April 21, 2024

Press Freedom

Russian Federation

Russia August 3, 2005

President Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin
Russian Federation
Fax: ( 011.7.095) 206-6277 or 5173

Your Excellency:

Your government’s quarrel with the ABC television network (and with the U.S. government) over ABC’s interview with the Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basayev, is very disturbing to the Overseas Press Club of America, since the dispute reflects a profound misunderstanding of the role of the independent press in a free society. Since you yourself have repeatedly promised to promote press freedom in Russia , we are left to wonder what meaning your words may contain.

In the first place, as explained by both the network and Ted Koppel, whose “Nightline” program ran the interview, the broadcasting of Basayev’s views did not in any way endorse them. The interview was meant to inform the public of the issues, no more and no less. ABC was performing its journalistic duty, and certainly does not merit the extreme and punitive sanction of being expelled from Russia . While there may be some danger in exposing the public to propaganda, it is the essence of democracy to believe that people are capable of evaluating competing statements and reaching their own conclusions as to which side has the better arguments. The remedy for false speech is not to silence it, but to discuss the issue and let the truth prevail.

We understand that Andrei Babitsky, who conducted the interview for ABC, is threatened with prosecution for doing so. Babitsky has already been harassed and persecuted for his reporting on Chechnya . But any such treatment amounts to punishing the messenger who brings bad news. The only result is to conceal the truth, not only from the people but also from officials who prefer to believe their own rosy predictions. We hope you will restrain your prosecutors if they go after Babitsky again.

As to your protest to the U.S. charge d’affaires, Daniel Russell, you should be aware that our government has no power to prevent any broadcast or publication. That point was definitively settled in the case of the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s, when the Nixon administration attempted to prevent publication of a secret history of the Vietnam war and was rebuffed by the Supreme Court. While it is true that the current administration has asked the media to be restrained in airing propaganda by Osama bin Laden, that is a request, not an order. As long as bin Laden confines himself to repeating familiar harangues, it is not difficult to comply. If one of his tapes were to contain real news, however, we would see it on every front page and TV channel, so that the people could be informed of important events in the world. And so it should be.

Your Excellency, this is the real meaning of freedom of the press and the real function of independent media in a democracy. We know that it is a difficult concept to endorse; even in the United States , after more than 200 years, defenders of press freedom must use all their eloquence from time to time to keep it alive. It is particularly easy to call for censorship when terrorists are murdering and maiming in the name of an alien ideology, whether the attacks occur in Baghdad , London , New York , Moscow or Chechnya . But however revolted you may be at the spectacle of Basayev’s words being repeated to the world, we hope you will see the wisdom of keeping your original promise and working to promote true freedom of the press in Russia .

Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.

Respectfully yours,
Larry Martz
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee


Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov

Prime Minister

Government Offices

2 Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya

Moscow , Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 206-4622


Yuriy Viktorovich Ushakov

Ambassador of Russia to the U.S.A.

Embassy of the Russian Federation

2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

Washington , DC 20007

Fax: (202) 298-5735


Ambassador Andrey Ivanovich Denisov

Permanent Représentative

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

136 East 67 th Street

New York , NY 10021

Fax: (212) 628-0252


Alexander R. Vershbow

U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Embassy of the United States of America

8 Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok

Moscow 121099, Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 728-5090


Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov

Foreign Minister

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Moscow 121200

Russian Federation


Aleksey Kirillovich Simonov


Glasnost Defense Foundation

4 Zubovskiy Blvd., # 432

Moscow 119021, Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 201-4947

E-mail: simonov@gdf.ru


Lynn Berry


The Moscow Times

16 Vyborgskaya Street , building 4

Moscow 125212

Fax: 011 (7 095) 937-3393

E-mail: l.berry@imedia.ru


Aleksander Vitalyevich Stukalin


Kommersant Daily

4 Vrubelya Street

Moscow , Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 943-9728

E-mail: kommersant@kommersant.ru


Tatyana Petrovna Koshkaryova


Nezavisimaya Gazeta

13 Myasnitskaya Street , building.3

Moscow , Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 981-5434

E-mail: office@ng.ru


Vladimir Alekseyevich Borodin



18 Tverskaya Street , building 1

Moscow 127994, Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 514-0223

E-mail: alekseeva@izvestia.ru


Pavel Nikolayevich Gusev


Moskovskiy Komsomolets

7 Ulitsa 1905 Goda

Moscow 123995, Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 259-4639

E-mail: berestovenko@mk.ru


Robert Munro


The St.Petersburg Times

4 Isakiyevskaya square

St.Petersburg 190000, Russia

Tel/fax: 011 (7 812) 325-6080

E-mail: munro@sptimes.ru


Tatyana Gennadyevna Lysova



16 Vyborgskaya Street

Moscow 125212, Russia

Tel: (7 095) 232-3200, 956-3458

Fax : (7 095) 956-0716

E-mail: vedomosti@imedia.ru


Dmitriy Andreyevich Muratov


Novaya Gazeta

3 Potapovskiy pereulok

Moscow 101990, Russia

Fax: 011 (7 095) 923-6888

E-mail: gazeta@novayagazeta.ru