Russian Government Censorship of Chechnya Coverage - Chechen Conflict

Chechen Conflict

The Russian government's control of all Russian television stations and its use of repressive rules, harassment, censorship, intimidation and attacks on journalists, including the kidnapping of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky by the Russian military, almost completely deprived the Russian public of the independent information on the conflict. Local journalists in Chechnya face intense harassment and obstruction, while foreign journalists and media outlets are pressured into censoring their reports on the conflict, making it nearly impossible for journalists to provide balanced coverage of Chechnya.

Since 2001, with the headlines dominated by news of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the U.S.-led War on Terrorism, the conflict has been almost completely forgotten by the international media. Few Russian journalists continue to cover the Chechen conflict, and even fewer dare to criticize the government, instead choosing self-censorship.

In 2005, the Duma passed the law making the journalists being able to have access to and publish information about terrorist attacks only with permission from those directing counter-terrorist operations. On August 2, 2005, responding to the airing of an interview with Shamil Basayev, Moscow banned journalists of the American Broadcasting Company network from working in Russia.

In 2006, the Duma approved the Law on Fighting Extremist Activity, broadening the definition of "extremism" to include media criticism of public officials and provide for imprisonment of up to three years for journalists and the suspension or closure of their publications. The law was used that same year to shut down the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and convicted its executive director Stanislav Dmitrievsky of "extremist" activities.

Also in 2006, Moscow journalist Boris Stomakhin was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of "inciting ethnic hatred" in his reports about the conflict in Chechnya. On 7 October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, Russian journalist and political activist well known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and Russian authorities, was shot dead in Moscow in an apparent contract killing.

In March 2007, a Levada Center poll asked Russians how they thought the situation in Chechnya was covered in the Russian media: 49 percent said they thought the coverage does not give a clear sense of what is happening, while 28 percent said it is not objective and "hides" the problems that exist there. Only 11 percent said they were happy with media coverage of Chechnya.

In September 2007, police and security forces in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia were issued orders to stop informing the media of any "incidents of a terrorist nature."

Practically all the local Chechen media are now under total control of the pro-Moscow Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov.

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