Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Audit of the Committee to Protect Journalists Claims

One of the frequent staples of anti-Putin propaganda is the number of journalists murdered in Russia on Putin's watch. The more propagandistically inclined authors use the total number of journalists who died for any reason whatsoever, and even manage to imply that it was Putin who killed them off, while others rely on a database compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which includes only "confirmed" cases of deaths related to the journalists' professional activities.

Of course, none of them mention that the death rate for Russian journalists has actually decreased during Putin's presidency, and that it is correlated with the overall criminal situation, rather than any political developments. But I guess I'm asking for too much honesty from propagandists.

CPJ claims that it "applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case “confirmed” only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment... If the motives are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate to determine the motive for the murder."

I believe that an audit of CPJ's findings is in order. We will examine all cases reported in CPJ's database of confirmed deaths during Putin's presidency (2000-present day) to see if they belong. Each case will be classified into true (CPJ's claims are not disputed), falsified (the case does not involve professional activities or is not even a murder), and partially falsified (journalist murdered or died on duty, but the perpetrator or other relevant information is false).

And so, without further ado, here are the 17 "confirmed" cases of journalists killed in the line of duty in Russia since 2000. The order is chronological.

Premeditated murder of Vladimir Yatsina, a photographer, on 20 February 2000 by the military with the use of small arms. By CPJ's own admission, Yatsina was murdered by Chechen militants who had been holding him hostage for ransom. Real "source of fire" is "criminal group" or "paramilitaries". Suspect deliberate obfuscation of the "source of fire" in order to set the stage for an accusation against the Russian government, amounting to a partial falsification.

Combat related death of Aleksandr Yefremov, a photographer, on 12 May 2000 due to use of explosives by the military. By CPJ's own admission, Yefremov and two police officers were "killed in Chechnya when the military jeep he was riding in was blown up by a remote-controlled mine". Since IEDs are the MO of the Chechen militants, it is safe to assume that the real "source of fire" was a "criminal group" or "paramilitaries". Suspect deliberate obfuscation of the "source of fire" in order to set the stage for an accusation against the Russian government, amounting to a partial falsification.

Spontaneous murder of Igor Domnikov, a reporter and an editor for Novaya Gazeta, on 16 July 2000 from the injuries suffered at the hands of an unknown assailant on 12 May 2000. CPJ claims that the murderer got away with impunity. CPJ's data is obsolete. In reality, in 2007 the perpetrators of the murder, the so-called "Tagir'yanov group", who specialized in assassinations and kidnappings, were convicted on multiple counts including Domnikov's murder. Facts as reported by CPJ in 2000 are not in dispute for that date.

Premeditated murder of Eduard Markevich, an editor and publisher of Novy Reft, on 18 September 2001, committed by government officials with a firearm. CPJ's date is incorrect, the real date of the murder was 19 September. CPJ's reasoning for blaming Markevich's murder on government is that "Novy Reft often criticized local officials, and Markevich's colleagues told the Itar-Tass news service that he had received threatening telephone phone calls prior to the attack." The reality was somewhat more complicated, as noted by the US funded Radio Liberty on 27 September 2001: "The murder victim's wife, Tatyana, also working in the Novy Reft newspaper, is certain that the murder is connected with Markevich's professional activities and is clearly a contract hit, possibly political. Not long before his death Eduard Markevich ran for the Reftenskii village council, this was on September 16, but did not receive the necessary number of votes and did not get the mandate. Law enforcement officials do not reject this theory, but are more diligent in investigating the possibility that the murder was committed for as revenge for personal reasons. As villagers report, the entrepreneur, founder, and editor of the newspaper Eduard Markevich had plenty of enemies. The murder victim had conflicts with the village authorities, leaders of local organizations, quarreled with various people for all sorts of reasons. Many incidents were not connected with his work as a journalist." Due to the contract nature of the hit it is more likely that Markevich was murdered for his professional activities, but CPJ's attribution of the murder to "government officials" without a shred of evidence to back it up amounts to wishful thinking and smells of propagandistic intent. A clear case of partial falsification.

