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Toni Schönfelder
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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Moscow Threatens "Hostile" Western Media MOSCOW, May 16, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) The Russian government threatened on Tuesday to suspend the activities of "hostile" Western media, repeatedly accused here of conducting an "information war" against Moscow. Spokesman Yury Akinshin said that the information ministry was considering amending media laws to allow the authorities to slap a temporary ban on foreign and domestic news outlets acting against national interests. "We have no levers of influence against media which act against Russian interests," Akinshin said, citing the case of the US-funded Radio Liberty, which according to him had adopted "a hostile position in its coverage of the Chechen war." The ministry of information also wants to define under new legislation a concept of "abuse of freedom of speech," Akinshin added. But he stressed that no draft law had yet been submitted to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Savik Shuster, Moscow bureau chief of Radio Liberty, immediately condemned the threat. "I hope it is an opinion and not a statement of intent, he said. "If it does signal future policy, this would mean a monopolization of information by the authorities like in Soviet times." The station's correspondent Andrei Babitsky, known for his critical reports on the war in rebel Chechnya, was arrested near Grozny on January 16 by federal forces and accused of spying for Chechen separatists. Moscow said he was swapped for Russian soldiers held by the rebels, but Babitsky later said that he was in fact handed over to pro-Moscow Chechens working for the Russian security services. He currently faces charges of belonging to an armed gang and possession of a false passport. The information ministry's statement comes days after a controversial police raid against the country's top independent media group, Media-MOST, widely condemned as an assault on free speech. Media outlets owned by the private holding have been sharply critical of the war in Chechnya and President Vladimir Putin's administration. ((c) 2000 Agence France Presse)

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