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DATE=5/16/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA MEDIA CQ NUMBER=5-46322 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: A senior Russian media ministry official has accused a U-S government-funded radio station of hostility to the state, and suggested changing the law to limit anti-Russian broadcasts. Correspondent Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports independent Russian journalists are complaining of government intimidation and outright attacks on press freedom. TEXT: Deputy Media Minister Andrei Romanchenko says changes in the law are needed so foreign broadcasters can be punished if they adopt positions hostile to the Russian government. At a conference this week, Mr. Romanchenko singled out the U-S government funded Radio Liberty for special criticism. Radio Liberty has annoyed government officials with its coverage of the war in Chechnya. The station's correspondent in the war zone, Andrei Babitsky, was detained in January and held for several weeks. He still faces charges of belonging to an armed gang and using a false passport. Mr. Romanchenko's comments follow a series of incidents that worry free press advocates. Last week, tax police wearing masks and carrying machine guns raided the headquarters of Media-Most, Russia's leading independent news organization. Media-Most's holdings include the N-T-V television station and the Echo of Moscow radio. In a separate incident last Friday, a reporter for the independent "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper was beaten unconscious outside his home. Earlier this year, hackers broke into "Novaya Gazeta's" computers and destroyed an entire issue. The attack came after the newspaper published an article suggesting that Russia's federal security service, the main successor to the Soviet K-G-B, may have been involved in the apartment bombings last year that killed nearly 300- people. The series of incidents prompted Russia's Union of Journalists to call for a public protest demonstration this week. Union leader Igor Yakovenko says urgent measures are needed to protect press freedom. /// YAKOVENKO ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says - we cannot afford to wait until N-T-V and Echo of Moscow radio are closed. Mr. Yakovenko added that in some parts of Russia, newspapers are already being closed. He warned that if freedom of speech were curtailed, other freedoms would also disappear. Prominent journalist and former Soviet dissident Andrei Piontkowsky says the current government's attitude toward the media is more troubling than what he calls the "big brother" of Soviet times. /// PIONTKOWSKY ACT /// In some respects today's big brother is more ugly, because during the latest two-decades under Brezhnev and Gorbachev there were no cases of physical assault on inconvenient journalists, and last week there was a case of an assassination attempt on a journalist of Novaya Gazeta. /// END ACT /// Mr. Piontkowsky says he regularly gets anonymous telephone threats and knows his line is bugged. /// OPT /// The dean of journalism at Moscow State University, Yassen Zassoursky, says he believes attempts to intimidate the media are not the work of President Vladimir Putin, despite his ties to security services. Mr. Zassoursky says many journalists see Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin as the driving force behind the crackdown. /// OPT // ZASSOURSKY ACT /// I am afraid that Mr. Lesin, in a way, is encouraging this harassment. But I am not sure that Mr. Putin, whose policy is to consolidate society, that he is interested in these actions. But Mr. Lesin definitely goes in this direction. There is no doubt about that. /// END ACT // END OPT /// Other analysts point out the growing influence of the security forces under President Putin. Viktor Kuvaldin, a scholar at the Moscow-based research organization operated by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is quoted as saying security agencies are behind the new media pressures because they see the independent press as an obstacle. Mr. Gorbachev jumped into the fray this week, agreeing to act as chairman of a public council aimed at protecting the N-T-V television channel from government interference. In a news release issued Tuesday, N-T-V noted that - the growing influence of mass media has given rise to a struggle for control over it. The release noted that Mr. Gorbachev initiated reforms such as perestroika and glasnost that helped loosen Soviet-era media controls. In his letter of acceptance, Mr. Gorbachev said he would contact other prominent figures, in and out of Russia, to serve on the council, which he said would work to build support for the principle of press freedom. (SIGNED) NEB/PFH/JWH/RAE 16-May-2000 14:35 PM EDT (16-May-2000 1835 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .