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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caution, Strain Evident in Chechnya Reports

Though the Russian media is hungrily covering its first war as a free and unfettered press, some strains are beginning to appear on the freedom of news organizations to report the conflict in Chechnya as they see it.


NTV's Sunday show "Itogi," perhaps the most respected news broadcast on Russian television, employed an unusually cautious tone this week. Its first several reports were direct transmissions of events in Chechnya, and not until deep in the show were any opposing views aired. The host, Yevgeny Kiselyov, refrained almost entirely from commentary.


For a television show accustomed to a freewheeling brand of reportage, Sunday's show seemed out of character.


Kiselyov attributed the show's careful manner to the unreliability of the information supplied by official sources. Itogi has a policy of not broadcasting information -- even news supplied by traditional sources like Interfax -- without first confirming it through two independent sources, he said.


"I might be cautious, I might be restrained in my analysis. I might avoid jumping to conclusions, though I am sometimes tempted to," Kiselyov said. "But nevertheless I relayed all the information about the Chechen crisis that we had between 9 P.M. and 11 P.M. I hope the public is clever enough to make its own conclusions."


But additional circumstances also mitigated in favor of a cautious broadcast. Last week another NTV news show, Segodnya, reported that volunteer troops from other Caucasian republics were gathering to support Chechen forces.


Official Moscow was extremely displeased with the broadcast and hauled NTV brass, Kiselyov included, to a special meeting with First Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, the man in charge of the Russian intervention in the breakaway republic.


Kiselyov also said that NTV -- Russia's first television station to exist completely outside government circles -- has enemies in high places. In addition to his role as host of Itogi, Kiselyov is one of NTV's founders.


"Democracy still hasn't won in this country. We don't have a First Amendment like you do," he said in an interview, referring to the amendment to the American constitution that protects free speech and press. And while Kiselyov said officialdom's dislike for his network has no direct influence on his news judgment, it takes its toll. "We're afraid for the fate of our company."


The Provisional Information Center, the primary official source of news on the war in Chechnya, has also been the subject of some criticism, and has even been labeled a censor. In a front-page story over the weekend, Izvestia said the information center's sole task consisted of ensuring that "the accent marks were properly placed."


Over the weekend all 300 foreign and 70 accredited Russian journalists in Chechnya were asked to leave in advance of anticipated heavy fighting, in which civilian casualties were expected.


Alexei Morgun, the provisional center's deputy director, said even he was upset at how little information he was getting from government sources.


The Provisional Information Center was established to transmit information to Russia's print and electronic media, he said, and an absence of information can conversely be a mode of censorship.


"We're starving for information," he said, blaming the Soviet penchant for controlling the press. "Our power structures are prisoners of these customs."