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Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 18:53 GMT
Russian TV accuses military of censorship

Yuriy Lipatov Yuriy Lipatov: Military censorship is setting an unpleasant precedent

Russia's main commercial TV station has accused the Russian military in Chechnya of censorship and intimidation.

Battle for the Caucasus
The accusation comes after its film crew covering the conflict was denied access to a front line area by the military's press service.

A correspondent for NTV International, Yuriy Lipatov, said the press service objected to an interview the station had shown the previous day with a Russian officer discussing Russian casualties.

In a live report from Dagestan on Sunday, Lipatov said military spokesmen had accused him of spreading lies, and had refused to provide the network with information.

Aleksandr Petrovskikh Aleksandr Petrovskikh: Source of casualty figures
"Today our film crew was on its way to a helicopter already on the launch pad to fly to one of Chechnya's mountain areas where active fighting is under way," Mr Lipatov said.

"Suddenly a lieutenant-colonel from the press service appeared before us who, gesticulating and using strong language, explained that we, the NTV film crew, from now on would fly nowhere and receive no information because information provided by our film crew was untruthful and unchecked.

"Seeing our bewilderment," Lipatov continued, "he recalled a specific fact.

"He mentioned our report yesterday in which Aleksandr Petrovskikh, chief of staff of the eastern group of the Interior Troops in the North Caucasus, gave figures of dead and missing soldiers.

Controversial casualty figures

"It was this information, provided to us by Aleksandr Petrovskikh, which was described as untruthful."

The television then rebroadcast the offending clip, in which Petrovskikh gave casualty figures for an attack on a Russian convoy on 9 January and outlined the military's policy on giving information on the number wounded.

"We don't give the figure of those wounded because it also includes those missing in action. All the 200s, [dead officers] as we call them, have been sent to Mozdok from where they will be moved on to other places.

"We regard the remaining 11 people as missing in action, that is unidentified corpses near burnt down vehicles," he said.

Mr Lipatov also quoted Petrovskikh as saying that there had been another attack on a convoy near Grozny but added that it had been impossible to find out more details.

Newspapers increasingly critical

Several Russian newspapers have become increasingly critical of the army's reports on the conflict, pointing out discrepancies in the casualty tolls given by different spokesmen.

A detailed analysis in 'Komsomolskaya pravda' earlier in the month concluded that the real death toll was almost twice as high as the official figure, while soldiers' mothers' organisations have put the casualty figures higher still.

NTV, the largest privately owned television channel, has often used interviews with soldiers to give a harsher picture of the war than the one painted by media tied more closely to the Kremlin, and has begun to distance itself from official reports.

But Mr Lipatov's hard-hitting report adds a new dimension to its coverage.

Unpleasant precedent

He rejected the charge that the TV station had broadcast erroneous information and accused the military of setting an unpleasant precedent that cast doubt on the integrity of the information it provided.

"You had an opportunity to see and hear what a man who is a high-ranking military bureaucrat was saying.

The accusations of lies are not only offensive but also totally unjustified
Yuriy Lipatov

"He has full information available to him. For that reason at least we simply cannot be accused of unchecked information and lies. The accusations of lies are not only offensive but also totally unjustified," he said.

"This must be the first time that it has been confirmed that information journalists working in Chechnya receive is often not only unchecked but also heavily censored, and that pressure is being put on journalists in this simply uncivilised manner," Mr Lipatov said.

"I hope that this specific situation will be sorted out in a positive manner and we will be able to work in Chechnya. But, in principle, many questions still remain," he added.

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See also:
21 Jan 00 |  Europe
Stuck at the Chechen border
20 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Russian press views Grozny endgame
23 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russian general's body found
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Russians learn from past mistakes

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