Nord Ost Again: Information Terrorism From The Center of Moscow

The recent tragic hostage taking in the Moscow theatre revealed that Russian mass media were not ready to work under conditions of emergency; moreover, professional unfitness of the governmental authority responsible for mass media was completely confirmed. This problem has been topical within several past days already.

As soon as information appeared that Chechen terrorists seized hostages in the Moscow theatre, the Russian Minister for Press should have personally addressed directors of the Russian TV companies and sent an open letter to the editorial offices of the leading newspapers with all necessary instructions concerning the hostage situation in Moscow. That was especially important so that people could know what was to be made public and what couldn’t be on no conditions. The responsibility of the Ministry for Press isn’t only official registration of mass media, but also information security in the country. Director general of the Russian 3rd Channel, Vladimir Zhelonkin says, the Ministry for Press should have organized a meeting of all journalists to agree on common rules according to which the hostage situation could be reported about. However, nothing of the kind was done.

As the hostage drama was developing, majority of Russian media were obviously getting more and more provocative; in that situation, the Ministry for Press must have warned the media of their incorrect reports from the drama scene, and if the warning proved ineffective, sanctions must have been applied to disobedient media. However, nothing of this kind was done again. Announcers of the NTV and RenTV television, in their live programs, unceremoniously asked hostages to give the phone to the terrorists so that they could speak; NTV gave a live report of the theatre storm; the first TV channel broadcast interview with terrorist Aslan Maskhadov, and so on. There have been lots of infractions of the federal law on struggle against terrorism, but no adequate response came to it at all.

Under conditions when the Ministry for Press failed to observe its obligations and protect the ideology, the Russian Security Council was to have taken the initiative. And although inactivity of a civil authority under conditions of military operations is acceptable to some extent, the inertness of the department responsible for the country’s security cannot be excused. The Security Council isn’t a power structure, but it could have assumed a coordinating function. To tell the truth, the concept for the national security provides for all necessary instructions on what is to be done in an emergency situation, similar to that one of the hostage taking in the Moscow theatre.

There is a notion of special information regime under conditions of war operations. Wasn’t the hostage taking this special regime? According to the definition of a special regime, under conditions of war operations all mass media are no longer only media, but also active participants of the operations. First of all, access of journalists to the scene should be considerably limited. Experience of the USA would be very useful in this situation: during the Gulf War, almost a complete information blockade was established in the area of the operations.

One of the special forces soldiers said that the terrorists only profited from the detailed TV reports about the hostage release operation; it is not ruled out that when terrorists decide to attack next time, the act will be more thoroughly prepared. All the time since the moment of the hostage taking, journalists crowded at the scene. They were asked to leave the place only right before the very storm.

We would venture a remark. If a Russian citizen hears the demand to withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya, this sounds abstract for him. However, when the demand is continuously drummed into the people’s heads, and when people see protest actions against the war in Chechnya organized by relatives of the hostages, quite an opposite reaction may follow at the end. And people probably started thinking that to avoid lots of terrorism problems, it was reasonable to withdraw the troops from Chechnya once and for all.

The hysteria intensified by the Russian printed and online media at the time when the whole of Russia is taken hostages by several villains, proves that officials from the Ministry for Press looked upon the drama as off-sire observers and kept themselves aloof from their duties.

And that occurred against the background of the government’s “absolute efficiency in a complex, super-critical situation”; that was the way Russia’s ORT television characterized actions of the government. It seems that some powers close to the infamous Yeltsin’s “Family” aimed at discrediting Putin’s team; they obviously tried to let the president down. And these powers were working actively, we should admit. The disorganization of the Russian media in reporting about the tragic drama in Moscow became one of the results of this activity. Under the conditions of an emergency situation, President Putin was one of the few who made his words realize. And his address to the nation came right at an appropriate moment.

Chairman of the Duma committee for informational policy Konstantin Vetrov suggests that a parliamentary commission should be set up to investigate actions of the mass media during the anti-terrorist operation and to bring the guilty into account. He also says that some TV channels are currently working on programs aimed at “provoking of anti-governmental attitudes in the society.” This sounds like a warning to RF Minister for Press Mikhail Lesin.

Sergey Stefanov

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Author`s name Michael Simpson