The phenomenon of russian leadership and media, of its trustworthy doesn’t represent news for me. Not a long time ago I prepared research paper about Beslan Tragedy and how russian media was covering this event. I think now it’s the best time to publish it and show the crime commited by Russian government and media during Beslan days.
"’We want peace in Chechnya,’ he explained.
‘Our women are being raped. Our children are being killed.
"’I told him, ‘You should have taken the authorities hostage,
Not kids.’ He said, ‘Doctor, if you only knew how we got here,
you would be very surprised.’"1
On the 1st of September 2004 the new school term began in horror for the town of Beslan in North Ossetia when a group of at least ten2 armed Chechen separatists and supporters took more than 1,2003 schoolchildren and adults hostage. As a result of tragic event that followed, more than 330 civilians were killed, including 186 children. School N 1 became the subject of international news coverage.
A huge criticism appeared about Beslan tragedy media coverage from the first days. Russian government censorship was soon revealed and finally the coverage of the events had proven that media freedom had taken hold in Russia. Cases of detention and harassment of journalists occurred, seriously impeding their work. Even more importantly, the government did not provide in a timely manner truthful information on the handling of the crisis: How many people were taken hostage; What was the number of hostage takers; Who were they; What were their demands. As a result a huge gap arose, between the government and the media, between the media and the citizens, and between the government and the people. “This is a serious drawback for a democracy”- was written in special report about Beslan media coverage by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 4
The Russian government has denied the people the most important and elementary right of reliable, rapid and extensive information on what was happening. From the beginning of the crisis on the morning of September 1 to its tragic end two days later, leading politicians, representatives of the secret police and the major Russian media outlets in conducted a deliberate campaign of disinformation regarding the extent of the catastrophe and its dreadful consequences. The handling of the siege by Vladimir Putin’s administration was criticized by a number of observers and grassroots organizations.
Did Russians lose faith in media after Beslan? Different opinion poles showed that public confidence in the media in Russia had fallen to rock-bottom levels following controversial coverage of the Beslan school siege.
The relatives of Beslan victims till today claim that the officials have done nothing to establish the real picture of the tragedy. What had Russian and foreign media done to establish the real picture and how was Putin’s government trying to hide the truth from media? These are the questions we will try to answer in this research paper.
History of Beslan tragedy
For Russia, Beslan was not the first encounter with terrorism. In Moscow alone during the last seven years, terrorists demolished two high-rise apartment buildings, took hostage the audience of a Nord-Ost performance, set up a number of bombs in subway and train stations and only days before the Beslan tragedy, terrorists destroyed two civilian planes. Each case brought large numbers of deaths and injuries. Nevertheless, Beslan was the first time children were intended targets. This intentional cruelty directed toward children horrified people around the world and drew tremendous media attention to Beslan.
On 1 September around 9:30 local time, a GAZ-66 car usually used by the military pulled up in the yard of school #1 in Beslan. Armed people in camouflage uniforms and face masks got out of the car. With automatic guns, they shot in the air several times and announced that they were going to take everyone present hostage, all of whom were at that time attending the school year opening ceremony. Because of the older pupils and family members attending the Day of Knowledge celebrations, the number of people in the school at the time of the attack was considerably higher than for a normal school day.
After an exchange of gunfire the attackers seized the school building, taking approximately 1,200 hostages. The attackers took the hostages into the school’s gym, and confiscated all mobile phones. One of the female terrorists stated that if she found anyone hiding a phone, she would kill that person and three others. They ordered everyone to speak in Russian and only when spoken to. When a father named Ruslan Betrozov stood to calm people and repeat the rules in the local language, a gunman approached and killed him with a single shot to the head.5 Another father named Vadim Bolloyev, who refused to kneel, was also shot and then bled to death.
ITAR-TASS reported that a local police source had told them that men masked as repairmen had concealed weapons and explosives in the school in July 2004, but this version of events was later officially refused. However, some witnesses have since come forward claiming they were made to help their captors remove the hidden weapon caches from the school. There are also claims that they constructed a sniper‘s nest in advance on the gymnasium roof.
A security cordon was soon established around the school. No fire-fighting equipment was in position and, despite the previous experiences of the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, there were few ambulances ready. There was not one sapper among the Russian special forces, despite the building being heavily mined. The Russian government initially misreported or downplayed the numbers, repeatedly stating there were only 354 hostages; this reportedly angered the attackers who further mistreated their captives.
The Russian government initially said that it would not use force to rescue the hostages, and negotiations towards a peaceful resolution took place on the first and second days, led by Leonid Roshal, a pediatrician whom the hostage takers had reportedly asked for by name. 6 At Russia’s request, a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council was convened on the evening of September 1, at which the council members demanded "the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages of the terrorist attack". U.S. President George W. Bush made a statement offering "support in any form" to Russia. That night, the hostage takers began exploring the area surrounding the school, preparing for an exit strategy once their demands had been met.
On September 2, 2004, negotiations between Roshal and the hostage-takers proved unsuccessful, and they refused to allow food, water, and medicines to be taken in for the hostages, or for the bodies of the dead to be removed from the front of the school. By day two, the lack of food and water took its toll on the young children, many of whom were forced to stand for long periods in the hot, tightly-packed gym. Later in the day, some adults also started to faint from fatigue and thirst. Because of the conditions in the gym, when the explosion and gun battle began on the third day, many of the surviving children were so fatigued that they were barely able to flee from the carnage.
In the afternoon, the gunmen let the Ingushetia President Ruslan Aushev to enter the school building and released 26 hostages, 11 nursing women and 15 children, personally to him. The rebels gave Aushev a note with demands from their leader Shamil Basayev who was not himself present in Beslan. The existence of the note was kept secret by the Russian authorities. It was falsely announced that the hostage takers made no demands. Basayev demanded recognition of a "formal independence for Chechnya" that "would remain in the ruble zone, and would join the Commonwealth of Independent States". He also said that "although the Chechen rebels had played no part in the 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk", they would publicly take responsibility for them. 7
At around 15:30, two grenades were fired approximately ten minutes apart by the hostage-takers at security forces outside the school, setting a police car ablaze, but the Russian forces did not return fire. As the day and night wore on, the combination of stress and sleep deprivation made the hostage takers increasingly hysterical and unpredictable. The crying of the children irritated them, and on several occasions crying children and their mothers were threatened with being shot if they would not stop crying. Russian authorities claimed that the hostage-takers had "listened to German hard rock group Rammstein on personal stereos during the siege to keep themselves edgy and fired up." There were no reported deaths on September 2.
Around 13:04 on September 3, 2004, the hostage-takers agreed to allow Emergency Ministry servicemen to remove bodies from the school grounds. However, when the servicemen approached the school, explosions were heard from the gymnasium and the hostage-takers opened fire. Two of the servicemen were killed, while the rest took cover. Part of the gymnasium wall was demolished by the explosions, allowing a group of about 30 hostages to escape, though a number were killed as a result of crossfire between the hostage-takers and the army. The government asserts that once the shooting started, soldiers had no choice but to storm the building. However, most of the town’s residents have refuted that official version of events. According to the official statements, the order to start the operation was given by the republican FSB leader Valery Andreyev.
Russian-Chechen conflict roots can be traced to the 18th century, when the Russian Empire started expanding south into the Caucasian region, and further developed during the Soviet era. In 1944, as punishment for their cooperation with the Nazis, Stalin exiled almost the entire Chechen population to Central Asia, where many died. While Khrushev later allowed the Chechens to return to their homeland, they have always felt some resentment to the Federal government8.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, General Dzhokhar Dudaev and his Chechen forces ousted the Soviet leaders of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomic Republic and declared independence9. Instead of long-desired peace and stability, independence brought anarchy and the dominance of criminal groups and armed radicals. This became a reason Russia did not consider Chechnya an independent state and ultimately led to the First Chechen War in 1994. It ended in 1996 with the agreement granting Chechnya quasi-independence. The agreement was disastrous, because “Chechnya became a base for kidnappers, who combined greed with hatred of Russia and the West,” and in 1998, Islamists and Chechen commanders attacked neighboring Dagestan, which is part of the Russian Federation, to create a single Islamic state10.
This Second Chechen War remains an ongoing conflict. During all these years of military confrontation, the Chechen economy has been completely destroyed; the population faces poverty, hunger, and cruelty from both sides. This prolonged ordeal creates further resentment of the Federal government, which is unable to resolve the problem.
- "Chronicle of Lies"
“This was the moment when I understood what the word ‘mondrage’ means.
Mondrage is a very strong fear. Out of the blue, you feel so cold that
your teeth chatter and you have no control of yourself.”
