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The End of Russian Journalism By: James McConalogue
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 26, 2007

A respected Russian media analyst, Irada Guseynova, has spoken out on the continued suppression of the freedom of speech and independent journalism within Russia both before and after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

In an October, 2006 correspondence with a reporter, Guseynova – analyst at the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) – made some chilling observations on the months prior to the brutal murder of the courageous journalist and 48-year-old mother of two, Anna Politkovskaya.


“Colleagues and friends repeatedly warned Anna that she should not touch the theme of the Chechen Republic and special services, but she continued to write persistently about it. We repeatedly told her that it is very dangerous” she said.


However, this scenario is not a new epoch in the independence of Russian journalism. The media analyst cited the seven year case of public intervention in which Putin’s supporters routed out opposing televised voices, through the intimidation and eventual purchase of NTV from 2000 to 2001 – now owned by Russia’s largest company, Gazprom. This left many leading Russian broadcast journalists with a basic choice: to work or to leave.


“So all of them have been put before a choice – to continue working with authorities or to remain a fair journalist,” she said.


The faith in democratic and independent journalism among journalists has reached a new low with some labeling Russia’s transitional democracy absolute “nonsense.” For Guseynova, Russia’s democratic institutions are clearly vacuous.


“[H]ere it is authorized to speak and criticize only that which is authorized by authority … Newspapers and magazines are usually bought by oligarchs, through which the control over TV and the newspaper is established,” said Guseynova.


The Russian journalist and critic of Vladimir Putin, Anna Politkovskaya, was found murdered at her apartment block on 7 October 2006. Director of the CJES, Oleg Panfilov, had already confirmed his view on the likelihood of the murder being related to the journalist’s views on Moscow intervention in Chechnya. "I have absolutely no doubt that the murder is in some way linked to the Chechen issue," he said.


A subsequent press release issued by CJES on 12 October openly declared the journalist’s murder to be part of a nationwide issue in the suppression of the national press. “Politkovskaya’s slaying reinforces Russia’s image as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists,” it said.


The newspaper for which Politkovskaya worked, Novaya Gazeta, also suggested the involvement of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed Chechen prime minister – who Anna Politkovskaya had openly criticised – or those seeking to discredit Kadyrov.


The Paris-based organisation, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), concluded in their end-of-year press round up that while three journalists had been killed in Russia during 2006, a total of 21 had been killed since Putin came to power in March 2000. It also reported how, under considerable pressure, the Kremlin has now assigned 150 detectives to the case.


The RSF also headed a petition of 12,175 signatories calling for an international investigation into the murder of the journalist. On 15 December, the petition was handed over to René van der Linden, the head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


The CJES and RSF are not alone in their condemnation. Independent writer and journalist organisations that have condemned the murder of Anna Politkovskaya include International PEN, PEN Canada, PEN American Center, Glasnost Defence Foundation, the World Association of Newspapers, Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Federation of Journalists.


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James McConalogue is an editor living and working in Oxford (UK). He is a regular contributing writer for a number of publications and organizations including The Brussels Journal (Belgium) and CIVITAS (UK).

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