Thursday, August 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Rights Group Protests Radio Liberty’s Giving Air Time to Extremists

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 7 – The Moscow Human Rights Bureau today called on U.S.-funded Radio Liberty and domestic stations which support democracy not to give air time to racists and “ultra-right” extremists lest the stations not only enable such people to spread their poisonous views but even legitimize their ideas in the minds of many impressionable radio listeners.
The appeal, which was written by the bureau’s head Aleksandr Brod and featured on the bureau’s website, argues that these stations, who invite such “national radicals” in their pursuit of higher ratings are giving these enemies of democracy a larger audience and exacerbating ethnic tensions there (
Until recently, the appeal begins, only “marginal media of the ultra-right kind” engaged in this most unfortunate form of “the ratings disease” by inviting national radicals to appear on their programs, appearances that did in fact boost their ratings even if it had other consequences as well.
But in recent months, this “disease has spread to central television channels and radio stations,” including those like Radio Liberty and Ekho Moskvy which enjoy a reputation for supporting free discussion and democracy rather than spreading the noxious ideals of anti-immigrant groups or anti-American activists.
Recently, the appeal continues, Ekho Moskvy had Islamist Geydar Dzhemal and Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) head Aleksandr Belov on its programs. And Radio Liberty gave an entire hour to former Duma deputy Andrey Savel’yev, “whose chauvinist and racist views are well-known.”
“It is not difficult to understand that the utility of such discussions and interviews to society varies between zero and the sharply negative,” the appeal says. Young Russians listening to such programming, Brod’s center said, could in some cases take exactly the same kind of actions that “racist Internet sites” advocate.
“The organizers of the airwaves cannot fail to understand this,” the appeal acknowledges, but their argument that they invite such people not to help spread the ideas of the latter but rather to ensure that all points of view are presented and thus to allow the extremists to expose the weakness of their positions relative to those of others.
Russian society does need “a free discussion” of ideas and “does not need censorship,” the appeal says. Indeed, the Moscow Human Rights Bureau in this case as in others argues that it is a good thing to have arguments “between liberals and conservatives, between ‘backers of the state’ and radical democrats, and among representatives of the most varied political views.”
“The most varied,” the Bureau says, “but not all. For any society, in order to preserve itself should defend itself from the ideas of racism, racism, and hatred of everything human. Especially” under conditions like those in contemporary Russia where such ideas are “directly” applied in the streets.
Giving national radicals air time, as Radio Liberty and Ekho Moskvy have in recent months, “gives birth not only to phobias and fears about the future but pushes people toward anti-social actions” -- including the kind of racist violence than in the Russian Federation alone has claimed “no more than 80” lives.
Why then, the Moscow Human Rights Bureau asks, “are democratic radio stations inviting guests who are anything but democratically inclined guests” to appeal on their programs.” There is one obvious “cause” – “a striving to increase the ratings of [these] radio stations.”
And in fact, the appeal suggests, including such radicals does attract an audience, especially since the radicals speak in the kind of simplified sound-bite language that provides apparently simple answers to what are inherently complicated social and political problems, thus further compromising political discourse in Russia.
But these stations have “a civic responsibility” to promote just the reverse, to provide people with “objective information, make them more humane, wiser and better.” Indeed, “the single chance for the development of the democratic movement in Russia is again the struggle with xenophobia and the imposition of controls on chauvinist and racist attitudes.”
Unfortunately, the appeal concludes, what is taking place now “is just the reverse: Each day we hear about murders and beatings of those whose skin is a different color, who follow a different faith, or who have different political views.” In that environment, “liberal media outlets have a responsibility,” which, if they do not exercise it, could lead to their own destruction.

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