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Basayevs Nightline Interview Irks Russia

Published: August 2, 2005 (Issue # 1092)


MOSCOW The Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. Embassys top official and politicians expressed outrage after a U.S. television network broadcast an interview with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who has a $10 million bounty on his head and has claimed responsibility for the Beslan school hostage-taking and other terrorist attacks.

Basayev acknowledged in the interview that he was a terrorist and repeated his earlier statements that he might order more Beslan-style attacks. But he softened his rhetoric by noticeably avoiding loaded words such as jihad and infidels.

The taped interview was broadcast on ABC televisions Nightline late Thursday night and was conducted by Andrei Babitsky, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist who has complained about Russian harassment over previous reports about Chechnya.

Moscow is very sensitive to domestic and foreign media giving a voice to Chechen rebels, whom it equates with international terrorists, and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Sunday that he was barring military personnel from contact with ABC.

The Foreign Ministry on Friday summoned the U.S. Embassys deputy chief of mission, Daniel Russell, to convey our views over the broadcast of an interview with a terrorist, ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said.

The network has shown outrageous neglect of the standards of responsible journalism and general human values, he said in a statement on the ministrys web site.

The embassy confirmed that Russell had been summoned but declined further comment. Russell is the top U.S. official in Russia after Ambassador Alexander Vershbow left in mid-July. The next ambassador has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

ABC, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company, stood by its decision to air the interview on Sunday. ABC News will continue to report fully on news from Russia and that important region, it said in an e-mailed statement.

ABC also said it had offered the Russian government an opportunity to participate in Nightline or a future broadcast and the offer was declined.

Host Ted Koppel said on Nightline that viewers had the right to hear the viewpoint of any newsmaker. Then we can reject or accept it, condemn it or embrace it, he said, according to a transcript of the program. No one should have the authority to make that decision for us. Not our own government, and certainly not somebody elses.

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