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Russia: State Cracks Down On Media Ahead Of Journalists' Congress

  • Chloe Arnold

http://gdb.rferl.org/C7B4CA34-910F-4DC5-9382-5DA307214E4E_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/C7B4CA34-910F-4DC5-9382-5DA307214E4E_mw800_mh600.jpg Russia's deteriorating media situation led these Yabloko activists to protest in Moscow on May 20 (epa) MOSCOW, May 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- When new managers took over at the Russian News Service last month, Artyom Khan said he knew his position as a journalist would be compromised.


Before they arrived, he had planned to cover the March of Dissent, a rally organized by members of the political opposition in central Moscow. But when his new bosses told him the rally would not be on their agenda, he handed in his resignation.

"[I felt that I wouldn't] be able to carry out my professional duties as a journalist. I became convinced of this literally in the first week of the new management," Khan said. "They arrived on Tuesday to make our acquaintance, and on the following Saturday there was supposed to be a March of Dissent in Moscow. But unfortunately, this was not broadcast. I was told: 'There was no march and there will be no information given about it.'"


Mass Resignation


Along with seven other journalists, Khan handed in his notice at the Russian News Service, a media agency that provides news broadcasts to the country's largest radio station, Russkoye Radio, and its affiliates.

"[I felt that I wouldn't] be able to carry out my professional duties as a journalist. I became convinced of this literally in the first week of the new management." -- journalist Artyom Khan

They say their new managers, brought in from the state-run Channel One television station, prevented them from covering certain news events, including the row over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Estonia, and censored their reports.

The agency's new editor, Vsevolod Neroznak, told RFE/RL the claims were ridiculous.

"Of course there's no censorship. In fact, [Russian News Service] is a living organism, people come, people go," Neroznak said. "That sort of thing happens in any company. Since until recently the radio station was operating more like a group of enthusiastic amateurs, a decision was made at some point to bring in new management to rebuild the operation and turn it into a properly functioning radio station that would be able to make money."

Deteriorating Media Situation


The dispute comes amid growing unease about the state of media freedom in Russia and in the run-up to the International Federation of Journalists' annual World Congress, to be held this year in Moscow from May 28-June 2.

"That sort of thing happens in any company. Since until recently the radio station was operating more like a group of enthusiastic amateurs, a decision was made at some point to bring in new management to rebuild the operation." -- Russian News Service Editor Neroznak

Earlier this month, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a New York-based group that monitors the rights of journalists worldwide, placed Russia in third place on a list of countries where press freedom has most deteriorated.


Freedom House, another media-rights advocate, puts Russia near the bottom of a list of 195 countries, and the U.S. State Department recently issued a report that identified Russia as one of the worst violators of media freedom, together with Afghanistan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

Igor Yakovenko, the general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, says the situation in the Russian media today is grim.

"Our observations are that freedom of speech is on the decline in Russia. All the time more and more media organizations are falling under Kremlin control, under government control -- either directly or indirectly," Yakovenko said. "We are seeing more and more changes to the law that deprive journalists of their rights. Very recently a law was adopted that means that journalists are no longer allowed to make enquiries of state organs."


Violence Becoming Commonplace


Yakovenko said attacks against journalists are becoming more frequent.


"In the latest round of mass attacks on journalists, more than 60 were beaten up at one of the Marches of Dissent," Yakovenko said. "Even though we gave special jackets to journalists with the word 'press' written on the back, they were beaten even with these jackets on. Ordinary people and these representatives of the government know very well that they won't be held responsible [for these attacks]."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists lists 11 journalists slain in Russia over the last five years, including Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin critic, who was gunned down outside her home in Moscow last October. None of the cases have so far been solved.


The organizers of next week's congress say they hope the event, which will open with a special session on the attacks against journalists in Russia, will have a positive effect on media freedom in Russia.


But for Artyom Khan and many other journalists working in Russia today, the conference will do little to change their situation.

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