The Foreign Ministry's decision not to extend the accreditation of ABC television journalists appears to be meant as a reminder to all foreign journalists not to cross a line when writing about Chechnya and especially rebel leaders.
But it is unlikely to change foreign media coverage about Russia or even have much effect on ABC.
Journalists, including Russian nationals, employed by foreign media organizations cannot work legally in Russia without accreditation.
The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that this was the violation committed by Andrei Babitsky, the journalist with Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who interviewed warlord Shamil Basayev in Chechnya in June.
A ministry official said Babitsky was required by law to obtain two forms of accreditation: one from the Foreign Ministry and the other from the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for areas that are designated as zones of counterterrorism operations, Interfax reported.
Babitsky, who said he obtained the interview on his own time, offered it to ABC, which broadcast it despite Russian objections last Thursday.
The last time the ministry denied accreditation to a foreign journalist was in early 2000, when Frank Hoefling, a German reporter with N24 television, "falsified news reports from Chechnya," ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said Wednesday.
Authorities accused Hoefling of stealing graphic photographs and a film depicting dead bodies in Chechnya that had been taken by Russian journalists and presenting them on N24 as evidence of the brutality of federal troops against Chechen civilians.
The ministry official said several foreign journalists had been denied accreditation or not had their accreditation extended in recent years, but refused to elaborate.
Several foreign reporters interviewed for this report acknowledged that they had traveled to Chechnya without obtaining Interior Ministry accreditation, which would have immediately restricted their movements to officially approved routes and limited the independence of their reporting.
By doing this, reporters put themselves at risk of losing their Foreign Ministry accreditation and permission to continue working in Russia.
While most earlier denials were done quietly, the ABC decision is a warning to foreign and Russian journalists to curb their professional zeal when writing about Chechnya and terrorism, said Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. "It is clearly a demonstrative action," he said.
Dmitry Orlov, an analyst with the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, said authorities were overreacting in an attempt to show the Russian public how strong Russia is in its dealings with the Americans.
"In fact, it is clear to everyone that this whole brouhaha will most likely pass unnoticed by most Americans," he said.
Makarenko said it was only a matter of time before the Foreign Ministry allowed new ABC reporters to work in Russia, noting that the ministry had left open the door to the possibility that it will issue accreditation to any ABC journalists who replace the current staff.
"It is not a question of giving or not giving accreditation to ABC; it is a question of doing it a year or two from now," he said.
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