donderdag, september 09, 2004

Freedom of press pre-empted by 15-minute weather report

Last night, US television network CBS broadcast a segment on its flagship news magazine programme, 60 Minutes, that raised questions about Bush's military record, including the first-ever interview with the man who says he pulled strings to get young George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.

Except that in a number of locations in the US, the show was never aired. A round-up of the known 'pre-emptions' was compiled by Democracy Now radio:
- In Lubbock, Texas the CBS station aired a pre-recorded show for the St. Jude's Children charity and held 60 Minutes until 1:35 in the morning.

- WTVR in Virginia reportedly aired a special, extended 15-minute weather report at the top of the air that just happened to coincide with the portion of 60 Minutes that discussed Bush.

- WYOU in
Pennsylvania claimed the station had transmitter problems during the hour.

- In Oklahoma, the local CBS affiliate had planned to not air 60 Minutes until 3:15 in the morning but the station caved in following a campaign by the Progressive Alliance Foundation.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a long-time critic of Vladimir Putin's policy in
Chechnya, was poisoned on her way to the siege in Beslan.

Her recollection of the poisoning in the Guardian:

"In the minibus [taking Polikovskaya to the plane], the driver tells me that the Russian security services, the FSB, told him to put me on the Rostov flight. As I board, my eyes meet those of three passengers sitting in a group: malicious eyes, looking at an enemy. But I don't pay attention. This is the way most FSB people look at me.

"The plane takes off. I ask for a tea. It is many hours by road from Rostov to Beslan and war has taught me that it's better not to eat. At 21:50 I drink it. At 22:00 I realise that I have to call the air stewardess as I am rapidly losing consciousness. My other memories are scrappy: the stewardess weeps and shouts: 'We're landing, hold on!'

"'Welcome back,' said a woman bending over me in Rostov regional hospital. The nurse tells me that when they brought me in I was 'almost hopeless'. Then she whispers: 'My dear, they tried to poison you.' All the tests taken at the airport have been destroyed - on orders 'from on high', say the doctors."

Russian radio reporter Andrei Babitsky was also prevented from reaching Beslan, according to reports in another Guardian article, 'after he was arrested and sentenced to five day's jail for "hooliganism" at an airport after he was provoked into a fight. He had been trying to catch a flight at Vnukuvo airport and had already been detained by police, who searched for explosives in his bag.'

Then we have the tale of Raf Shakirov, the normally pro-establishment editor-in-chief of Izvestia newspaper, who was fired after his paper produced the frontpage headline "The silence at the top" - hardly an especially robust critique of Putin. Still critical enough though to require his speedy replacement.

So, while America prefers to smother freedom of the press with marathon weather reports than by poisoning reporters, (and I think we can all agree that extending weather reports is the crueller of the two methods) the two countries are clearly both equally on trajectories that take them away from norms of bourgeois democratic freedoms of expression.

A fifteen minute weather report. Children's charity variety shows. The barbarians.