Premeditated murder of Natalya Skryl, a reporter for Nashe Vremia in Rostov-on-Don, committed by an unknown assailant on 8 March 2002. Skryl died from head injuries on the next day. CPJ's attribution of Skryl's case to professional activities of the victim is based on the following: "Grigory Bochkarov, a local analyst in Rostov-on-Don for the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told CPJ that the only credible motive for Skryl's murder was her reporting about Tagmet and that police had emphasized the robbery motive in an effort to play down the significance of the case. Just prior to her death, Skryl reportedly told several colleagues that she had recently obtained sensitive information about the Tagmet story and was planning to publish an article revealing this information." Needless to say, the quality of evidence provided here is pathetic. Moreover, CPJ's description contains disingenuous description of the investigation. CPJ alleges that "officials have changed their theories several times", more specifically that the first theory was that the murder was based on professional activities of the journalist, which on 24 July was changed to robbery, and on 5 September the investigation was closed without any theory. In reality, three theories were worked on from the start: a) robbery; b) professional activity; c) hooliganism. On 24 July it was finally determined that professional activity could not have been the reason for the murder because a) no evidence was found; b) Skryl's publications were of "informational nature and could not have had any effect on the social and political situation." A suspect was detained, made a confession which he later disavowed, but he was found to be deranged and no further evidence could be gathered. The case was closed. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situation, used by CPJ as the main source, conducted its own investigation, and concluded that it is highly unlikely that Skryl was killed in a professional hit, and that the most likely motive for the murder was "hooliganism" (that is, for no reason, based on the nature of the neighborhood where the crime was perpetrated). CJES's experts who made the finding were Sergey Plotnikov and Grigoriy Bochkarev (!!! - who CPJ identified as "Grigory Bochkarov" and used as their main source to make the opposite claim). By any reasonable standard Skryl's murder does not belong on the list of journalists murdered for their professional activities, and this clearly amounts to a complete falsification on the part of CPJ.

Premeditated murder of Valery Ivanov, editor of Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye in Togliatti, committed by a criminal group on 29 April 2002. CPJ justifies Ivanov's inclusion as follows: "Ivanov's colleagues believe the killing was connected to his work. Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye is well known for its reports on local organized crime, drug trafficking, and official corruption." Both official investigation, and the one conducted by the CJES, concluded that Ivanov was killed for his criminalized commercial activities not related to his work as a journalist. Therefore, CPJ's inclusion of Ivanov in the list amounts to a complete falsification.

Combat related death of Roddy Scott, a cameraman, perpetrated by the military on 26 September 2002. According to CPJ, "Russian soldiers found his body in Ingushetia's Galashki Region, near the border with Chechnya, following clashes between Russian forces and a group of Chechen fighters. Scott had accompanied the Chechens as they crossed from Georgia into Russia, United Press International reported." Facts are not in dispute, besides the obvious question of how CPJ managed to figure out that Scott was killed by the military, and not the criminal group he was accompanying. But the interpretation of these facts should raise a few eyebrows. Let's see: Scott joins an illegal armed formation that infiltrates another country with the purpose of committing murder and staging a few terrorist acts. And that is called "professional activity"? If he went to rob a bank with some gang, and died in a shootout with security guards, that would also be "death in the line of duty"? Sorry, but as an accomplice to a crime he cannot be in this list. This is a complete falsification.

Premeditated murder of Yuri Shchekochikhin, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, on 3 July 2003, perpetrated by unknown persons through poisoning. CPJ claims that Shchekochikhin was murdered due to his professional activity because "Shchekochikhin’s relatives and colleagues believe the journalist was poisoned to prevent him from further uncovering the truth about a high-level corruption case involving officials from the Federal Security Services (FSB) and the Prosecutor General’s Office. Based on the circumstances and secrecy surrounding Shchekochikhin’s death, and the dangerous subject he was investigating at the time, CPJ also believes there is sufficient reason for launching a murder probe." As usual, no evidence, merely unsubstantiated claims and wishful thinking that smell of propagandistic intent. Moreover, while in the description CPJ believes that there is merely a "sufficient reason for launching a murder probe", in their database they already treat the murder as a given. Based on the facts of the case, it is not disputed by anyone that Shchekochikhin died of Lyell's Syndrome, also known as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). What remains unknown is which agent caused the syndrome, which is normally induced by drugs and is basically an allergic reaction. That's where the problem lies for conspiracy theorists: allergies vary from person to person, agents that are safe for most people cause allergic reactions in others, and in rare cases the reactions are extreme enough to cause death, which is what happened to Shchekochikhin. The question, then, is how did the alleged perpetrator know what the victim was allergic to in order to allegedly poison him with a substance that would've guaranteed his death? Therefore, there is no reasonable cause to suspect foul play in Shchekochikhin's death, and this case's inclusion amounts to а complete falsification.

Premeditated murder of Aleksei Sidorov, another editor of Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye, who replaced aforementioned Valery Ivanov, committed by a criminal group on 9 October 2003. CPJ's reasoning is pathetic as usual: "Journalists at Tolyatinskoye Obozreniye-a newspaper known for its investigative reporting on organized crime, government corruption, and shady corporate deals in the heavily industrialized city of Togliatti-are convinced the murder is in retaliation for Sidorov's work." Is there any evidence besides "belief"? CJES's investigation concluded that Sidorov's murder was related to his predecessor Ivanov's murder, and both were connected with their criminalized commercial activities not related to their profession. Therefore, this is another case of a complete falsification on the part of the CPJ.

