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Russia September 1, 2005
I am writing in regard of your letter to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, in which you raised the issue of ABC TV channel broadcasting the interview with Shamil Basayev.
First, I would like to express satisfaction with the fact that the situation in Russia continues to be in the focus of attention of the foreign media. I have no doubt that professional interest of your colleagues to the processes in our country as well as their comprehensive coverage will contribute to further strengthening of democratic institutions and the earliest formation of the rule-of-law state and civil society in Russia.
However, I shall allow myself to fully disagree with the arguments set forth in your letter. I believe that the use of a term “the freedom of mass media” appears inappropriate when considering the issue of broadcasting the interview with Basayev on ABC channel.
As known, following the terrorist attack masterminded by Shamil Basayev which resulted in taking hostages at the Theatre Center in Dubrovka in Moscow , he was officially declared international terrorist by the world community and put on the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee sanctions list as part of a joint Russian-U.S.-British initiative. Given this context, any speculations about a journalistic duty “to inform public opinion”, to give people an opportunity “to evaluate competing statements and reach their own conclusions as to which side has the better arguments” are unacceptable in the given situation — no civilized state or society can allow itself to get involved in debate with terrorists.
The arguments by the ABC’s counsels and supporters with references to existing examples of public broadcasts on American TV of recordings featuring Bin Laden cannot be comprehended in Russia either. Even a person unfamiliar with intricacies of journalism is able to discern the difference between a short fragment of home video and a full-size interview given by a most notorious international terrorist to the reporter of the U.S. government-financed Western media. This is precisely the way to give the floor to terrorists, thus providing them with an indirect assistance.
Thereupon the Russian side has every reason to believe that the recent actions by the ABC TV network have nothing to do with journalism as well as professional ethics. However, proceeding from our allegiance to such fundamental democratic values as freedom of mass media, we shall not strip ABC employees of their accreditation and they will continue working in our country. At the same time, in accordance with existing legislation, the Russian authorities retain the right not to prolong the term of their accreditation certificates once it expires.
As for the official protest of the Russian government to the U.S. authorities, we believe it to be fully justified. The failure by the U.S. government to prevent the broadcast of the interview runs counter to the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 binding all governments “to refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts.” We regard as untenable the U.S. authorities’ stand that limitations of the Constitutional right to the freedom of speech cannot be allowed, since according to the Supreme Court’s ruling of 1931 the enticement of violence is among the exclusions from the right to the freedom of speech. As Shamil Basayev’s interview contained indirect enticement of violence (in his own words, there is no alternative to terrorism as means of struggle), the authorities had a formal right to appeal to the court to ban the airing of the report.
I also urge you to refrain from a distorted assessment of the Russian position regarding Radio Liberty’s correspondent Andrei Babitsky. The allegation that this journalist is being persecuted for his reporting on Chechnya is in no accord with reality.
All claims to Andrei Babitsky bear an exclusively legal character because by conducting an interview with Shamil Basayev the Radio Liberty reporter has violated a range of the Russian legislation’s provisions. First, Andrei Babitsky was carrying out journalistic activity in the area of counter-terrorist operation without being appropriately accredited. Second, after contacting a person who is currently on the international wanted list and charged with terrorist activity, he failed to inform law enforcement agencies about this as required by the Russian law. In this regard the corresponding Russian agencies are expecting to get explanations from Andrei Babitsky, and it has nothing to do with a widely circulated version of alleged persecutions of this journalist by the Russian authorities.
I would like to assure you that maintaining freedom of mass media and developing it as a prerequisite for creating a democratic state is among top priorities for the leadership of our country and the focus of attention of the Russian authorities at all levels. Besides, we are open to dialogue and count on a useful exchange of views with our Western partners. We are prepared to take into consideration their constructive criticism.
At the same time we proceed from the premise that ensuring freedom of speech is possible only if the law as well as moral and ethic norms are respected both by the state and the media, and journalists are not used as a means of promoting political interests.
First Deputy Spokesman of the President of the Russian Federation