Raf Shakirov, the editor of Russia's Izvestia daily, speaks to the media in Moscow in this 2000 photo.
updated 9/6/2004 7:33:53 PM ET 2004-09-06T23:33:53

The editor of Russia’s respected Izvestia daily said Monday he was stepping down in a dispute with his publisher over the paper’s critical coverage of the school hostage standoff, including its publication of graphic pictures of wounded and dead children and other victims.

The editor, Raf Shakirov, said in an interview with Radio Liberty he had published a sensational photo spread of victims in Saturday’s edition, the day after hundreds died in the siege, to convey “this is a war.”

“The leadership of Prof-Media (Izvestia’s publisher) and I disagreed on the format of this issue. It is considered too emotional and poster-like, and in general papers aren’t made like that,” Shakirov said, according to an interview transcript published on the Web site www.newsru.com.

“We did it ... proceeding from our perception of what this means for the country. And actually this perception proved to be right — that this is a war,” Shakirov said. “Nevertheless, I am forced to resign from this position.”

Prof-Media declined to comment on Shakirov’s exit, and The Associated Press could not reach Shakirov for comment. Izvestia posted a brief news report about Shakirov’s resignation on its Web site.

Government criticized
Some have criticized the government for initially trying to ward off public anger over the school crisis by seeking to downplay its extent — including by avoiding graphic images. Other newspapers have shown gruesome photos of the violence that ended the standoff on Friday, but Izvestia is one of Russia’s most prominent papers. Government television held off from showing any strong images until late.

Slideshow: Showdown The gunmen seized the school on Wednesday in the southern town of Beslan, holding nearly 1,200 children, parents and teachers hostage until Russian forces stormed the building Friday. More than 300 hostages died, about half of them children, and more than 700 were wounded during the violence Friday.

Izvestia published some of the most thorough and probing accounts of the crisis and was among the first Russian media outlets to cast doubt on the government’s statement that about 350 hostages were being held in the school.

Analysts have speculated that in the aftermath of the tragedy, the state would strengthen control over society and the media. Shakirov’s exit appeared to be one of the first steps.

“Judging from what is being said, and based on my information, it was the Saturday issue of Izvestia, which contained page-wide photos about what was happening in Beslan,” Anna Kachkayeva, a TV analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told The Associated Press.

“This very emotional and harsh coverage ran counter to someone in the authorities and the shareholders were asked to take measures,” she said.

Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center, said, however, it was still unclear whether Shakirov’s exit was a move “by a fearful owner or it is the new state policy.”

Izvestia is one of Russia’s largest daily newspapers, with a circulation of 234,500. It is run by Prof-Media, owned by metals magnate Vladimir Potanin.

Lipman said Shakirov’s resignation was yet another illustration of a “quite strange situation” in the Russian media — the state’s total control over television channels, contrasting with lively and critical newspaper reporting.

Shakirov named editor in October
Shakirov, 44, was named Izvestia’s chief editor in October. He is widely respected for his journalistic and managerial skills, gained by running several television programs and editing the respected Kommersant daily. Shakirov was also responsible for launching and managing the popular Gazeta daily, after which he moved to Izvestia.

Also Monday, Russian authorities detained the Moscow bureau chief of the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya on his way to Moscow from Beslan, where he was covering the hostage crisis, a producer at the bureau told AP.

Amro Abdel Hamid was detained at the airport in the southern Russian city of Mineralniye Vody, the producer said on condition of anonymity. The producer said he was not told of the reason for his detention.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili asked the Russian government for the release of a two journalists from the independent Georgian channel Rustavi-2 who was detained in Beslan while covering the school hostage crisis.

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