Larissa Kudzeyeva, hostage at the Beslan school
There are many aspects of the Beslan crisis still in dispute, including how many militants were involved, whether weapons and ammunition had been hidden in the school prior to the siege, and whether some of the militants had escaped. Questions about the government’s management of the crisis have also persisted. Criticism, including by the survivors and the relatives of the victims, centered on the allegations that the storming of the school was ruthless, citing the use of heavy weapons and tank guns. There were accusations that officials had not earnestly tried to negotiate with the attackers and deliberately provided incorrect and inconsistent reports of the situation to the media. The local provincial leaders were criticized for having allowed the attack to take place. Some critics also charged that the authorities failed to keep the battleground secure from entry by civilians or exit by the militants.
In general, the criticism was denied by the Russian government. General Nikolai Shepel found no fault with the security forces in handling the hostage crisis. 11 However, Vladimir Putin admitted to a certain lack of professionalism and understanding in handling the crisis. Alexander Dzasokhov, the head of North Ossetia, resigned his post in May 31, 2005, after pressure from Mothers of Beslan on Putin. North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev also resigned shortly after the crisis. At the same time Putin fired the head of the Ossetia’s FSB branch, Valery Andreyev, who testified that he had personally given the order to overrun the school during the siege.
In August 2007 the Truth of Beslan web site alleged the government forces knew of the planned attack well in advance, citing police communications. In July 2007 the Mothers of Beslan asked the FSB to declassify video and audio archives on Beslan, saying there should be no secrets in the investigation. They didn’t receive any answer to this request. Same month, the Mothers organization have disclosed a video tape they received anonymously, that they say proves Russian security forces started the massacre by firing rocket grenades on the besieged building. The film, apparently showing the prosecutors and military experts discussing the militant bombs and structural damage in the school in Beslan, had been kept secret by the authorities for nearly three years, and was officially released by the Mothers on September 4, 2007.
There were several lies government provided in order to hide true story. Here they are: lie number one – the number of hostages. From the beginning, the number of hostages was deliberately underestimated. The official figure of 354 hostages was repeated by television channels and in the public appearances of government representatives. Early on in the crisis, much higher figures for the hostages were provided by newspapers and Internet sources, yet the television networks held firm to their original claim. One of the women released September 2 told the press: “There are many hostages, very many. I think a thousand.” Another woman whose two children remained in the school said: “According to the list 860 children attend the school. Maybe half of them did not come to the school’s opening ceremony. Then there are the parents. Look around at how many people are standing here. Here in the House of Culture there are 1,000 people and all of them have at least one relative or child in the school.” Similar reports appeared in newspapers and Internet magazines. Nevertheless the television channels remained stubbornly attached to their original figure.
Lie number two: the terrorists had posed no demands. At the outset of the drama, a decision was made at the highest political level that under no circumstances would information be released concerning the terrorists’ demands. This was a lesson that the Putin government had drawn from the hostage drama at the Moscow Musical Theatre “Nordost” in 2002. Relatives of the hostages then held captive inside the theatre had demonstrated for an end to the Russian war in Chechnya. The demand met with widespread popular support, and the Kremlin has had great difficulty suppressing this political sentiment. 12 This time it was claimed that the terrorists had made no demands. But as we already saw in previous pages a statement was calling for an end to the Chechen war and the withdrawal of Russian troops.
On September 6, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that as early as the afternoon of September 1 and not far from the school, “Parents of children being held in the school had addressed the Russian president in a video. They called upon him to fulfill all the demands of the terrorists in order to save the lives of the children.” All the major television and other media outlets kept this information secret for a considerable period. According to numerous witnesses, the hostage takers made no secret about their demands. For example, on September 3, Izvestia interviewed a teacher who had been released along with her three-year-old daughter. Question: “Did the terrorists tell you their demands?” Answer: “They said they had just one demand: the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.”
