DATE=6/16/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=IS KREMLIN MUZZLING RUSSIA'S PRESS? NUMBER=6-11878 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: There is renewed worry in the United States newspaper editorials that Russia's new president, former K-G-B officer Vladimir Putin, has decided to clamp down on his country's press. A month ago, the government sent masked and heavily armed police to seize corporate records at the offices of one of the largest, independent newspaper and broadcasting companies. The president of the same company, Vladimir Gusinsky, was arrested on embezzlement charges this week and held for three days before being released. Officials said that despite his release, Mr. Gusinsky, still faces embezzlement charges. Some government critics in Russia and most of the U-S press feel the charges are false and that the real reason for the arrest was to muzzle Russia's independent press. We get a sampling of how the U-S press views the latest developments we hear now from ___________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: The event that has so upset and offended so many U-S newspapers was the arrest of 47-year-old Vladimir Gusinsky, who owns Media-Most, which runs an independent Moscow Radio station, a T-V station and the newspaper Segodnya. All have been highly critical of the Russian government's conduct in the Chechen civil war. Critics of the Putin administration, up to and including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, fear the arrest, and an earlier raid at Media-Most by government agents, is retribution. The worry in the United States is that the arrest and raid were also designed to send a message to the rest of Russia's emerging news media -- that no criticism of the government will be tolerated. We begin our sampling with excerpts of a column in Friday's [6/16] Philadelphia Inquirer, by Trudy Rubin, the newspaper's senior foreign affairs analyst. The headline reads: "Putin muzzling media," and our excerpt begins with an old U-S saying: VOICE: In [President] Putin's case, it appears you can take the man out of the K-G-B but you can't take the K-G-B out of the man. That's the only conclusion one can logically draw from [Mr.] Putin's reaction to the arrest in Moscow on Tuesday [6/13] of Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of Russia's lone independent television station, N-T-V. The Russian leader told journalists he knew nothing about the matter, which conveniently occurred just after he had left Russia. [Mr.] Putin also insisted that he saw "no political aspect in this affair." Nothing political? The jailing of [Mr.] Gusinsky, whose (T-V) station has been critical of Putin's Kremlin is a throwback to the bad old Soviet days before glasnost. ... This sends a clear message that anyone who dares criticize the Kremlin should expect trouble. It also sends some very disquieting signals about [Mr.] Putin the man and whether he can provide the leadership Russia so desperately needs. TEXT: Florida's Miami Herald sums up its thoughts and fears about the news with an editorial headline reading: "Beware The Thought Police." VOICE: Dictators know that to control people they must first control the portals to their minds, or more specifically, the media. Accordingly, in Russia this week a leading media critic of new President Vladimir Putin has been jailed on dubious embezzlement charges. In Cuba, where thought suppression has been honed for four decades, Spanish-language publishing firms are acquiescing to a steep entry fee for access to Havana's bookshelves -- censorship by the communist regime. Neither development is acceptable. ... supporters from all sectors have rallied to Mr. Gusinsky's defense, including leading businessmen, Russian journalists, Putin supporters, President Clinton and Jewish groups who fear that Mr. Gusinsky may have been targeted because he heads the Russian Jewish Congress. TEXT: The Tulsa [Oklahoma] World is another worried U-S daily. VOICE: Press freedom is a cornerstone of democracy as practiced in the United States, the world's model democracy. But while the news media in Russia are no longer exclusively organs of the state or ruling party, true press freedom has not yet arrived. Earlier this week, Vladimir Gusinsky, who owns a T-V station and newspapers that criticize the Russian government on the Chechen war, civil rights and corruption, was arrested on charges of swindling and theft. ... [President] Putin ... denied the arrest was motivated by revenge. ... stifling a critical press ... just can't happen in free countries. TEXT: The Chicago Tribune calls the event "An ominous arrest" adding: VOICE: [President] Putin has vowed to rebuild the state and to root out corruption. But jailing Vladimir Gusinsky ... is an unwise place to begin. The as-yet-unfiled charges may well be legitimate. That's not the issue here. The highly irregular circumstances of the arrest of such an outspoken critic of the government stink of soviet-era repression. This is not how democracy works and [President] Putin knows it. The uproar over [Mr.] Gusinsky's arrest is overshadowing the president's first official trip to Europe ... TEXT: In New England, The Boston Globe says of the arrest: VOICE: ...[it] looks like a crude effort to punish or intimidate critics of President ... Putin's government. ... [it belies] his carefully crafted image as president of a new Russia founded upon equal justice for all. TEXT: As far as this country's preeminent financial daily, The Wall Street Journal, is concerned: VOICE: The arrest Tuesday of mogul Vladimir Gusinsky is either the first salvo in a Kremlin war against rent-seeking oligarchs or a return to the Soviet-era practice of taking political prisoners. It was either carried out with the knowledge of the Russian president, or (as he says) it was done behind his back while he is on a foreign trip. However you serve it, it doesn't look good. TEXT: In an editorial that closely resembles the Journal's thoughts, The Los Angeles Times searches for some good that may come out of this incident. VOICE: If there is a silver lining to [Mr.] Gusinsky's unexpected arrest, it is the massive protest it triggered in Moscow, not only among journalists but politicians and the business community as well. ... [President] Putin ... must realize that the threat to democracy in Russia comes not from a critical press but from those within his own government who try to muzzle it. /// OPT /// TEXT: Finally, these thoughts from Boston's Christian Science Monitor. VOICE: Single acts in the name of justice can offer insights about a nation. Bill Clinton's impeachment, for instance, says something about honesty in America. Britain's detention of Augusto Pinochet, the ex-dictator of Chile, speaks of concern for human rights. Indonesia's arrest of former strongman Suharto reveals a respect for the rule of law. This week, an arrest in Russia ... [serves] as [a window] on the primary concerns of leaders [there]. ... Vladimir Gusinsky's many media outlets have been critical in their commentary about Kremlin actions, such as war in Chechnya. ... If [President] Putin did not have a hand in the arrest, then his ability to rule is in doubt. If he did, Russia's claim to be part of civilized Europe is also in doubt. TEXT: With those thoughts, we conclude this sampling of U-S editorial comment on the arrest this week of a major media industry executive in Russia. NEB/ANG/JP 16-Jun-2000 14:48 PM EDT (16-Jun-2000 1848 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .