The recent act of terrorism in the Moscow revealed that the Russian mass media were not ready to work under emergency conditions; moreover, the lack of professionalism of the government structures responsible for the mass media was completely confirmed. This problem has been topical for the past several days.
As soon as information appeared that Chechen terrorists seized hostages in the Moscow theatre, the Russian Minister for Press should have personally addressed the directors of the Russian television companies and sent an open letter to the editorial offices of the leading newspapers with all necessary instructions concerning the hostage situation in Moscow. That was especially important so that the media knew what was to be made public and what wasn’t under any conditio0ns. The responsibility of the Ministry for Press isn’t only the official registration of mass media, but also information security in the country. Director General of the Russian Channel 3 Vladimir Zhelonkin says that the Ministry for Press should have organized a meeting of all leading journalists to agree on common rules according to which the hostage situation could be reported about. However, nothing of the kind was done.
As the hostage drama was developing, the majority of Russian media was obviously becoming more and more provocative; in that situation, the Ministry for Press should have warned the media of their incorrect reports from the drama scene, and if the warning proved ineffective, sanctions should have been applied to disobedient media. However, nothing of this kind was done. Announcers of the NTV and RenTV television channels, in their live programs, unceremoniously asked hostages to give the phone to the terrorists so that they could speak; NTV gave a live report of the theatre storming; the first television interview with terrorist Aslan Maskhadov, and so on. There have been lots of infractions of the federal law on the struggle against terrorism, but no adequate response came at all.
Under conditions when the Ministry for Press failed to observe its obligations and protect Russian ideology, the Russian Security Council should have taken the initiative. Although the inactivity of the civil authorities under conditions of military operations is acceptable to some extent, the inertness of the department responsible for the country’s security cannot be excused. The Security Council isn’t a power structure, but it could have assumed a coordinating function. To tell the truth, the concept for national security provides all necessary instructions on what is to be done in an emergency situation, such as the hostage taking in the Moscow theatre.
There is a notion of a special information regime under conditions of war. Didn’t the act of terrorism fall under this regime? According to the definition of a special regime, under conditions of war, all mass media are no longer only media, but also active participants of the operations. First of all, access of journalists to the scene should be considerably limited. The experience of the USA would be very useful in this situation: during the Gulf War, almost a complete information blockade was established in the area of the operations.
A special forces soldier said that the terrorists only profited from the detailed television reports about the hostage release operation; it is not ruled out that the when terrorists decide to attack next time, the act will be more thoroughly prepared. Since the first moment of the hostage taking, journalists crowded at the scene. They were asked to leave only right before the very storm.
Let us make the following statement. If a Russian citizen hears the demand to withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya, this sounds abstract to him. However, when the demand is continuously drummed into people’s heads, over and over, and when people see protest actions against the war in Chechnya organized by relatives of the hostages, quite an opposite reaction may follow. Russians might think that to avoid the problems of terrorism, it might be a good idea to withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya once and for all.
The hysteria intensified by the Russian printed and online media at a time when the whole of Russia was taken hostage by several villains proves that officials from the Ministry for Press looked upon the drama as simply observers and forgot about their duties.
This all occurred against the background of the government’s “absolute efficiency in a complex, super-critical situation”; that was the way Russia’s ORT television characterized the actions of the government. It seems that some powers close to the infamous Yeltsin “Family” had the goal of discrediting Putin’s government; they obviously tried to ruin the president. These powers were working actively, we should admit. The disorganization of the Russian media in reporting the tragic drama in Moscow was one of the results of this underhanded activity. Under conditions of an emergency situation, President Putin was one of the few who did his job. His address to the nation came right at an appropriate moment.
Chairman of the Duma Committee for Informational Policy Konstantin Vetrov suggests that a parliamentary commission be set up to investigate the actions of the mass media during the anti-terrorist operation and to bring the guilty into account. He also says that some TV channels are currently working on programs with the goal of “provoking of anti-governmental attitudes in the society.” This sounds like a warning to RF Minister for Press Mikhail Lesin.
Sergey Stefanov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://politics.pravda.ru/politics/2002/1/1/5/2295_Moscow.html
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