Lie number three: there were no plans for storming the building. Immediately after news of the hostage taking broke, leading to widespread popular anguish, representatives of the Russian government declared that everything would be done to avoid an armed assault on the school by security forces. In fact, nothing was done to prevent such a storming of the school. 13
According to a commentary in the newspaper Izvestia, the drama “took the worst possible turn.” The government sought to hide its own failure by claiming that the storming of the building had not been prepared, and even that there were no plans for such an action. This claim is contradicted by a series of facts and reports by witnesses. On September 3, the paper Nezavicimaya Gazeta reported that “intelligence forces were preparing to storm the school.” The paper referred to the fact that on the night of September 1 specially equipped military transport planes had landed in North Ossetia. The paper also said it was presumed that the anti-terror unit “Alfa” had been flown in. It is now known that “Alfa” and another anti-terror unit, “Vimpel,” played the decisive role in the storming of the building. The fact that on September 3, the terrorists immediately began shooting and set off previously installed explosives indicates that they were sure a storming of the building would take place. 14 The newspaper Gazeta.ru concluded on September 4: “The storming had in fact been prepared and was to have been carried out within the next two days. Without water, the children could only have survived for three or four days, and then it would have no longer been possible to rescue most of the hostages. However, on Friday they were forced to take action.”
Lie number four: the number of victims. The government and the media continued to lie by minimizing the number of casualties. The official death number rose only as the bodies began to be counted. According to government sources on Monday morning, September 6, 335 dead had been counted. At the same time there existed a list of missing persons totaling 260. According to the radio station “Echo Moscow,” these victims feature neither on the lists of those who have died nor on the list of those who have been hospitalized. Even more on Saturday, inhabitants of Beslan, who observed coffins with victims inside being transported from the burnt ruins of the school, reported that they had counted a total of between 500 and 600.
Against this background it is hardly necessary to examine the other lies broadcast by the Russian media about the number of terrorists involved which was also minimized. “The overall conduct of the Russian media, in particular the major television networks, was shameful. While in the West many television stations devoted special coverage to the events in North Ossetia, often working with Russian cameramen, Russian television refused to interrupt its regular programming,” – was written by Vladimir Volkov for “World Socialist Web Site” on
8 September 2004.
We should underline that at one point in the crisis, a correspondent for the Russian television channel NTW addressed the camera and frankly declared, “We cannot say what is happening; we cannot comment on the actions of those involved in the fighting!”
The role played by Russian televisions, however, only expressed the control over the major media outlets by Putin’s Kremlin. Meanwhile, a prominent Russian journalist who has reported critically on the war in Chechnya were prevented from reaching Beslan. It’s interesting how Vladimir Volkov in his article for “World Socialist Web Site” describes Putin’s censorship and generally his politics: “The president’s resort to the methods of state censorship, however, is a manifestation of the general impotence and political isolation of the regime as a whole. Under conditions of historically unprecedented social inequality between a thin layer of “new Russian” entrepreneurs and masses of impoverished working people, democratic forms of rule are not possible. While capable of buying off or intimidating his political opponents and much of the media, Putin has proven unable to resolve any of the deepening crises wracking Russia, from the war in Chechnya and other outbreaks of regional separatism, to the generalized corruption and breakdown that characterizes the entire state apparatus and the economy. All of these crises came together to produce the tragedy in Beslan.” Even more by Vladimir Volkov Putin has seized upon the atrocity in Beslan to claim even more authoritarian power and to reject any suggestion of negotiating an end to the brutal war in Chechnya. “His transparent aim is to emulate Bush in claiming unlimited power to carry out repression in the name of a “war on terror,” – he concludes.
- Media censorship
In several incidents reporters critical of the Russian government could not get to Beslan during the crisis. According to the report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), several correspondents were detained in Beslan, including Russians Anna Gorbatova and Oksana Semyonova from Novye Izvestia, Madina Shavlokhova from Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Elena Milashina from Novaya Gazeta, and Simon Ostrovskiy from The Moscow Times. Several foreign journalists were also briefly detained, including a group of foreign journalists from Polish Gazeta Wyborcza, French Libération and British The Guardian. The chief of the Moscow bureau of the Arab TV channel Al Jazeera was framed into the possession of a round of ammunition at the airfield in Mineralnye Vody. Many foreign journalists were exposed to pressure from the security forces and the materials were confiscated from TV crews from ZDF and ARD (Germany), APTN (USA), and Rustavi-2 (Georgia).
Journalists encountered some of their most serious problems on September 3 right after the storming of the school began. According to the testimony of Marcin Wojciechowski, a correspondent from Gazeta Wyborcza, the crew of the Russian TV channel ТВЦ was beaten up. Local residents and men armed with hunting weapons suspected that the channel’s cameraman was an accomplice of the terrorists and started chasing him. It was only after militiamen started shooting in the air from automatic weapons that the journalists managed to escape.
