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Ingush legislators call for end to broadcasts by RenTV, station says in retaliation for critical coverage

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is concerned about a request by parliamentarians in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia for an end to broadcasting in the region by RenTV, a Russian TV station based in Moscow. In an open letter to the Russian parliament, the prosecutor general, the FSB security service and the interior ministry on 18 March 2008, the Ingush parliamentarians also said RenTV reporters were no longer welcome in Ingushetia.

The press freedom organisation said: "We urge the authorities to maintain a firm position in response to the demand of the Ingush parliament. They pose a direct threat to press freedom in this Caucasian republic, where human rights are routinely flouted."

The initial response in Moscow has been cool. Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, said: "We do not have the capability or power to shut down TV channels or influence their content."

Boris Reznik, a member of the information technology and policy committee in the Duma, the lower house, said: "The members of the lower house will not intervene in RenTV's activities."

He added that if the Ingush parliamentarians had a complaint about RenTV, they should turn to the judicial authorities.

The Ingush parliamentarians' open letter said: "RenTV's provocative, slanderous and biased reports on events in Ingushetia indicate that behind them there are forces interested in shaking up the situation in the south of our country. We have every reason to believe that reports regularly broadcast on this channel are directly linked to attempts by these forces to destabilise the region, including attempts being made from abroad."

Three RenTV journalists and a member of the human rights group Memorial were arrested in their hotel in the Ingush capital of Nazran 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.

RenTV has not issued a formal statement about the open letter as it was not addressed to the station. But deputy editor Mariana Maximovskaya said she thought it was directly linked to a report broadcast on 16 March referring to events in recent months in Ingushetia, "where opposition demonstrators are kidnapped and killed with increasing frequency and censorship reigns."

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