Canadian hosts news program in Chechnya

By Patrick Martin

Dressed in a cream jacket and a patterned head scarf, the anchor turns to the camera and says in perfect English: "Good afternoon, this is Chrystal Callahan for Grozny TV."

Callahan, a Canadian model and documentary director, began presenting an English-language news show on a Grozny television channel on Sunday.

The news show, "Highlights of the World With Chrystal Callahan," which is posted on the web site, runs for 15 minutes. Callahan is the anchor, while some other journalists speak off-screen.

The lead item in the first show was about Taiwanese doctors who traveled to Chechnya to treat children with cerebral palsy. The camera showed a huge portrait of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on a building. Kadyrov was also featured prominently in person, talking to the camera and shaking hands with a little girl.

Over clips of smiling women holding babies, a journalist said, "All expenses are being covered by the president of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov."

Some locals are disgruntled about the news show.

"Who is interested in listening to a program in English, even if it is hosted by a Canadian model?" one local man, Vakha Alayev, complained to the Kavkazky Uzel web site.

Callahan was hired as an anchor after voicing a desire to work in Chechnya, said Said-Selim Abdulmuslimov, the director of Grozny television.

"Callahan has come to the Chechen Republic several times already, and when she came the last time she expressed a wish to work here," Abdulmuslimov said in comments published on the Chechen government web site.

A photograph on the Chechen government's web site shows Callahan bareheaded standing in front of a fountain.

She previously traveled to the republic in 2008 to present a documentary she made in Chechnya about Greco-Roman wrestlers, "Greco-Roman Grozny," Russia Today reported. The film was shown at the republic's first-ever film festival.

The festival's web site describes Callahan as the film's director and producer. The biography says she was born in Toronto and became a model in her teens.

Little additional information was available about Callahan, who could not be reached by phone or e-mail on Tuesday.

Her show is supported by Kadyrov and the Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency, the Chechnya Today web site reported. Grozny television can be watched abroad via satellite.

Russia set up the English-language satellite channel Russia Today in 2005 in an attempt to improve the country's image abroad.

10 June 2009 — Return to cover.