Friday, February 20, 2009
FBOrg: 'Is the Russian Press Free?'
A SIBERIAN PERSPECTIVE
Yesterday in Moscow, a jury took a couple hours to acquit three men -- two Chechen brothers and a Moscow police officer -- from any involvement in the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. All had been accused of low-level roles in the murder, including being a lookout and driver. According to the Moscow Times, the brothers shook hands with Politkovskaya's son, who congratulated him and later said, 'I believe these men are involved in the murder of my mother.' The New York Times article today said the three-month trial had 'cast a shadow over Vladimir Putin's Russia' and in particular the plight for free press.
Is Russia free? Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
I visited the Russian Far East last summer, and stopped by Nash Gorod (Our Town), a newsy weekly in Komsomolsk-na-Amure (way to right on map) and spoke with a local journalist in his early '20s. As Russians do, he invited me for a long walk in the summer heat -- we passed WWII monuments and old housing blocks, and he -- in his mullet and parachute pants -- chain-smoking. His tone was serious the whole way, but welcoming, a perfectly comfortable setting to get serious. And I did.
Having just finished Politkovskaya's book Putin's Russia, I was curious his take on press censorship and bullying from the government, and he had a different take from what we hear in the West.
'Who can tell us what to write?,' he asked. 'No one. The only censorship we feel here is self-censorship. Particularly in a town like this, where I either know everyone in town or someone who knows them.'
He noted the only scandal he's had was regarding a business feature that went online -- thus accessible back in Moscow.
Since 2000, 16 Russian journalists have been killed, with only one resulting in a conviction, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
He did acknowledge one clear legacy of the past. At one point, shortly after passing a stoic WWII monument with chiseled faces in stone facing an eternal flame -- something seen in nearly all Russian towns -- he stopped to say, 'See those people there?' A mother, father and ten-year-old kid were walking by the flame. 'Those adults were taught that the US helped the Germans in the war -- it's not true, of course, but it's very hard for some people to unlearn what they've been taught.'
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Posted by Robert Reid at 12:22 PM