Since 1992, UNESCO has designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. To mark the occasion, two international press freedom advocacy groups have each drawn a list of enemies of press freedom. President Vladimir Putin is on both lists.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today unveiled its list of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press for 2001. The group compiles the list annually as a way to focus attention on, in its words, “individual leaders who are responsible for the world’s worst abuses against the media.” This year, Putin joined such “repeat offenders” as Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Tunisian President Zine Al-Abdine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Putin joined the list for the first time, as did Liberian President Charles Taylor, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Castano. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who was on the CPJ’s press freedom enemies list in 1999 but was taken off last year, is now back on it.
In explaining why Putin was chosen for this year’s list, the CPJ accused the Russian president of having “presided over an alarming assault on press freedom” by imposing censorship in Chechnya, orchestrating “legal harassment against private media outlets” and granting “sweeping powers of surveillance to the security services.” The CPJ specifically cited last month’s takeover NTV television by Gazprom, along with the state-controlled gas monopoly’s closure of the Segodnya newspaper and ouster of the journalists and editor of Itogi, the weekly magazine. “Despite Gazprom’s insistence that the changes were strictly business, the main beneficiary was Putin himself, whose primary critics have now been silenced,” read a CPJ press release (CPJ, May 3).
Putin has made it onto a similar list compiled by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, or RSF). Entitled “Predators of Press Freedom,” the RSF list includes–along with Putin, Kuchma, Zhiang, Castro and others–Mohammed Omar, head of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement; Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos; Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka; Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein; North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il; Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov; Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niazov (RSF, May 2; NTV.ru, April 28). Last month, RSF denounced Gazprom’s takeover of NTV’s board and the replacement of the channel’s management, accusing the government of “conducting a deliberate take-over policy of all audiovisual media with a nationwide audience in Russia” (RSF, April 3).
Freedom House has also been focusing on events in Russia. The New-York based human rights group, which late last month released its annual Press Freedom Survey, has called Gazprom’s “forced takeover” of NTV, Segodnya and Itogi “most alarming.” In its Press Freedom Survey 200, the group, which ranks countries according to various human rights parameters and categorizes them as being “Free,” “Partly Free” and “Not Free,” placed Russia in the “Partly Free” category in terms of press freedom. “But serious crackdowns on independent journalists and media outlets–especially those reporting on official corruption or the war in Chechnya–have resulted in a discernible regression in the state of Russian press freedom,” Freedom House noted in a press release. “Were Russia to be rated today, the Survey would place it in the Not Free category” (Freedom House, April 30). The Press Freedom Survey called the Russian government’s directive ordering all Internet Service Providers to channel messages through the security agencies for possible monitoring “a chilling prospect in a country not fully relieved of seven decades of repression” (Freedom House, Press Freedom Survey 2001, p. 4; see also the Monitor, August 30, 2000, and “The threat to free passage on Russia’s information superhighway,” Prism, July 16, 1999).
Late last month, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution calling the events surrounding NTV, Segodnya and Itogi–all of which were formerly controlled by Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group–“very alarming.” The council also charged that the Russian government was involved in attacks on freedom of speech (NTV.ru, April 24).
“COMPLEMENTARITY” NOT HONORED IN PRACTICE.