Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Putin and the Press

Two stories of note regarding press involvement in the North Ossetia school tragedy. The first one, which has received much more press coverage than the other, is Raf Shakirov's resignation from his position of editor of the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia. Shakirov's resignation was a result of Izvestia's decision to publish large photos of the victims of the Beslan school tragedy and to challenge the Russian government's account of the numbers of people involved.
Izvestia published some of the most thorough and probing accounts of the crisis and was among the first Russian media outlets to cast doubt on the government’s statement that about 350 hostages were being held in the school.

Analysts have speculated that in the aftermath of the tragedy, the state would strengthen control over society and the media. Shakirov’s exit appeared to be one of the first steps.


Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center, said, however, it was still unclear whether Shakirov’s exit was a move "by a fearful owner or it is the new state policy."
Whichever it was, I'm sure Putin isn't shedding any tears over Shakirov's departure. The second story, from the Guardian, is about Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who has written several books about the Chechen-Russian conflict, who was poisoned on her flight to Beslan last week.
And in an extraordinary development, the editor of her paper has revealed that Politkovskaya was going to the school not only as a journalist but to see if she could use her network of contacts with the Chechens to secure the release of nearly 1,200 hostages.
So this is how Russia fights its war on terrorism? By poisoning journalists who wish to resolve the stand off with as little bloodshed as possible? The Guardian article also reveals more information as to why Shakirov was canned.
Izvestiya this week continued to criticise the government's handling of the crisis and yesterday printed a point-by-point rebuttal of the official version of events.

In a front-page article headlined, "What may have happened to those who are missing", the newspaper tried to address the issue of how 200 people appear to have vanished following the siege; claimed the crack troops supposed to be handling the siege were rehearsing storming tactics in another school when the carnage began; and said the explosions were triggered not, as officials claimed, by an explosion detonated by militants but by shots fired by a vigilante who had gone to the school to try to prevent government troops from storming it.
The details of the Beslan story have gone seriously underreported in the US media (which focuses instead on the pain and suffering of the victims and hesitates to criticize the Russian government's handling of the situation). Of course, such criticism would go against the storyline of Putin, man of bravery and leadership under the international scourge of Islamic terrorism, of which we, too, as Americans, know only too much. Sometimes poisoning journalists is just a necessary step to protect freedom, dontcha know.

Two excellent posts, Alex! But see. This is what I'm talking about when I say it's getting very very scary.
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