A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

International Journalism In- Brief

By Quill

Russia to look for subliminal TV messages

By the end of the year, all Russian television channels will be screened for extra video frames containing subliminal messages, a broadcasting official said in early August.

Deputy Press Minister Valery Sirozhenko told ITAR-Tass news agency that special equipment would be used to monitor channels for extra frames. The announcement came amid growing reports of their use on Russian airwaves.

Violators could face fines or have their broadcast licenses revoked, according to ITAR-Tass.

The news agency said unofficial data suggests that one-fifth of Russian TV programs have extra frames that contain various messages, including ones urging viewers not to switch channels and political ads, The Associated Press reported.

India to allow foreign ownership of media

India said in June that it would relax restrictions on foreign ownership in two important industries – print media and tea – that it had sheltered for decades in hopes of attracting foreign investors.

The government’s steps were cautious, however, and the media opening was seen as the more economically and politically sensitive of the two industries, The New York Times reported.

The government abandoned a ban imposed in 1955 and said that with certain conditions, foreign owners could acquire stakes of up to 74 percent in technical journals and other non-news publications, and up to 26 percent in newspapers and current-affairs periodicals.

Editorial and management control had to remain in Indian hands, the government said. In the case of news publications, foreigners could not be the largest shareholders. The government had to provide clearance to each deal and each foreign owner.

Any opening to foreign ownership, even with stringent restrictions, has drawn intense opposition from India’s powerful publishing groups, including Bennett, Coleman & Co., owner of two leading national newspapers, The Times of India and The Economic Times. In 1996, the publishers’ lobby blocked a proposal by Pearson of Britain, parent of The Financial Times, to invest in The Business Standard, an Indian financial newspaper.

However, proponents say an influx of foreign capital and skills would benefit the robust but fragmented Indian print media – made up of nearly 50,000 newspapers and periodicals – and would lead to enormous gains in quality and efficiency.

Iran, Bangladesh papers shut down

An Iranian publisher closed her newspaper in August after being threatened with jail for publishing articles about crackdowns on dissidents and a reformist publication.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency in Iran reported that Mah-Jabin Abutorabi had closed her weekly Farsi-language Aref paper to escape being jailed.

“In our country, the first measure of judicial organization is the closure of a paper and then sending the publisher to jail,” the agency quoted Abutorabi as saying. “I closed my paper to avoid these (measures).”

Abutorabi said Iranian officials had objected to articles in her paper concerning the closure of a top reformist newspaper and a hard-line court’s verdicts against liberal dissidents, according to The Associated Press.

In Bangladesh, the government closed a newspaper in July for wrongly describing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia as the main opposition leader. The daily’s editor implied that the shutdown was a punishment for exposing corruption.

The government refused to accept an apology from the Bangla-language Dainik Uttarbanga Barta, or the paper’s explanation that a computer was responsible for the mistake, said editor Hanif Ali Sheikh.

“We have earned the wrath of many government officials for exposing corruption and abuse of power,” Sheikh said.

The article, which was published in the spring, erroneously described Zia as the main opposition leader and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina as the prime minister. However, until she won elections last October, Zia was, in fact, the main opposition leader, and Hasina was the prime minister for five years until Zia defeated her.

Sadar Uddin Ahmed, the government administrator who canceled the newspaper’s permit, said the editor’s defense was weak.

“The newspaper could not prove that there was no political motive in the wrong description of the leader,” Ahmed told reporters.

Newspaper owners in Bangladesh need government permits to publish, and the editor said he would challenge the decision in court.

Bangladesh has a history of press censorship and violence against journalists who expose political corruption, gangsterism and religious intolerance, the AP reported.

Israel lifts ban on foreign journalists

On June 28, Israel lifted its ban on foreign journalists entering major West Bank towns taken over by its soldiers in the previous 10 days, the army said.

“These are no longer closed military zones,” the army spokesman’s office said in a statement. “Anyone with a foreign passport, including of course journalists, can get in.”

However, the order does not apply to Palestinian journalists, who are considered to still be covered under the curfews in effect in the towns, or to Israeli journalists, the spokesman’s office said.

For a long time, Israeli citizens have not been permitted into Palestinian-ruled parts of the West Bank or Gaza Strip, but Israeli journalists have gone in despite the rule.

The ban had vastly curtailed coverage of Israel’s widespread military operation, begun after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 19 Israelis in June.

Israel cited reporters’ safety in saying that the measures were legitimate in a combat zone, but critics saw the restrictions as an effort to prevent unflattering coverage and to silence potential criticism of the major military push, The Associated Press reported.

“We are stuck with the tidbits they feed us rather than the overall picture,” said Tami Allen-Frost, a producer for Britain’s ITN television and vice chairwoman of Israel’s Foreign Press Association.