16 August 2005

KREMLIN STIFLES CRITICAL COVERAGE OF CHECHNYA


The Russian government's control of national television and its use of repressive rules, harassment, and attacks on journalists covering the conflict in Chechnya are depriving the Russian public of information about atrocities being committed there, a year-long investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has found.

Since coming to power in 2000, President Vladimir Putin has made a series of political appointments at the country's influential state broadcasters, Channel One and RTR, to ensure sympathetic coverage and pro-government editorial positions, says CPJ.

The government has also moved to silence independent media outlets who report critically on the government by closing them or controlling them through companies that have close ties to the Kremlin.

In 2001, the state-run gas company Gazprom acquired the influential private television channel NTV in a hostile take-over. In 2002, a court order closed TV-6, while authorities shuttered TVS in 2003.

In 2004, the Kremlin went further by purging national television of virtually every substantive current affairs show and independent-minded news host, CPJ notes.

The Kremlin has also placed heavy restrictions on reporters and camera crews who enter Chechnya, says CPJ. Only approved journalists are permitted into the conflict zone and must be accompanied by a military escort. Local journalists in Chechnya face intense bureaucratic harassment and obstruction. And foreign journalists and media outlets are pressured into censoring their reports on the conflict - a bloody six-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians.

In its latest move, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 2 August 2005 that it would bar reporters from the U.S. television network ABC from speaking with government officials, adding that their accreditations will not be renewed when they expire, report CPJ and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

That action followed the recent airing of an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev on ABC's news programme "Nightline".

Basayev has claimed responsibility for many violent actions, including the September 2004 attack on a school in Beslan that killed 330 hostages, says CPJ. Russian authorities have offered a US $10 million reward for his capture. The interview was conducted by Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, who has been persecuted by authorities over his reporting on the Chechen war.

Earlier this year, Russian authorities tried to pressure the governments of Britain and Sweden after independent media in those countries aired interviews with Basayev. On 24 March, the Russian embassy in Stockholm criticized the independent Swedish news agency TT for broadcasting its interview.

A month earlier, on 3 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry urged British authorities to stop the independent television station Channel 4 from broadcasting a similar interview with Basayev. The British Foreign Office said it could not interfere with the station's editorial policies.

CPJ says the actions demonstrate the Kremlin's growing intolerance of any kind of criticism when it comes to Chechnya.

Many IFEX members, including CPJ, RSF, the International Press Institute, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, have raised serious concerns about human rights violations in Chechnya.

According to Freedom House, "Pro-Moscow Chechen forces and Russia's armed forces continue to commit grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law - including forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions - with almost complete impunity in a climate of lawlessness and chaos."

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Russia02aug05na.html- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=14588- ABC's Report on Basayev: http://tinyurl.com/8o4eo- CPJ Analysis of Chechen War Coverage: http://tinyurl.com/agg6q- Freedom House Report on Russia: http://tinyurl.com/bcm2r- Human Rights Watch Updates on Chechnya: http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=europe&c=russia- IPI Russia Watch: http://www.freemedia.at/r_wl_russia.htm- Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations: http://www.cjes.ru/bulletin/?lang=eng

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