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Russia: Journalists Union Meets Amid Media Crisis

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists (file photo) (RFE/RL) The convention of the journalists union of Russia is taking place in Moscow amid troubled times for Russian reporters.

The independent reporting that thrived in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse has sharply declined under President Vladimir Putin's eight-year tenure. These changes are being felt acutely by the largest society of independent reporters in the country, the Russian Union of Journalists.

Igor Yakovenko, the society's general secretary, says the current media crisis is topping the agenda of the union's annual convention.

"We need to understand how the Russian Union of Journalists can overcome the crisis in which Russian journalism finds itself," he says. "This crisis manifests itself in a deterioration in quality, declining trust, a reduction of the role of journalists in society, and shrinking media freedom in our country. This is happening in other countries, too, but it's particularly acute in Russia."

Editor In Chief Fired

The gathering comes just days after a Moscow tabloid, "Moskovsky korrespondent," was suspended for publishing a report alleging that Putin secretly divorced his wife and plans to wed a 24-year-old former champion gymnast.

After Putin firmly dismissed the rumor, the management of "Moskovsky korrespondent" fired the editor in chief and suspended publication of the newspaper. A senior executive at "Moskovsky korrespondent" said the daily will return, but with reduced political coverage.

The Russian Union of Journalists has remained strongly critical of the Kremlin's crackdowns on independent media. And its defiance has earned it some trouble. The union fought off a government eviction notice last year, which came just days before the World Congress of Journalists gathered in Moscow.

Oleg Panfilov, who runs the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, says the union faces an uphill battle.

"Everything was done to turn the independent press into propaganda," Panfilov says. "Authorities are not interested in journalists defending their rights and therefore are not interested in the creation of a good trade union for journalists. Authorities have absolutely no interest in professional [journalistic] education either, because obedient propagandists are more useful than independent journalists."

Quit In Protest

The Kremlin's aggressive measures to curb media freedoms has done much to harm the credibility of Russian journalism. But the union last month was accused of discrediting itself by admitting pro-Moscow Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been widely criticized for overseeing a regime guilty of numerous human rights abuses.

Investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was slain in Moscow in 2006, was one Kadyrov's harshest critics.

A number of journalists quit the union in protest, following which the union withdrew Kadyrov's membership.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report