Adlan Khasanov, a camera operator, killed by a terrorist bomb on 9 May 2004 together with Chechnya's president Akhmad Kadyrov, by a "political group". At least now the CPJ is not trying to blame the militants' work on "the military". A more correct classification would be a "criminal group", but it would be tough to expect too much professionalism here. Otherwise, nothing to dispute.

Premeditated murder of Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, gunned down on 9 July 2004 by a criminal group. Nothing to dispute. The murder was basically solved, even though the prosecution was unable to get a guilty verdict from a jury. Forbes's own investigation alleged jury tampering on the part of the defense.

Premeditated murder of Pavel Makeev, a camera operator, who was run over by a criminal group on 21 May 2005. Makeev's death was the result of being hit by a vehicle while he was on assignment to film illegal drag racing. Per CPJ, "authorities initially classified the death as a traffic accident, but colleagues believed Makeev was killed to prevent his reporting, according to CPJ interviews." It cannot be denied that Makeev was killed while on duty. The fact that Makeev's camera was allegedly disposed of by throwing it in the river lends certain credibility to claims of foul play. Therefore, no dispute in this case.

Premeditated murder of Magomedzagid Varisov of Novoye Delo on 28 June 2005, when he was gunned down by "military officials". The case of Varisov's murder was solved in July, the perpetrators were a "religious extremist group" led by Rasul Makasharipov. Varisov was allegedly killed for his criticism of Wahhabis, an extremist Islamic sect. How CPJ managed to blame this on "military officials" remains a mystery. Therefore, this amounts to partial falsification.

Murder of Vagif Kochetkov, a reporter in Tula, perpetrated by unknown persons on 8 January 2006. CPJ claims that the murder was work related because only his bag and cell phone were stolen. "The bag was believed to have contained Kochetkov’s passport, press card, credit card, and work-related documents. The attackers did not take Kochetkov’s money or an expensive fur coat he was wearing." However, this is disputed by CJES's investigation of the case, which does mention that the money was in the bag. CJES also classifies Kochetkov's murder as non-work related. Per media reports, the bag was found without the money, while the money that wasn't touched was a small amount in Kochetkov's pocket. The perpetrator, Tula resident Yan Stakhanov, was caught because he used Kochetkov's cell phone. He had three previous convictions, the last one for robbery. Therefore, the prosecution's position that the motive for the murder was robbery is more justified than CPJ's claims. Kochetkov clearly does not belong in this list, and his inclusion amounts to a complete falsification of the case.

Premeditated murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Novaya Gazeta reporter, shot to death by an unknown assailant on 7 October 2006. The fact that it was a professional hit gives reasonable cause to believe that the murder was related to Politkovskaya's work as a journalist. Even if she had been killed for propaganda effect, as it has been speculated, her choice as a target was based on her professional activity anyway. CPJ's claims are, therefore, not disputed.

Maksim Maksimov, a reporter for Gorod in St. Petersburg, was declared dead on 30 November 2006, after disappearing on 29 June 2004, apparently murdered. CPJ admits that "investigators and colleagues did not initially focus on Maksimov’s journalism as a reason for his disappearance. At the time, Maksimov was seeking to trade his apartment in downtown St. Petersburg for a bigger one. Colleagues believed that he might have fallen victim to the organized crime gangs that control the real estate market in St. Petersburg." However, based on media speculation without any concrete evidence, CPJ claims that Maksimov was murdered for his professional activity. No one was charged with the murder, even the fact of murder has not been established, the investigation is still ongoing. CPJ's claim of Maksimov's disappearance as a confirmed murder case amounts to a complete falsification.

Murder of Ivan Safronov, a reporter for Kommersant, by persons unknown on 2 March 2007. The only known fact in this case is that Safronov fell from a fourth story window. Investigation declared his death a suicide, since not a single external cause of death could be found. CPJ claims Safronov's death was a murder because "Safronov had worked on a number of sensitive issues... Relatives, friends, and colleagues said Safronov had no reason to commit suicide. He had no personal enemies, no debts, and no life-threatening disease. He had been married for many years, had two adult children, and was expecting his first grandchild. He did not leave a suicide note." The reasoning is utterly pathetic. There isn't a single shred of evidence of murder, much less that it involved Safronov's professional activities. This, therefore, is a complete falsification on the part of CPJ.

