Chechen Media and the Presidential Elections
By Tamerlan Aliyev for Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
A few days before the electioneering campaign began for Chechen presidential candidates, the republic’s Press Minister Beslan Gantamirov, who had stated his newspapers would not actively support Ahmad Kadyrov preferring to endorse Hussein Jabrailov instead, was removed from office and all his publications came under the control of a new Ministry.
Gantamirov’s brother, who was in charge of the Grozny Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, was fired and replaced by Alamakhad Yelsayev, editor-in-chief of the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company of the Chechen Republic. Editors of various newspapers were under constant threat of being fired, so in order to hold onto their jobs they had to work hard for the future leadership.
However, rumour had it that that as soon as the elections were over, the next reorganization would take place in the Ministry for National Policy, and Gantamirov’s editors, Khajiyev (Vesti respubliki), Gutsiyev (Molodyozhnaya smena), Shamsudinov (Daymokhk), and Abubakarova (Stolitsa plus) would undoubtedly be tossed out.
Two of the editors, Khajiyev and Gutsiyev, had already been fined 2,000 rubles each by the Leninsky District Court in Grozny for publishing inflammatory material and thus violating electioneering laws. And it was Kudus Saduyev, one of the presidential candidates, who brought the case before this court.
According to these two men, this all came about because their papers contained “anti-Kadyrov” articles such as an interview in Vesti Respubliki with Gantamirov, who expressed his readiness to support Jabrailov; and an article in Molodyozhnaya smena predicting that Adnan Muzakayev would win the election, even though he later decided not to run.
The state media was now completely controlled by the Ministry for National Policy, the head of which was Taus Jabrailov, who also happened to be in charge of Kadyrov’s pre-election staff.
After Kadyrov’s main rivals, Aslan Aslahanov and Malik Saidullayev, withdrew their candidacy, the media then solely served him and his staff. This was primarily due to two reasons; one being that a certain number of candidates were “pro-Kadyrov” and had no need to advertise themselves. And the second was that the remaining candidates had no firm financial base.
Aslahanov and Saidullayev barely had time to advertise free of charge, while two others, Payzullayev and Khanchukayev, did not use any free advertising space at all. On the other hand, Bugayev, Burayev, Byibulatov and Saduyev did utilize free air time and newspaper coverage.
But it was Kadyrov who actually became the biggest advertiser. His team fully used both free and paid space on television and in the press, and his people virtually staffed the local TV station.
Kadyrov’s extensive advertising was so saturating that it began to work against him; Chechens started to become irritated at reading his endless ads and interviews.
The pre-election coverage in the state-run media primarily contained material in favor of one or another candidate. Most frequently it was Kadyrov. By printing all his interviews and speeches, this became a direct campaign to get people to vote for a strong authority. All else was done through indirect advertising through Kadyrov’s own electoral fund, and frequent reprints about him from the Russian mass media.
Material that favored other candidates usually contained their photos, biographies, and pre-electoral platforms that were meant to appeal to various segments of society, e.g. the young generation, students, pensioners, etc.
The independent press did not take part in Kadyrov’s media campaign, at least not to such an extent. Although the Groznensky rabochi, which received a publishing grant from the Soros Fund, set prices for placing ads on its pages, it did not print any paid advertisements that favored one particular candidate.
Only the article in the October 3 issue, “Where the Asphalt Ends” could be considered to be obviously pro-Kadyrov. But by and large, the newspaper paid scant attention to the presidential elections, although they did print the story of a dispute within the Chechen Election Commission, when one of the commission members was suspected of being related to Malik Saidullayev.
The Golos Chechenskoi Respubliki didn’t publish any pre-election articles either, except one at the start of the campaign, and that was about Jabrailov, one of the candidates. But being primarily concerned with the election itself, they wrote analysis about the Chechen situation on the eve of the elections, and published data supplied by the Chechen Election Commission.
Of all the independent newspapers, Chechenskoye obshchestvo gave the most extensive coverage to the elections. The paper described the steps taken by the candidates, even those who had been withdrawn, analyzed pre-election issues, published opinions of human rights defenders opposing the elections, and regularly polled individual sectors of the populace for their views. Yet they also published three paid electioneering articles, one about Malik Saidullayev and two that indirectly favored Kadyrov.
Translated by Prague Watchdog.