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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Russia 'impeded media' in Beslan
By Stephen Dalziel
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Mourners in gutted Beslan school
Russia gave inaccurate figures for the number of hostages
The Russian authorities seriously impeded the work of journalists during the Beslan school siege, the 55-nation OSCE says in a scathing report.

The authorities gave incorrect information and local people attacked journalists, says the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The report reads like a catalogue of how not to handle reporting of a crisis.

At least 338 people - nearly half of them children - died in Beslan.

The OSCE suggests that media coverage of the school siege has given rise to a triple credibility gap: between the Russian government and the media; between the media and the people; and between the government and the people.

Harassment

It speaks of incorrect information being provided by the government.

The official figure for the number of hostages was given as 354, although five days after the siege ended, the prosecutor-general said there had been almost 1,200 hostages.

Some journalists were singled out for rough treatment, notably Anna Politkovskaya, who has angered the Kremlin with her reporting on the war in Chechnya; and Andrei Babitsky, who was arrested in Chechnya some years ago. Both were prevented from getting to Beslan.

Ms Politkovskaya was mysteriously poisoned and Mr Babitsky was falsely detained in Moscow.

There were also cases of foreign journalists being hindered in their work, including at least four television crews having their films confiscated.

The OSCE report claims that it was a direct result of the limited Russian television coverage of the siege that led the hostage-takers to stop giving water to the hostages.

Inaccurate reporting was responsible, too, it is claimed, for attacks on journalists by the local population.

The OSCE does not believe that this was merely a mishandling of the situation. It states that, in "covering terrorist attacks, some Russian politicians continue to be guided by what is expedient from their point of view, rather than by what is legal".




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