di Nadezda Azhgikhina*
Anna Politkovskaya was not the first journalist killed in Russia after the end of USSR. For the day of her assassination in Moscow October 7, 2006, death list of Glasnost Defense Foundation consisted from 211 names. We, organizers of memorial meeting in Moscow central Pushkin Square, have been reading those names in a loud voice, and it took us 40 minutes, what stroke all attending Russian and International journalists.
Anyway, Anna Politkovskaya became the first Russian journalist, whose killing became International news and initiated, after many years, new interest to Russia and Russian media. Dozens of International conferences, films, books, debates and articles made at iconic image of courage, dedication to profession and human rights for hundreds of colleagues and general audience in many countries. Remembering Anna, today we remember at the same time all those who paid their lives for the truth. Standing in Pushkin Square in 2006, we believed that that murder would be the last. We were wrong. Today number of deceased media professionals, those who have been killed, disappeared, died in unclear satiation, is more than 350 in Russia. Some of them lost their lives during conflicts, in the Caucasus and East Ukraine. Many have been killed rather far from conflict zones. Most of tragedies ended with impunity.
To tell the truth, according UNESCO data, less than 10 per cent of all killings of journalists around the world ended with court and punishment of responsible, killers and masterminds. So Russia is not an exception.
Most of resonance murders are still not investigated properly. Killing of Dmitry Kholodov from Moscovsky Komsomolets in 1994 ( in 2014 European court of Human Rights decided that Russian Federaiion did not provided proper investigation of the case), of TV star Vlad Lietiev, “Russian Larrt King” in 1995, Larisa Yudina from Kalmykya in 1999 ( for Russian journalists she was the first icon of human rights journalism), strange death of Yury Shcekochikhin in 2003, 16 from 17 killed journalists in Dagestan and others. Investigation of Politkpvakaya killing, despite of some people put to jail, is frozen, chief editor of Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov said that he felt disappointed by that, and had no hope.
Fortunately, monitors of Glasnost Defense Foundation and RUj did not report about killings in 2015 and 2016. But attacks of journalists, beatings, threats and different forms of censorship are everyday practice.
Culture of impunity (facts of violence against journalists are neglected by law enforcement, attacks on journalists and threats are not punished on a regular basis, and legislation devoted to protect journalists does not work properly) is real threat to freedom of the media, and for democratic development itself.
Recent media regulations, especially since 2014, creates new challenge for independent vices in the media. As Director of Mass Media Defense Center, board member of Article 19 media lawyer Galina Arapova wrote, “ all recently adopted laws create additional privileges for state media, in particular state TV” and at the same time ”authorities make a strong use of administrative resources to keep the press in check and tighten censorship around individual journalists and media organizations”. “Criminal code gives a variety at about 30 provisions that could be used against journalists( starting from criminal defamation and infringement to privacy and up to discourse of state secrets, extremism and separatism)”- Arapova added. And the only one article 144 of the Criminal Code that supposes to protect journalists from harassment – criminal liability for “Obstruction of the lawful professional activities of journalists”- is used very rare.
Media experts count more that 20 new regulations and amendments to different laws, restricted in this or that way journalist and media work, passed through parliament since 2014. Many of them contradict have never been properly discussed with professional and expert community. Implementation of actual legislation is also a problem, media face misuse of legislation, first of all anti- extremism law. Restrictive regulation of Internet is also a problem. Some laws introduce harsh sanction or lead to closure of media outlet, like the law banning usage of obscene language in media, that just leads to fines apposed on the media, but also possible blocking of the webside or closing the media outlet. Recent initiative- so called “ Yarovaya law” (introduced by MP Yarovaya) demands full control on Internet (experts say that it is impossible because of technical and financial reasons).
There is no exaggeration to say that new restrictions for the media (as well as for NGOs) are closely associated with anti-Russian sanctions, is obvious reactions on political tensions and are really harmful for free speech and civil society in Russia.
Shadows of new Cold War are becoming more dark, and spoil media environment. Mainstream media produce anti-Western and Anti-American propaganda as response on anti-Russian propaganda and wide spread presentation of Russia as new “Empire of Evil”. Many journalists are scared to combat propaganda and do not want go risk their jobs. Self-censorship is really strong, especially during crisis in the industry and job cuts.
Anyway, Russian media landscape is not a desert, and many independent and interesting media companies still act in the country and produce interesting content and innovative strategies, both in management and investigation, courage, commitment to journalist mission, human rights and justice. It is a pity that their experience is not known abroad.
Russian media are undergoing a crisis. Economical crisis squeezes space for diversities, many independent voices could not survive, print media fond shelter in Internet, many have been closed. Lack of transparent market and domination of the state in media industry, monopoly in distribution, small and dependent on the state ads market is also a problem.
But the main problem today is lack of professional solidarity among media actors, weak solidarity among journalists and lack of awareness in general public in importance of independent journalism as their own business and public good.
Russian audience is passive, recent elections showed this clearly.
Raising of awareness in journalism as a public good and business of everyone, and developing professional solidarity could be the main tool in overcoming culture of impunity and pressure on the media freedom.
Russian Union of Journalists tries to develop this awareness. October 7 RUJ presents memorial event, and play “Life in Second” based on texts of Politkovskaya and Shchekochikhin, prepared by young actors, in Moscow Journalists Club.
It is important that young people pay attention to those who died for the true word. It is our hope. Hope that masterminds of killings of Anna and others will be out to court. Than journalists would not face violence and threats, and Russian audience would support general development of free and responsible media.
10 years after Anna’s assassination was very tough time for Russian media and Russian journalists. And it is important to be honest and to realize that future is dependent on us as well.
Our profession is profession of everyday choice. It is important to remember. It is important to make Russian journalism and its independent voices to International audience. It will be also our tribute to Anna.
*Nadezda Azhgikhina è segretaria esecutiva del sindacato dei giornalisti russi (Ruj) e vicepresidente della Federazione europea dei giornalisti (Efj)
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