Many other journalists were attacked in a similar way. According to an article by Elena Milashina published in Novaya Gazeta, a French journalist and a Swedish cameraman were beaten up. According to other journalists’ testimonies, there were people in the crowd who screamed that it was all the fault of journalists and the crowd jumped on reporters.
After the storming of the school, many Russian and foreign TV journalists were reported to have been searched. Their tapes with the material they had filmed were confiscated. According to Margarita Simonyan, the RTR (or Rossya state channel) reporter, doctor Leonid Roshal, pediatrician, one of the negotiators, ordered, for unknown reasons, that the tape from the crew of the state channel be confiscated.
At the same time, during and after the storming of the school, many journalists were exposed to pressure from the militia and from security services. Elena Milashina said that when journalists were stopped and asked to show their passports and accreditation cards, unexpectedly to them, the militiamen started asking for certificates of temporary registration in North Ossetia. Therefore, correspondents from Novye Izvestia, Anna Gorbatova and Oksana Semyonova, were detained (they were kept at the militia station for an hour). Madina Shavlokhova from Moskovskiy Komsomolets and Elena Milashina from Novaya Gazeta were also detained.
In the evening of 5 September, The Moscow Times correspondent Simon Ostrovskiy was detained in a military village called Sputnik near Vladikavkaz. He was brought to a militia station in the right-bank district of North Ossetia. After the storming of the school, even the openness of officials with regards to giving information changed. Before the rescue operation, they often held briefings, announcing unreliable and misrepresented messages. After the storm, the chief of the local FSB office, Valeriy Andreev, Deputy General Prosecutor, Sergey Fridinski, and the official from the Presidential Administration, Dmitriy Peskov, offered information only to the government-controlled Russian press. Because there was not even a sign of a press centre at the crisis centre, these officials often came out to the streets of the town to find state correspondents.
Before beslan tragedy in Russian legislation the only restrictions concerning the work of journalists were covered by two laws, one entitled “On the Fight against Terrorism” (1998) and one entitled “On the Internal Security Troops of the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation” (1993). These restrictions prohibit publishing information on the relocation and the manpower of the military units of the internal security troops of the Ministry of the Interior as well as “disclosing information about special technical measures and the tactics of a counterterrorist operation which can impede implementation of a counterterrorist operation and threaten the live and health of the people who happened to be in the zone of the counterterrorist operation, or who are outside of the designated zone; [information] which serves the propaganda or justification of terrorism and extremism; [information] about the staff of special units, members of the crisis centre which controls the counterterrorist operation, as well as [information] about the persons who facilitate the implementation of the mentioned operation.”
But in 2005, the Duma passed the law making the journalists being able to have access to and publish information about terrorist attacks only with permission from those directing counter-terrorist operations.15 On August 2, 2005, responding to the airing of an interview with Shamil Basayev, Moscow banned journalists of the American Broadcasting Company network from working in Russia.16
A year later, in 2006, the Duma approved the Law on Fighting Extremist Activity, broadening the definition of "extremism" to include media criticism of public officials and provide for imprisonment of up to three years for journalists and the suspension or closure of their publications.17 The law was used to used same year to shut down the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society18 and convicted its executive director Stanislav Dmitrievsky of "extremist" activities.19
But those 2 last changes in law were made after Beslan events so, this is why any claims by militiamen or security services staff are even legally objectionable on the basis that they prevent journalists from exercising their profession. According to article 144 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, officials who restrict the work of journalists by prohibiting them from working — for example, confiscating materials that they have filmed — may be prosecuted under criminal law.
On 9 September, the Internet newspaper www.gazeta.ru ran an article by Georgiy Satarov, entitled The Lie that Kills in which the author offers his thoughts about the information blockade of the government controlled media. He finished his article with the following words: “I demand to view this article as an appeal to the General Prosecutor’s Office. I demand launching a criminal case looking into the fact of malicious misinformation which resulted in grave consequences.”
- Case of Russian media
"Chronicle of Lies" screamed a front-page headline in Moskovsky Komsomolets on Monday. "Lies Provoked Terrorists’ Aggression" was a headline picked by Novaya Gazeta.
