The Russian Peculiarity

Friday, June 22, 2007

Outright censorship is not the only challenge facing critical Russian journalists. Some dissident voices and investigative reporters are silenced, but others are just ignored. The Russian public has been largely apathetic, with little appetite for tenacious journalism. Reporters, editors, journalist advocates, former propagandists and current state supporters explain the stakes and costs of freedom of the press.

Vladimir Posner was an unofficial Soviet spokesperson during the Cold War. He’s now a free-speech proponent.

Anastasia Izumskaya quit the Russia News Service after being told that a half of her stories would have to be "positive."

Igor Yakovenko is the head of the Russian Union of Journalists, with more then 100,000 members throughout Russia.

Oleg Panfilov is a journalist, historian and founder of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

Sergei Sokolov is the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta which, since 2000, has lost three reporters under suspicious circumstances.

Andrei Richter is the director of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Center.

Alexander Prokhanov is a newspaper publisher and an ultra-nationalist commentator for radio station Echo Moskvy.

Comments [2]

Ethan Zuckerman from Lanesboro, Massachusetts

Excellent, excellent show. One small quibble - Brooke describes Russia as the most dangerous country for journalists outside of Iraq. That unfortunate distinction belongs to the Philippines, where violence against reporters who expose local corruption has become endemic. (Please see this release from the International News Safety Institute: It would be exciting to see OTM focus on this tragic situation in the Philippines, and organizations like the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism that are working to keep a free press alive. (Please see:

Ethan Zuckerman
co-founder, Global Voices

Jul. 09 2007 04:59 PM
Dmitry from New York City

With Russia’s last free election, the free speech experiment ended.

The election was eleven years ago, but it is still relevant today. The degree to which Russian journalists did everything in their power to re-elect Boris Yeltsin—including cooperating with his campaign team, spreading rumors about the Communist party and making sure Yeltsin appears regularly on television in a positive light—was hardly mentioned, if at all, in all the recent obituaries and editorials about him.

Yet the 1996 election was a turning point, and it placed the media into an uncomfortable position: help an unpopular president get re-elected or go back to communism. Many journalists did what they thought was the right thing to do. As the press raised Yeltsin’s popularity from below five percent to above 50, Vladimir Putin, then largely unknown, took notice. The lesson was clear: get the press on your side and people will believe what they’re told. Of course, this is not a new lesson, but the specifics were different, especially when it came to television.

“Yeltsin made news that we helped him create,” said Igor Malashenko, who at the time was president of NTV, one of the top three Russian television networks. Malashenko said he regularly met with Yeltsin’s campaign team, including his speechwriters, and even discussed the kinds of sound bites he thought would be best. The networks wanted to get Yeltsin out to the country, even to the Far East, and for people to see him holding babies, shaking hands and even dancing. They also wanted to see him giving many speeches. But Yeltsin was not a great orator, so Malashenko bought him a teleprompter from the States. “In Russia, there were no teleprompters,” Malashenko admitted.

The media helped Yeltsin on many levels, and it was a serious effort—Russians can be nauseatingly nostalgic. The Ne Day Bog (God Forbid) newspaper was exclusively set up to re-elect Yeltsin. In fact, most papers—with the exception of communist publications like Sovetskaya Rossiya (Soviet Russia) and Zavtra (Tomorrow)—gave Yeltsin positive coverage. (Some of the journalists hired to write those positive pieces were known as “gold pens.”) In addition, rumors of communist training camps where young men were taught armed combat were widely discussed on television and in print. And some news, like Yeltsin’s major heart attack before the final round of voting, was simply withheld.

...story continues on DMITRYKIPER.WORDPRESS.COM

Jun. 23 2007 11:35 AM

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