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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U-Turn Yeltsin Heaps Praise on Press

After an unprecedented salvo of foul play allegations against the press by top officials and brutal treatment of reporters by Russian troops in Chechnya, President Boris Yeltsin congratulated journalists on their professional holiday Friday without a mention of the war.


In an address to "media workers" Yeltsin lauded the press for its "great influence on the process of change in the nation."


"I sincerely thank Russian journalists for their participation in democratic reforms," Yeltsin wrote. "I wish all media workers happiness, good health and prosperity."


The warm tone of the greeting contrasted sharply with Yeltsin's remarks in his only address to the nation since the beginning of the war in Chechnya more than a month ago. In that address, shown on television Dec. 23, Yeltsin said he knew that "Chechen money pays for the functioning of some Russian media."


According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, which monitors abuses against journalists in Russia, most of the nation's top officials have accused the press of slanted coverage or corrupt practices since the conflict began.


Yeltsin's aide Georgy Satarov told the weekly Obshchaya Gazeta this week that he was pessimistic about the future of the authorities' relations with the press.


"The mutual misunderstanding and alienation is growing," Satarov said. "The authorities are not discerning enough in their relations with the media. Accusations against the press voiced by the president and others have been a political failure."


Journalists and media watchers Friday said the president's greeting was a sign that he is now going to take a more reasonable line with the media.


"His advisers must have told him not to meddle with the press," said Oleg Panfilov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation.


"When the president sends us greetings and praise, there is always hope that he is sincere," said Alexander Gagua, political editor for the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "But while on the one hand we have this praise, on the other hand we have the awful conditions we work in. This gap should not exist."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Friday published a list of 27 cases of persecution against journalists across Russia last month, ranging from the eviction of a provincial newspaper from its building to the death of American photographer Cynthia Elbaum in Chechnya.


With three journalists already among the casualties of the Chechen war, the Glasnost Defense Foundation is taking its name literally. It gives free bulletproof vests, donated by a firm called Armor, to journalists going to Chechnya on condition they give them back upon their return. Ten vests had been claimed by Friday, but only one of them by a Russian reporter.


"Recklessness," Panfilov said when asked why Russians do not take the foundation up on its offer. "Russian journalists are used to being shot at and abused."


In a sign that Russian journalists' troubles are far from over despite Yeltsin's conciliatory tone, Itar-Tass on Friday reported a leak from Yeltsin's administration, according to which the government is going to take over 51 percent of NTV, the independent television station often criticized by officials for its coverage of Chechnya.


And indicating that storm clouds were indeed gathering over NTV on Friday, the State Duma voted 111 to 46 in favor of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's proposal that the station be stripped of its broadcasting license for "lying" on the Chechen war -- fewer than the 226 votes needed to pass, but more than enough to cause concern.