the Government continues to severely limit these
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
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
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.