Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it will not renew permission for ABC-TV to report in the country after the network broadcast an interview with a Chechen rebel leader.
In a statement, the ministry said ABC is considered “undesirable” by all Russian state agencies because of an interview with Shamil Basayev, which was broadcast last week on “Nightline.”
The ministry called the broadcast a “clear fact supporting the propaganda of terrorism” and said it “resounded with direct calls for violence against Russian citizens.”
As a result, the ministry said it decided “not to renew the accreditations of employees of this television company after they expire.”
The Foreign Ministry is in charge of authorizing foreign media outlets to work in Russia, and the decision effectively bars ABC from working here.
ABC News President David Westin said he was hopeful the Russian government would reconsider its decision but defended the network’s report.
“The Russian people have suffered greatly at the hands of Chechen terrorists. No civilized people can condone the murder of innocent civilians,” he said in a statement.
“The mission of a free press is to cover news events even those involving illegal acts to help our audience better understand the important issues that confront us all. ABC News deeply regrets the action taken by the Russian government … but we cannot allow any government to deter us from reporting the news fully and accurately.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said any decision that limited ABC’s operations in Russia would be unfortunate.
“I think we believe that ABC as well as all other members of the media should have the opportunity for freedom of expression and have the right to report as they see fit,” Casey said.
On Friday, the Foreign Ministry summoned a top U.S. diplomat to protest the interview with Basayev, who has claimed responsibility for some of Russia’s most notorious terrorist attacks, including last year’s hostage taking at a school in Beslan, which ended in the deaths of more than 330 children and adults.
In the interview conducted by Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, Basayev, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, said he was planning more attacks.
Among other attacks, Basayev has been linked to a 2002 hostage-taking assault on a Moscow theater that left 170 people dead, a 2003 suicide attack in the Moscow subway that killed 41 people, and a 2003 double suicide bombing at a Moscow rock concert that killed 17 people.
The ministry suggested that the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty, whom Babitsky works for, would face new problems.
“It’s also worth nothing that in Moscow attention has been paid to the fact that the interview with the terrorist was conducted by A. Babitsky, a Radio Liberty staffer, in violation of the Russian law, without a corresponding accreditation,” the ministry said. “Circumstances of organizing and receiving this interview are yet to be cleared with his employer.”
In previous reports from Chechnya, Babitsky has focused on human rights abuses by Russian troops. Russian authorities have accused him of being a Chechen sympathizer.