As of December 31, 1998

The promise of press freedom, like that of other democratic ideals, remains unrealized seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Reflecting Russia's imperfect grasp of democratic principles, President Boris Yeltsin complained in a meeting with the directors of three national television channels, "We [the government] have the right to ask you to carry out state policy."

While the press is vibrant and diverse, reporters and editors nonetheless are buffeted by political and economic pressures, threats of physical violence, assaults, and even murder. The media moguls, interested in using their holdings as instruments of political and economic power, push employees directly and indirectly toward self-censorship and bias. As Alexei Pankin, editor of the trade magazine Sreda, noted, "The press can write the truth about anybody, but not its owner." Officials, meanwhile, use bribes as carrots, and libel suits and sometimes death threats as sticks to exact docility from journalists. The public's response to this well-known dynamic is skepticism about the reliability of the information it is receiving.

For those who dared to ignore the harassment and the threats, the murder of Larisa Yudina was a chilling reminder of the ongoing dangers faced by Russia's independent journalists. Despite repeated intimidation, the 53-year-old editor of the opposition Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya continued to investigate corrupt business practices by regional officials in the autonomous republic of Kalmykia and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the republic's millionaire president. Yudina was murdered in June outside the Kalmyk capital of Elista, after leaving home to meet a source who promised to provide evidence for her reports.

And in August, Anatoly Levin-Utkin, deputy editor of the St. Petersburg weekly Yuridichesky Peterburg Segodnya, was fatally beaten while researching articles on local banks.

These assassinations highlight the pattern of killings that started with the October 1994 murder of Dmitry Kholodov, a reporter for the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. Suspects were finally arrested this year in the Kholodov murder, but this case, like that of other murdered Russian journalists, has not been conclusively resolved.

Several journalists have survived brutal attacks. On May 27, Radio Titan, the only independent station in the Bashkir Republic, was violently shut down. Altaf Galeyev, the manager and news director, was jailed after police raided the station, beating employees and arresting Galeyev and several colleagues. The attack occurred after Radio Titan broadcast interviews with several opposition candidates who were barred from running against incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov in the republic's June presidential elections.

At year's end, the trial of a journalist accused of espionage in connection with his work remained unresolved. Grigory Pasko, a naval officer and military reporter imprisoned in Vladivostok since 1997, faces charges of high treason stemming from his publication of a series of articles in Russian and Japanese media describing the environmental damage caused by nuclear waste from Russia's deteriorating submarine fleet in the Far East.

It is no exaggeration to say that there is no press freedom in the secessionist republic of Chechnya, whose status remains unclear despite its conflict with Russian forces from 1994 to 1996. Local authorities have closed down the region's television and radio stations, and newspapers still permitted to operate face severe penalties for publishing articles deemed by officials to be anti-government. Reporters from outside have stopped going into the republic, because kidnappers have targeted foreign correspondents, often holding them for ransom, and the Chechen government is either unable or unwilling to control the problem.

Attacks on the Press in Russia in 1998

08/21/98Anatoly Levin-Utkin, Yuridichesky Peterburg SegodnyaKilled
06/08/98Larisa Yudina, Sovetskaya Kalmykia SegodnyaKilled
05/27/98Altaf Galeyev, Radio TitanImprisoned, Legal Action
05/27/98Lilia Ismagilova, Radio TitanHarassed
05/27/98Staff of Radio TitanAttacked, Harassed, Censored
05/27/98Altaf Galeyev, Radio TitanImprisoned, Legal Action
05/27/98Lilia Ismagilova, Radio TitanHarassed
05/27/98Staff of Radio TitanAttacked, Harassed, Censored
03/13/98Timur Kukuyev,local M-5 television station, Makhachkala, Dagestan, ORT stringerAttacked, Threatened
03/13/98Yuri Safronov, local M-5 television stateion, Makhachkala, Dagestan, ORT stringerAttacked

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