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03.05.2006

The IPI criticizes self-censorship in the Russian mass media and condemns systematic repression in Belarus

   

In its annual report published on the eve of International Press Freedom Day, 3 May, the International Press Institute said that 2005 had been a terrible year for journalists.

Mounting evidence of self-censorship in Russia

The IPI reports that the situation with the Russian mass media remains difficult. The main trend has been an increase in self-censorship. A glaring example of this was in the coverage of the wave of public protest against the abolition of social concessions which swept the country at the beginning of 2005. While the printed media gave fairly wide coverage to the demonstration, television channels tried to create the impression that the protests were quite isolated.

A number of publications and journalists writing about Chechnya were subjected to censorship and fines last year.  The newspaper “Kommersant”, for example, received an official warning from the authorities for publishing an interview with Aslan Maskhadov.

The last bastion of independent television journalism, according to the report, had been the analytical program on Ren-TV “24 hours with Olga Romanov” which was taken off the air on 24 November 2005. The IPI believes that the reason for the removal of the program and Ms Romanova’s subsequent  departure from Ren-TV were the journalists critical views of the political situation in Russia.  The immediate cause of Ren-TV’s parting company with Ms Romanova was a feature on the closing of a criminal case involving the son of the Russian Minister of Defence who had hit a woman while driving.

IPI Recommendations

The authors of the report make a number of recommendations for improving conditions for the mass media in Russia. They call, in particular, on the Russian authorities to stop the effective persecution of publications which criticize politicians and to revoke the new law on nongovernmental organizations. They stress that the state monopoly on national television should be stopped, and that investigations into the murders of journalists should be transparent and carried through to their logical conclusion. Finally, reporters working in trouble spots and in the regions are advised to get training in safe conduct.

Belarus – Systematic repression

In 2005 Lukashenko’s regime continued to systematically persecute non-governmental media outlets, this leading to the closure of a whole range of publications. On 15 December he Belarusian leader made the task for his state machine easier by passing a number of amendments to the Criminal Code. These amendments impose criminal liability for circulating information “damaging the reputation of the head of the state” and the “interests of security of the Republic of Belarus”.  As a result all media outlets, civic and political movements, as well as members of the public who criticize the government or give interviews to foreign journalists have become a target for the authorities.

In the run up to the presidential elections the work of a number of publications was stifled step by step. The IPI cites the example of the newspaper “Narodnaya volya” which, beginning in April 2005, was fined on several occasions for publishing critical articles. In September the newspaper’s contract with the state enterprise “Belsoyuzpechat” and “Mingorsoyuzpechat” was terminated as a result of which the newspaper was forced to print its run in Smolensk. Finally, at the beginning of 2006, “Narodnaya volya” was removed from the list of publications available on subscription.

The report stresses that such methods were used before the elections to close down many newspapers saying things the authorities didn’t like. As far as Internet publications were concerned, most frequent methods involved the arrest and confiscation of servers and the personal property of journalists and editors.

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