In summary, CPJ claims that 17 journalists were killed in Russia in since 2000 due to their professional activities. Examination of each case found that out of 17 claims, only 5 were correct (Domnikov, Khasanov, Klebnikov, Makeev, Politkovskaya), 8 were complete falsifications (Skryl, Ivanov, Scott, Shchekochikhin, Sidorov, Kochetkov, Maksimov, Safronov), and 4 were partial falsifications (Yatsina, Yefremov, Markevich, Varisov). If we assign the truthfulness value of 50% to partially falsified claims, the overall truthfulness rate of CPJ, given this sample, is 41%. Clearly, CPJ's definition of "strict journalistic standards" as being only 40% truthful is at variance with what any reasonable person would expect. But it is very much in line with what one would expect from a propaganda outlet.

Of course, the desire to protect journalists' lives is very noble. But the end does not justify the means. Engaging in outright falsifications while making the outrageous claim that "strict journalistic standards" are being followed discredits journalism as a profession and raises the obvious question of why should any special emphasis be placed on protecting that kind of people?


White Crow said...

do you mind if I pirate this article and put it on my own blog, with due credit given to you? You may also want to send it to JRL @

Fedia Kriukov said...

Sure, pirate away.

But before I go with this topic any further, I wanted to see if any constructive discussion can come of it.

White Crow said...

It's a damn good article. Nothing to discuss, really, except that we could have a love fest and bitch about the idiocy of the Western media - which would be like bitching about rain on Mt. Waialeale. By far more journalists were killed during the Yeltsin years, when the Oligarchs were offing each other's journalistic guns for hire.

I do not doubt that journalists in Russia get killed for what they do, but it's most often on the local level - where they go on the nerves of local interests. That really, really sucks, but I wouldn't blame it on the government. That's something for local people in Russia to take care of.

I seriously doubt the Russian government is killing journalists - why would it, when it controls the media that really matters politically.

Killing people is a nuisance to those who do the killing.

By the way, since you seem to be rather good at it; I would love to have a better understanding of that high murder rate. Do the statistics include the killings in the Caucasus? If yes, then I would think that the murder rate is unfairly overstated.

As I said, good article - which is why I want to pirate it.

By the way, is there a way to reach you by e-mail??

Anonymous said...

Fedia, this is an excellent piece of work. Your approval presumed, I will reference to it on my blog as well.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Heribert, thanks!

White Crow:

By "discussion" I mean that I hope someone will show up who can try to constructively defend CPJ claims.

As to murder rate, your guess is as good as mine -- Rosstat's data is what we have to go by. And we have two datasets there: number of murders demographically and number of murders based on criminal cases. As you can imagine, the former is significantly higher than the latter. Not every demographic murder gets a criminal case, and the difference just might be partially made up of war deaths in the Caucasus.

Oleg Nevestin said...

Great research, and it should be sent to also. That Western media is nothing more than Propaganda Central, is well known to everybody but suckers who take their word as a gospel of truth. Unfortunately, the latter ones number in hundreds of millions. If you can enlighten even a handful, it'll be a job well done. Again, remarkable work.

stalker said...

"Not every demographic murder gets a criminal case, and the difference just might be partially made up of war deaths in the Caucasus."

I kind of doubt it. The area seems to have become quite pacified. Since the population of the Caucasus is quite small in relation to Russia's, the homicide rate there has to be extremely bigger than in the rest of the country to make an appreciable difference.

As for the actual post, well, I can do no better than quote a previous poster:

Fedia, this is an excellent piece of work. Your approval presumed, I will reference to it on my blog as well.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Stalker, you are right about doubting it for the present time. But not for back when the war in Chechnya was in full swing.

Here are the demographic data on "homicides" for 2000-2007 (in thousands):
41.1 42.9 44.3 41.8 39.3 35.6 28.8 24.9

Here are registered crimes, apparently criminal cases opened for "homicide or attempted homicide", same period, same scale:
31.8 33.6 32.3 31.6 31.6 30.8 27.5 22.2

As you can see, there is a strong convergence in the two sets of numbers as war casualties decreased. While this certainly does not prove that the war in Chechnya accounted for the difference, it does provide an indication in that direction.

Note that this is not an issue of the homicide rate. If you have a combat casualty in peacetime, how do you classify it demographically? Rosstat simply doesn't have a category for such deaths (if it does, it doesn't list it). So they might attribute it to "homicide". But of course, there would be no homicide criminal case opened by the police. Hence the difference.

Yuri Udalov said...

Thanks a lot, Федор! I'll come back to you later to discuss if I can use the above material for a publication in our local newspaper. It might help to oppose anti-Russian campaign and bashing which gets stronger and stronger over here. You might be also interested in reeding the most recent article published in Forbes: