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In a time where freedom of information is on decline all around the world, the Nordic states remain on top of the list over countries with the highest level of press freedom.
Hundreds of Norwegians and Russians arrived in the first week of February in the town of Kirkenes on the Russian-Norway border to see the spectacular installations, to visit unusual exhibitions and to speculate about the future of the Arctic territories at the international art festival Barents Spektakel.
Journalism in Russia: study experience
The Big Sleep
Grigory Shvedov is sitting in the middle of it all. A cafe with leather sofas and lighting that follows the beat of the music. It is in cafes like this, the ''don't cares'' go, according to Shvedov. They are the Russian journalism's biggest enemy.
Murder. Corruption. Propaganda. Everyday issues to Russian journalists. But their biggest problem is far more widespread: the Russian people.
Irina looks at her reflection in the mirror. It is way too early in the morning. Tunes from Radio 101 Dance fills the small apartment. In half an hour, Irina is supposed to be at work. She has to skip breakfast. The morning rush at the metro will take its time. She picks up the latest edition of Russian Cosmo at the news stand on Belorusskaya. Her tired eyes scan today’s newspapers. Corruption. Murder. Violence. Business as usual. Scandals, always scandals. She plugs ear phones into her Iphone. Tatu fills her ears as she goes online to check Facebook. A few more minutes of peace, before the day really begins.
The story about Irina is pure fiction. But according to the editor of online newspaper Caucasian Knot, Grigory Shvedov, people like Irina represent a major threat to Russian media. He is sitting at a café on Tverskaya Yamskaya, The Champs Élysées of Moscow. Here, the latte costs 60 kroner and the loud music makes it challenging to converse.
- It is places like this they go, the ones who do not care.
Shvedov musters a smile that never really reaches his eyes. His online newspaper focus on what he describes as balanced news from the northern part of Caucasus. They receive no financial aid from the Russian government.
- There are many ”don’t cares” in our society today. We made a survey if people would vote for Stalin today. To me, the major problem is not those who answer yes, but those who say “I do not care”.
According to Shvedov, the Russian people just do not care about what the journalists write. The public does not want any more disclosures or criticism of the state. And, of course, this weakens the Russian journalism.
Nadezhda Azhgikhina is thinking out loud that the lack of commitment among the Russian people is dangerous.
Many of Shvedov’s colleagues in Russian media supports his opinion. Nadezhda Azhgikhina is one of them. She is vice president of the Russian Journalist Organization (RUJ). In spite of it’s 100.000 members, RUJ is nowhere near as influential as its Norwegian counterpart (NJ).
- If you want to criticize the prime minister or the president, you are more than welcome to. Any small newspaper or TV network can do that. But no one cares. 99 percent of the time, nothing happens. It is far from a good sign when neither the people nor professionals do not care about what is reported. In my opinion, this is a result of many years of neglect and apathy.
Azhgikhina is referring to the Soviet age. Up until 1991, the government was in charge of everything; what colour your car should be, how you should live your life, and what type of news you were receiving.
- The majority of Russians are only interested in what is happening in their own lives. This has a lot to do with the fact that private life did not really exist before. When people finally got some level of privacy, they chose to strengthen their private sphere rather than being an active member of society. People should be able to live their lives as they choose, but they should also participate in politics and public debate, Azhgikhina says.
Do not want freedom
On a different floor of Zubovsky Boulevard no. 4, media activist and leader of Journalists in Extreme Situations in Moscow, Oleg Panfilov, is sitting at his office. He has his own theory on why the people do not read newspapers, take part in public debate, or fight for what they believe in through media.
- The readers do not want to be free. Freedom is something they have never had, and they do not know what it means to be free.
According to BBC, TV is the main source of information for most Russians. Today, the citizens of Russia can choose between 25 domestic TV networks. The state owned channels are dominating.
If the people want to watch independent channels, they have to pay for cable TV. Panfilov’s opinion is that the channels run by the government are the most popular because they are free of charge.
- The people must choose between buying quality news or bread. Of course they buy the bread, and watch TV for free.
Ren TV is one of Russia’s biggest private TV networks, with up to 100 million viewers a day.
Editor Maxim Troepolskiy partly agree with Panfilov. To him, the fact that the state owned broadcasters are free of charge, is not the only reason to their popularity:
- State channels have many followers in Russia because they show news the public wants to see. They make everyday news that not necessarily force the viewers to take a stand. The news are free of criticism.
Kremlin, the mighty
On Novaya Gazeta's premises in Moscow, even Vladimir Putin is reading the famous oppositional newspaper. - I do not think that any politicians read our paper, says editor of investigative journalism in the newspaper, Roman Shleynov.
Roman Shleynov is head of investigative journalism in the Moscow based newspaper Novaya Gazeta. In the western world, this newspaper is most known for having Anna Politovskaya on the payroll. She was murdered outside her apartment in 2006, a murder that made the news all over the world.
With a circulation of 100.000, the newspaper only reaches a fraction of the Russian population. Even still, it is the biggest newspaper in opposition to Kremlin. Shleynov fears that the government’s hostility towards media can spread to the rest of the population.
- Europe believe that journalism that is critical towards Kremlin, is dangerous. But it is too easy to blame Kremlin when a Russian reporter is killed. The truth is that the Kremlin does not care about what we write, they do not need to care.
As to this day, the Russian state owns a major part of the Russian press. In addition to owning three of the largest TV channels, they own the largest radio station, together with the majority of Russia’s newspapers. The economically independent media are outnumbered, and fighting a 300 year old tradition of governmental censorship.
Russia had just entered a new decade when tsar Peter the Great founded the country’s first newspaper in Moscow. The year was 1703, and the tsar himself performed the censorship. Russian journalism have been under governmental control, and been the voice of the state, ever since.
During the Soviet age, media’s mission was to awaken the patriotic spirit of the union. Any shred of criticism was removed from the public.
- Our biggest problem is that we have no tradition of press freedom. Not before the 1917 revolution, nor during the Soviet age. No one knew about the possibility of reporting like you do for instance in Norway. That is why the public still see newspapers and news in general, as propaganda. Just like during the Soviet age, says Oleg Panfilov.
Do not criticize the power
Anastasia Yakonyuk works for state owned TV Murmansk. In 2006, Chairman of the Russian Journalist Federation said: ''There are no journalists left in Russia, they are all turned in to propagandists''. Yakonyouk admits that she sometimes feels as a press secretary, someone forced to give the officials view on a topic.
Maxim Troepolskiy is standing on a roof at the fourth floor of the building housing Ren TV. Inside, the journalists are working on the news for today’s broadcasts. The previous night, a policeman shot three people at a supermarket in another part of Moscow.
- The state-channels register the news, but ask no critical questions to the politicians.
We try to find out where the weapon came from and how this could happen, says Troepolskiy.
He feels that their independent TV channel at times is just a showcase to the rest of the world.
- The state feels it can point to us when someone criticizes the media system, therefore we can do almost as we want to. I think that the authorities understand that there should be an opposition.
About 2000 miles further north, Anastasia Yakonyuk is working with an entirely different case. “Lenin” the icebreaker is accepting its first guests on tour, and as a journalist in TV Murmansk, Yakonyuk is on spot with a camera team. She has a daily struggle to remind herself that she works for ordinary people and their interests, not the authorities.
- I work for the state company. Usually, we are obliged to give the ''official'' point of view, but we are allowed to criticize local authorities. If a journalist has a case, facts and enough documents to prove it, they are welcome to. We air critical reports almost every day, but we usually only criticize the small bureaucrats, not people at higher levels. I cannot remember the last time we criticized the governor or people like him, she says.
Kjersti Lien, Beth Mørch Pettersen, Ida Kroksæter
(to be continued)
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