Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Russia: land of the free!

There's the vague coverage, claiming it all to be rumour and that it was a resignation: "An editor of a Russian newspaper has resigned... Some journalists say Russian authorities prevented them from going to southern Russia to cover the crisis."

Then there's the more accurate but still fairly vague coverage: "The editor of the Russian newspaper Izvestia has been fired over its coverage of the Beslan hostage tragedy... Izvestia, controlled by businessman Vladimir Potanin through the Prof-Media publishing house, has a reputation for steering clear of overt criticism of the Kremlin and President Putin."

You can have a Russian view: "sources close to Izvestia’s owners told MosNews that Shakirov’s firing was initiated by the Kremlin, infuriated by the newspaper’s coverage of the Beslan hostage drama."

You have slightly broader fears: "The importance of the media as a check on the executive is all the more important in the absence of a proper parliamentary opposition. During his four years in office, Mr Putin has created what one commentator calls "a political desert" based on strong presidential power and a loyal bureaucracy. Yet if the Russian people are to respond to his call and unite against the scourge of terrorism, they deserve to be taken into his confidence by an honest presentation of the facts. The curate's egg of the Beslan coverage suggests that old habits of disinformation die hard."

This was all predicted in the issue of Izvestia which resulted in the paper's editor being sacked: "I'm sure that when the official version of what happened is worked out and approved on high, we'll be showered with more lies and muck. I'm also sure that those who used their own understanding of professionalism and reported things which they should not have done will be reprimanded."

There are more stories:

"Two of Russia's leading journalists with independent views on Chechnya were not even able to get to Beslan, it emerged yesterday.

"Andrei Babitsky, of Radio Liberty, was arrested at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Thursday and stopped from flying south as police searched his bag claiming he might have explosives. After they had finished, two strangers came up and started a scuffle. They and Mr Babitsky were detained and Mr Babitsky was charged with hooliganism. The next day he was sentenced to five days in prison.

"Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta who received death threats for her reporting on Chechnya and has denounced the Russian forces for atrocities, was mysteriously taken ill on a plane from Vnukovo to Rostov.

"After drinking tea supplied by the stewardess, she fainted. Doctors said she had been poisoned."

Plus we have another journalist arrested: "Russian authorities have detained the Moscow bureau chief of the satellite TV channel al-Arabiya on his way to Moscow from Beslan, where he was covering the hostage crisis.

"Amro Abdel Hamid, an Egyptian who holds Russian citizenship, was stopped at the airport in the southern Russian city of Mineralniye Vody, according to reports.

"Al-Arabiya was informed the journalist would be held for two days, but has not been told why he is being detained."

And then it turns out that a BBC camera crew working on a holiday programme have been taken in for questioning.

Oh joy...

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