[Congressional Record Volume 147, Number 17 (Wednesday, February 7, 2001)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E133-E134]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                         RUSSIA'S UNFREE PRESS


                           HON. BARNEY FRANK

                            of massachusetts

                    in the house of representatives

                      Wednesday, February 7, 2001

  Mr. FRANK. Mr. Speaker, while there are many aspects of recent 
developments in Russia which are encouraging, especially in the 
economic area, there are also some very disturbing trends from the 
standpoint of human rights and democracy. Recently, in the Boston 
Globe, one of the leading American scholars focused on Russia, Marshall 
Goldman, wrote about the disturbing aspects of President Putin's 
apparent opposition to freedom of the press. As a professor of 
economics at Wellesley College, who is also the Associate Director of 
the Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University, Mr. Goldman is 
one of the most acute observers of what is happening in Russia and I 
think his very thoughtful analysis ought to be widely read by those of 
us who have policy making responsibilities. I submit it for the Record.

                         Russia's Unfree Press

                        (By Marshall I. Goldman)

       As the Bush administration debates its policy toward 
     Russia, freedom of the press should be one of its major 
     concerns. Under President Vladimir Putin the press is free 
     only as long as it does not criticize Putin or his policies. 
     When NTV, the television network of the media giant Media 
     Most, refused to pull its punches, Media Most's owner, 
     Vladimir Gusinsky, found himself in jail, and Gazprom, a 
     company dominated by the state, began to call in loans to 
     Media Most.
       Unfortunately, Putin's actions are applauded by more than 
     70 percent of the Russian people. They crave a strong and 
     forceful leader; his KGB past and conditioned KGB responses 
     are just what they seem to want after what many regard as the 
     social, political, and economic chaos of the last decade.
       But what to the Russians is law and order (the 
     ``dictatorship of the law,'' as Putin has so accurately put 
     it) looks more and more like an old Soviet clampdown to many 
     Western observers.
       There is no complaint about Putin's promises. He tells 
     everyone he wants freedom of the press. But in the context of 
     his KGB heritage, his notion of freedom of the press is 
     something very different. In an interview

[[Page E134]]

     with the Toronto Globe and Mail, he said that that press 
     freedom excludes the ``hooliganism'' or ``uncivilized'' 
     reporting he has to deal with in Moscow. By that he means 
     criticism, especially of his conduct of the war in Chechnya, 
     his belated response to the sinking of the Kursk, and the 
     heavy-handed way in which he has pushed aside candidates for 
     governor in regional elections if they are not to Putin's 
       He does not take well to criticism. When asked by the 
     relatives of those lost in the Kursk why he seemed so 
     unresponsive, Putin tried to shift the blame for the disaster 
     onto the media barons, or at least those who had criticized 
     him. They were the ones, he insisted, who had pressed for 
     reduced funding for the Navy while they were building villas 
     in Spain and France. As for their criticism of his behavior, 
     They lie! They lie! They lie!
       Our Western press has provided good coverage of the dogged 
     way Putin and his aides have tried to muscle Gusinsky out of 
     the Media Most press conglomerate he created. But those on 
     the Putin enemies list now include even Boris Berezovsky, 
     originally one of Putin's most enthusiastic promoters who 
     after the sinking of the Kursk also became a critic and thus 
     an opponent.
       Gusinsky would have a hard time winning a merit badge for 
     trustworthiness (Berezovsky shouldn't even apply), but in the 
     late Yeltsin and Putin years, Gusinsky has earned enormous 
     credit for his consistently objective news coverage, 
     including a spotlight on malfeasance at the very top. More 
     than that, he has supported his programmers when they have 
     subjected Yeltsin and now Putin to bitter satire on Kukly, 
     his Sunday evening prime-time puppet show.
       What we hear less of, though, is what is happening to 
     individual reporters, especially those engaged in 
     investigative work. Almost monthly now there are cases of 
     violence and intimidation. Among those brutalized since Putin 
     assumed power are a reporter for Radio Liberty who dared to 
     write negative reports about the Russian Army's role in 
     Chechnia and four reporters for Novaya Gazeta. Two of them 
     were investigating misdeeds by the FSB (today's equivalent of 
     the KGB), including the possibility that it rather than 
     Chechins had blown up a series of apartment buildings. 
     Another was pursuing reports of money-laundering by Yeltsin 
     family members and senior staff in Switzerland. Although 
     these journalists were very much in the public eye, they were 
     all physically assaulted.
       Those working for provincial papers labor under even more 
     pressure with less visibility. There are numerous instances 
     where regional bosses such as the governor of Vladivostok 
     operate as little dictators, and as a growing number of 
     journalists have discovered, challenges are met with threats, 
     physical intimidation, and, if need be, murder.
       True, freedom of the press in Russia is still less than 15 
     years old, and not all the country's journalists or their 
     bosses have always used that freedom responsibly. During the 
     1996 election campaign, for example, the media owners, 
     including Gusinsky conspired to denigrate or ignore every 
     viable candidate other than Yeltsin. But attempts to muffle 
     if not silence criticism have multiplied since Putin and his 
     fellow KGB veterans have come to power. Criticism from any 
     source, be it an individual journalist or a corporate entity, 
     invites retaliation.
       When Media Most persisted in its criticism, Putin sat by 
     approvingly as his subordinates sent in masked and armed tax 
     police and prosecutors. When that didn't work, they jailed 
     Gusinsky on charges that were later dropped, although they 
     are seeking to extradite and jail him again, along with his 
     treasurer, on a new set of charges. Yesterday the prosecutor 
     general summoned Tatyana Mitkova, the anchor of NTV's evening 
     news program, for questioning. Putin's aides are also doing 
     all they can to prevent Gusinsky from refinancing his debt-
     ridden operation with Ted Turner or anyone else in or outside 
     of the country.
       According to one report, Putin told one official, you deal 
     with the shares, debts, and management and I will deal with 
     the journalists. His goal simply is to end independent TV 
     coverage in Russia.
       An uninhibited press in itself is no guarantee that a 
     society will remain a democracy, but when it becomes 
     inhibited, the chances that there will be such freedom all 
     but disappear.
       When Western leaders meet Putin, they must insist that a 
     warm handshake and skill at karate are not enough for Russia 
     and Putin to qualify as a democratic member of the Big 8. To 
     do that, Russia must have freedom of the press--a freedom 
     determined by deeds, not mere declarations.