Russia cracks old whip at foreign press

I felt that old déjà vu when Vladimir Putin banned ABC News from operating in Russia. It was the first official crackdown on foreign journalists since Soviet times. In 1958, the CBS Moscow bureau, which I'd opened, was ordered closed by Nikita Khrushchev's government, enraged over a Playhouse Ninety production, "The Plot to Kill Stalin," which suggested Khrushchev had been complicit in Stalin's death. We tried, in vain, to explain that CBS News had no connection with CBS Entertainment. The bureau stayed closed for two years.

ABC's sin, in the Kremlin's eyes, was broadcasting an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, who has a $10 million price on his head. The interview was obtained by a Russian freelancer. No matter. Mr. Putin wasn't amused. The Ministry of Interior said the interview amounted to "propaganda for terrorism."

Press freedom, generally speaking, hasn't fared well in the post-Soviet era. The main networks have been brought under government control. Media tycoons have gone to jail for offenses like tax evasion, which is commonplace in Russia. An editor for Forbes was murdered.

The organization Reporters Without Borders has labeled Putin a "predator of press freedom." Apparently, the Russians are sensitive to criticism and have found a response. The English-language Moscow News headlines: "Russians Quick to Criticize US Hypocrisy." That refers to Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to disclose a confidential source. The Russian Ministry of Interior, which has done some boning up on the First Amendment, says that a journalist's right to keep his sources secret is "a part of the press freedom mechanism in a democratic society."

Ms. Miller will surely be encouraged to know she has a stalwart defender in the Kremlin.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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