Two journalists, Svetlana Pelieva and Bella Dzeestelova, and news photographer, Fatima Malikova, who work for the Beslan paper Zhizn Pravoberezhya come to the school in the morning of 1 September to prepare a report about the Day of Knowledge and were taken hostage as well. All of these journalists survived.
According to most of the journalists who were working in Beslan from 1 September until the release of the hostages at midday on 3 September, the authorities did not obstruct the work of most reporters during this time period. Most of the problems that journalists faced came from local residents who began to treat the press aggressively after Russian state TV channels only reported official information about the number of hostages. The number of 354 people was persistently given, as initially stated by Lev Dzugaev, the press-secretary of the President of North Ossetia and Valeriy Andreev, the chief of the local FSB office. Only after the parents of the children who were held hostage announced that they would start making their own lists north Ossetian president, Alexander Dzasohov, said that there were over 900 hostages in the school.
In the morning of 3 September local FSB chief, Valeriy Andreev, said that “journalists and locals provoke periodic shooting by terrorists because they want to be in the midst of things”. On the second day of the school siege, 2 September, the press secretary of the North Ossetian president, Lev Dzugaev, and the Minister of Interior of North Ossetia, Kazbek Dzantiev, held a briefing where they asked journalists reporting from Beslan “not to report information of unfolding events to their editorial offices for some time or to co-ordinate their materials with the crisis center for release of the hostages”. According to journalists’ remarks, this happened after the Russian media reported that the real number of people held by the terrorists differed greatly from the official data.
The correspondent from the newspaper Gazeta published an article on 3 September stating that ever since 1 September, the staff of the press services of all security services involved in the release operation (the Ministry of the Interior, FSB and the General Prosecutor’s Office). These representatives were always present at the crisis centre. Their task should have been to provide the media with information and arrange meetings between journalists and the chiefs of the release operation. Not only did they not cope with these tasks, they never even started to carry them out, according to correspondents from Gazeta working in Beslan. “It seems as if there are no representatives of the law enforcement agencies here at all,” the correspondents said. “Only one man from the local FSB office came out to talk to journalists and said that a criminal case had been launched.”
On 2 September, the Industrial Committee, an organization that incorporates top managers of 24 media outlets, most of which are reported to be close to the government, circulated an address to the Russian press. It reminded them that after the siege of the theater in Moscow in October 2002, a so-called “Antiterrorist Convention” had been adopted. Most Russian journalists did not support this convention because they believed it was a way for Russian authorities to try to limit freedom of speech. “While elaborating and discussing this document, we proceeded from our belief that the threat of terrorism should not be used as grounds and justification for imposing limits with regards to freedom of opinion and freedom of the media. At the same time, being aware of the measure of responsibility in working with information in these conditions, we proposed a range of acceptable restrictions and rules that we would willingly accept stipulating that in extreme situations the rescue of people and the human right to live are primary and take precedence over any other rights and freedoms,” – Committee noted.
On 3 September, on NTV (a nationwide TV channel majority owned by GAZPROM, a state controlled gas company) a correspondent in a broadcast from Beslan said that there were “many” wounded and dead at the school, but did not specify. Neither did report the number of victims the two state channels, ORT and Rossiya. The NTV correspondent suggested that the lack of information in the reports were the result of the antiterrorist self-restrictions that many media had voluntarily adopted after the tragic experience of the Moscow theatre siege. Nevertheless, NTV referred to doctors to confirm a Reuters report stating that the number of wounded reached 200.
By the end of 3 September, the Internet newspaper www.gazeta.ru wrote in a commentary: “The crisis centre applied tactics that can be explained as an information blockade of the terrorists’ demands. This seems almost obvious today.” The hostages told the media that the terrorists in the school who were watching the news on TV were irritated by the distorted information. Yelena Milashina, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, wrote: “A girl (hostage) said that after that persistent and extremely important newscast (because those lies provoked the terrorists’ aggression), the children were no longer given tap water”.
During street meetings two days after the release of the hostages, locals beat up Alexander Kots, the correspondent from Komsomolskaya Pravda. The people who attacked him argued that he distorted everything in an article that had been published on Saturday, 4 September. On 6th September, the Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper printed new article under title: “Why did you, journalists, lie?” which quoted a dialogue between a correspondent and a resident of Beslan as included in the following: “‘Did you also write in your paper that there were 300 people there? But there were 1220 of them, do you understand?!’ The man in a black shirt waives his hand in impotence. ‘Why did you lie?’ On 7th of September another article appeared by the columnist, Alexander Khinstein, entitled The Chronicle of Lies. From 38 Snipers to 354 Hostages.
NTV was the first TV channel to report about the events that took place in Beslan on 3 September. The channel started live broadcast of the events at 13:30, a half hour after the explosions appeared live on television during the newscast. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the delay in launching live broadcasts happened because at the same time that the events in Besland were occurring, the head of the Presidential Administration Dmitry Medvedev, was meeting with the heads of state channels in Kremlin. This was indirectly confirmed by Arutyunova in her interview. She called this meeting the “traditional weekly Friday meetings”.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the channel Rossiya limited coverage to an hour and-a-half live broadcast then shifted to short news releases at the beginning of each hour apparently following the example of Perviy Kanal, which had adopted this form of coverage from the very beginning. According to a Rossiya staff member, the channel’s administration circulated guidelines for reports and commentaries shortly after the capture of the school. For example, state TV channels never mentioned President Vladimir Putin in their reports from North Ossetia. Rossia is owned and run by the state and is considered the Kremlin’s main mouthpiece. It was the only channel allowed to send cameramen to cover the Kursk retrieval operation. "That channel doesn’t say a word without the blessing of the Kremlin," – said Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst.
Ren-TV, a privately owned cable channel, reported about the situation in Beslan most carefully. The channel’s cameraman, Boris Leonov, actually went to storm the building with Alfa group soldiers and later told the audience on the phone about what he had seen.
Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had negotiated during the 2002 Moscow siege, was twice prevented by the authorities from boarding a flight. When she eventually succeeded, she fell into a coma after being poisoned abroad an airplane bound to Rostov-on-Don. Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitri Muratov said he preferred to await the results of tests before making a statement about the poisoning of Politkovskaya. But he added: "It is nonetheless clear that all the journalists with any authority in Chechnya were kept away from the events unfolding in Beslan."
Babitski, who works for the Russian-language service of Radio Free Europe, was detained at Vnukovo airport when he tried to leave for Beslan on 2 September. Airport police, who said sniffer dogs detected traces of explosives in his bags, released him after searching his belongings. But as he left the police station two men in plain clothes accosted him and he was re-arrested. He was detained until the evening and was convicted of "hooliganism" the next day. An initial sentence of five days in prison was reduced to a fine on appeal.
The editor in chief of Izvestia, Raf Shakirov, announced his forced resignation Monday after coming under fire from the Kremlin and the newspaper’s corporate publishers over its coverage of the Beslan events. The paper dedicated its entire front page with a photograph of a man carrying a wounded child from the Beslan school. The newspaper also raised a questions about the official claim that only 350 people were held hostage and published a column denouncing the self-censorship by the television channels. Izvestia, one of the largest Russian newspapers, generally avoids overt criticism of the President and his Government. But Mr Shakirov chose another way. "The leadership of Prof-Media (Izvestia‘s publisher) and I disagreed on the format of this issue. It is considered too emotional and poster-like, and in general papers aren’t made like that," – Mr Shakirov told Radio Liberty in an interview. Shakirov is a widely respected Russian journalist. Even before he was fired as editor of the Kommersant business daily in 1999 after publishing a critical article about then-Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov. "We did it, of course, not trying to get anything out of it, but proceeding from our perception of what this means for the country. And actually this perception proved to be right – that this is a war," he said. "Nevertheless, I am forced to resign from this position." Shakirov told the Los Angeles Times, “Oddly enough, BBC and CNN devoted more time to live coverage of what was going on in Beslan than Russian national channels.”
But Izvestia has not been alone in criticising the Government and its security forces for failing to prevent the bloodshed in North Ossetia. "They’re lying to us all the time. They lie that the situation is under control. They lie that our special forces are the most effective and professional," – said a commentary in the Moskovsky Komsomolets paper. It added: "And when these ‘effective’ and ‘professional’ special forces snooze through the latest act of terror, they start lying so much it makes your head spin. The last five terrorist attacks have been one long uninterrupted stream of lies." Other newspapers joined in the attacks. "What are we paying the intelligence services for, if they are not able to disrupt the plans of terrorists?" asked Vedomosti. "Does this President, who came to power riding a wave of terrorist attacks, understand that this new wave might not just sink his popularity but also create a threat to the very existence of Russia?"
See 2nd part in following post!!!!!!!