Threats to Press Freedom in Russia: At a First-of-Its-Kind Conference in Moscow, Problems Are Exposed. (Curator's Corner).(Brief Article)(Column)

By Giles, Bob | Nieman Reports, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Threats to Press Freedom in Russia: At a First-of-Its-Kind Conference in Moscow, Problems Are Exposed. (Curator's Corner).(Brief Article)(Column)


Giles, Bob, Nieman Reports


In Vladimir Putin's Russia, a fear unknown since Soviet rule collapsed a decade ago has cast a chill over the federation's news media.

It represents a stark reversal of the freedoms that began with the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and the radical changes in the early years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, when a liberated press represented the brightest aspirations of the Russian people.

Evidence of Putin's desire to control the ownership of Russian media and the content of its independent news organizations echoed through a two-day conference in Moscow in early February. High on the agenda was the decision of state authorities to shut down TV6, an independent network, and a move by a state-owned gas monopoly to take over the board of an independent radio station, Echo of Moscow, that had given employment to the journalists who lost their jobs when TV6 was closed.

These were coalescing influences that brought more than 300 newspaper editors, state television directors, independent journalists, representatives of the regional Russian press, and U.S. experts on Russia together in Moscow for a candid discussion of the threats to media freedom. It was the first time people in journalism from across the broad reaches of this huge country had come together to discuss the hard nature of their work and the growing recognition that the regional press is now facing the same coercive powers of the state as the media in Moscow.

The sponsors of the conference included the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard, the Nieman Foundation, the journalism faculty at Moscow State University, and a small, liberal Russian political party, the Union of Right Forces (SPS). The core partners were unsure about collaborating with SPS because of its overtly political nature, explained Timothy Colton, director of the Davis Center, but "we came to feel it was our best bet because the party truly cared about the issue, and they were willing to open the event to all."

Several villains of contemporary Russian journalism showed up, including Minister of Mass Media, Mikhail Lesin; Boris Jordan, director general of the independent network NTV, and television commentators who exposed themselves to criticism from the podium and the audience for distorted reporting.

Boris Nemtsov, head of SPS, a deputy prime minister under Yeltsin and a man thought to have his own presidential ambitions, said the state of the regional press in Russia is "acute" because the majority of publications are controlled by politicians. …

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