Monday, 21 September 2009

The decision of Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov to enter two horses – Mourilyan has been entered in the Melbourne Cup and Bankable in the Mackinnon Stakes - will surely cause a thousand earnest hearts to flutter. Oops! The word just popped out; apologies.

But it’s worth noting that while The Sydney Morning Herald featured a two-page story yesterday on the debacle – which includes Senator Bob Brown calling for the horses to be banned due to Kadyrov’s abysmal human rights record - The Herald Sun website didn’t feature the story on its front page.

Possibly hard-bitten editors in our southern capital thought a story with mad Greenie Brown as its hero must be suspect.

Assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politskovskaya dubbed Kadyrov the “new Stalin” a short time before she was gunned down in October 2006. Six months after the killing a memorial ceremony was held in Moscow.

Kadyrov is thought by knowledgeable commentators and human rights experts to have been involved in her murder.

The Australian website ran a story on Kadyrov’s Melbourne Cup aspirations, but there was no front-page headline until 5.15pm, by which time Brown’s opinion had become news. To find it before then you had to do a text search. As Fairfax had featured the story, this is not surprising, in an odd sort of media-rivalry way. It goes to show how commercial considerations can influence the placement of even important stories.

The Age, Fairfax’s Melbourne broadsheet, carried the story on their website yesterday in the sports section only. Even The Sydney Morning Herald pulled the story off its front page after a couple of hours, making it virtually invisible without a text search. The racing fraternity is powerless to block the entries.

Racing Victoria's chief steward Terry Bailey said it was powerless to prevent Mr Kadyrov's English-trained horses - due to arrive in Melbourne on October 10 - from competing.

''When owners run in Victoria they have to declare any criminal convictions and we then assess whether they are suitable,'' he said. ''As I understand it, Kadyrov doesn't have any convictions and, given the horses have raced in other jurisdictions around the world, we wouldn't have any reason to stop them coming.''

The Herald Sun, News Ltd’s Melbourne tabloid, is remiss in not more-highly featuring the story, which would doubtless appeal to readers’ distrust of Russia, which strongly supports Kadyrov’s regime. It is surprising that the editors think that the pending visit by a former St Kilda Australian Rules team captain to the upcoming Grand Final match is worth more attention than whether the Australian Governor-General may present the Melbourne Cup to an accused war criminal.

Strangely, The Courier-Mail, News Ltd’s Brisbane tabloid, ran the story at 11pm the previous day, the same time The Herald Sun ran it. But again there’s no front-page feature.

There’s plenty of information available on the dangers reporters face in the country Kadyrov leads, including a piece published last Thursday on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The piece describes the death on July 15 of Politskovskaya’s friend, journalist Natalya Estemirova.

Politskovskaya was shot in the lobby of her apartment building in Moscow. Estemirova was abducted from outside her home and was found shot in the heart and the head and found 50 miles away. She had received a warning from Kadyrov two days before her death. Terry Gould writes:

Defying death threats from government militias and a personal warning from the Chechen president, on July 13, Estemirova gave an interview to the Caucasian Knot news agency about her latest exposé of killings and house burnings committed by representatives of the Chechen regime.

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