Vienna, April 26 – In its fifth annual survey of electronic and print media freedom across the Russian Federation, the Glasnost Defense Foundation reports that there is not a single region in which the media are “completely free” and that the country-wide state of media freedom has deteriorated over the last five years.
At a seminar in St. Petersburg on Friday, the media watchdog organization presented its latest “Glasnost” map based on data collected in all Russian regions (except Chukotka) between March 2009 and February 2010, one that provides far more information that those that rate the situation in the Russian Federation as a whole (www.gdf.ru/lenta/item/1/727).
And what is especially unfortunate, officials of the press watchdog said, is that not only has the overall situation deteriorated but “during these years there has not appeared a zone where the press is free” as one might expect even considering the overall decline. Instead, in almost all, the situation has gotten worse (www.newsru.com/russia/23apr2010/fzg.html).
In 16 subjects of the Federation, including Daghestan, Kamchatka, Novosibirsk, Tomsk and St. Petersburg, the press is “relatively free.” In 44, including Adgyeya, Tuva, Arkhangelsk, Magadan, and the city of Moscow, the press is “relatively unfree.” And in 22 regions, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Khabarovsk kray, and Kaluga, it is “unfree.”
The map of media freedom the Foundation provided highlights three things: First, there is a mix of media freedom in every part of the country. Second, the status of media freedom does not divide along ethnic lines. And third, how free the media are appears to depend more on specific leaders than on anything else.
Boris Timoshenko, the head of the regional network of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, suggested that a major reason for the decline in media freedom in the regions was the elimination of elections for governors. When that happened, the situation with regard to the media tended to deteriorate (svpressa.ru/politic/article/24404/).
In both relatively free and unfree subjects, he continued, “the situation is such that one must not criticize the local leadership” now. “But if you like you can criticize neighbors or even the federal center.” Journalists understand that “the main thing is not to such the local bosses and all will be well.”
Across the country, there in practice is “self-censorship” with unwritten “black” lists of people that journalists must not mention or talk about. “Besides this, people themselves perfectly well understand what is to be published, what is to write, and concerning what one should turn away.”
As such self-censorship has spread, “there have been fewer serious criminal attacks on journalists,” Timoshenko said. “They haven’t stopped, unfortunately.” Five journalists were killed in Russia over the last year. But that should not lead anyone to conclude that the situation in Russia is getting better. Just the reverse is the case.
“In North Korea and in Saudi Arabia, they do not kill journalists,” Timoshenko pointed out. “There is no need. And in the Soviet Union they did not kill them; there wasn’t any need there either.” Only in the 1990s when “freedom was unlimited” regarding publication did violence go up. Now, both are declining, because people reflect before writing certain things.
When the oligarchs were involved in the media, there was more freedom as well, Timoshenko continued, but now things are worse. One can even speak of “a certain zombification” of journalists. “In a word,” he commented, “a situation like the one in North Korea is clearly visible on the horizon.”