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Reporters covering opposition candidates harassed, while state media lavish coverage on Putin

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the way news media were harassed to prevent them from reporting the activities of the opposition parties who took part in 1 and 2 December 2007 parliamentary elections and by the way the public TV stations systematically promoted Vladimir Putin's candidacy.

"Public opinion is being crudely manipulated," the press freedom organisation said. "The international community should react to this display of contempt for democracy, despite President Putin's warnings to other countries not to ?meddle' in his country's internal affairs."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Russians have not had access to fair and unbiased information about all the parties competing in these elections. This bodes ill for next March's presidential elections."

With less then 48 hours to go to the legislative elections, a pattern emerged of violations of the freedom of journalists covering opposition parties and candidates.

On 29 November, journalists working for the news website http://www.Lenta.ru, the daily newspaper "Kommersant" and Radio Echo of Moscow were arrested along with around 10 people who were staging a demonstration outside the General Directorate for Internal Affairs in Moscow in support of Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of the Other Russia opposition platform, who was sentenced to five days in detention on 24 November for taking part in a banned rally (see IFEX alert of 28 November 2007).

Irina Borobyeva of Radio Echo of Moscow told Reporters Without Borders that the police arrested her although she explained to them that she was there as a journalist. At the police station, the journalists were forced to write notes justifying their presence at the scene of the demonstration before they were released. The police also asked Borobyeva to "broadcast something fairly soft."

Nikolai Andrushenko, the co-founder of the weekly "Novy Peterburg", was sentenced to two months in detention on 24 November following his arrest the previous evening in St. Petersburg for resisting the police and obstructing a search of his home (see alert of 29 November 2007).

The day before his arrest, police from the organised crime division asked the weekly's editor, Alevtina Andreyeva, to modify the newspaper's content by withdrawing an article by Andrushenko headlined "Why I will go on the march of the dissidents" and an article giving the opposition's programme. Andreyeva refused to make the requested changes, but was unable to bring out the issue because no printer was prepared to handle it.

Three RenTV journalists and a member of the human rights group Memorial were kidnapped from their hotel in Nazran, the capital of the southern republic of Ingushetia, on the night of 23 November. They were stripped of their clothes and equipment, beaten and threatened with execution before finally being dumped in a remote place outside the city. Two of the journalists had to be hospitalised.

They had gone to Nazran to cover a demonstration called to protest against the failure of the local authorities to put a stop to a series of murders and disappearances (see alert of 26 November 2007).

At the same time, the main national TV stations had been displaying a flagrant bias in favour of the pro-government United Russia party's most popular parliamentary candidate, President Putin.

The Moscow-based Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) has surveyed the amount of airtime assigned to the different political parties by three public TV stations - Pervyi Kanal, Rossia and TV Tsentr - and the two leading privately-owned TV stations - NTV and RenTV - from 1 October to 22 November.

The survey found that most of the media showed a clear bias in favour of the ruling United Russia party, and four of the five TV stations dedicated more than 75 per cent of their news coverage to those in power. The opposition was ignored and denied any opportunity to present its views. Pervyi Kanal, for example, refused to broadcast the liberal Yabloko party's campaign spot criticising Putin's record as president. The survey said news coverage of Putin was overwhelmingly positive or neutral.

This is the link to the CJES report: http://www.memo98.cjes.ru/?p=3&sm2=on&reports=2007111

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