22 Октября 2007 года

Выступление на конференции в Канаде 21 ноября 2007 года

Resurgent Russia: Where Is It Headed Now?

A major conference was held November 20-21, 2007 in the Cadieux Auditorium at the Pearson Building of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, to consider economic, strategic geopolitical and domestic developments in Russia and their impact on the country's return to the global stage - from Russian and Western perspectives - with their implications for Canada. This is the full report based on the speakers' talks and the discussants' responses.


Panel 4: Russia's Domestic Challenges

I am a pessimist, declared Alexei Simonov, President of the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow, while speaking on "What is glasnost and what is freedom of speech in contemporary Russia." There are two different Russias: one is perceived by the ruling elite, while another one as perceived by the ordinary people. The media's perceptions also differ accordingly. The way the Russian rulers see it, 95 percent of all newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are non-governmental, independent and self-sufficient. Others in the media feel all types of media influence and are able to evaluate soberly the content of media output. The actual situation is not so simple.

All of Russia's TV media, including four national channels and 88 regional TV and radio companies, are state-controlled. Their policies are impacted not only by government financing, but also by continuous, day-to-day impulses from the vertical power structure. The Russian regime strives to create a uniformity of perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not, of what this world looks like and what human life is. Those perceptions go vertically throughout the media which are controlled by the state not only directly, but also via the appointed governors of constituent regions, territories and republics, as well as the newly-built substructure of appointed mayors and heads of municipal administrations. Another line of government influence is on private TV channels belonging to big and medium-sized businesses. These TV and radio companies' performances are directly linked with the interests of the media owners who, in their turn, are increasingly dependent on the Russian state power system.

There is another component as well. The vast majority of TV companies earn a living by placing commercial advertisements. However, one need not be deceived by the rapid growth of Russia's advertising market with a turnover of more than 5 billion rubles a year, because the allocation and direction of advertising budgets is closely supervised by government officials. This means the state plays an active role in that area, too. Actually, the whole of the TV sector in Russia is controlled by the state, which is why the viewers on nearly 97-98 percent of Russia's territory see rather odd and often illusory portrayals of the nation's day-to-day life.

The ruling elite claims that direct instructions to TV companies from the presidential administration are a myth. Persons working on TV, however, have repeatedly confirmed in private conversations that the "telephone rule" continues to exist: they receive "high-level" phone calls, special press releases, and instructions on how to prioritize the news. The power system in Russia remains essentially bureaucratic. The wide gap between the state apparatus and the rest of society is evident and thus reflects the content of television programs.

As regards the image of Russia as presented on TV, it seems that this "virtual" Russia is inhabited largely by clever and decent politicians, good and bad gangsters, good and bad law enforcers, as well as popular broadcasters and familiar-faced cultural personalities. Very few ordinary people - particularly women and children - appear on the screen. The focal points of the "televised" Russia's activities are in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Portrayals of life outside of the two megalopolises are scarce and unimpressive. The regions with their residents, economic problems, culture, education, health care and social issues are presented either as an area of government activities or else as a source of scandals or catastrophes. Broadcasting policies leave no room for a diversity of national, ethnic or cultural concepts or views. Strong-handed control is evident everywhere in the media. Despite its obvious pro-government orientation, television has performed its educational and enlightening functions very poorly, although the state has shown some activity in that area by placing relevant state orders and offering government grants. It is difficult to make people undertake their social responsibility if their basic freedoms are monopolistically controlled by the state.

The newspaper sector's influence in Russia, just as elsewhere in the world, has been diminishing. Of the twenty-odd thousand newspapers officially registered, much less than one-half are public. Political publications are used as mainly as an electoral resource. The rest continue along the line of glamour magazines specializing in advertising, house pets, realty, homestead land plots, and other mundane matters. The same information features prominently also in newspapers, the majority of them being district newspapers with a circulation of 2,000-5,000. They can hardly be called news media because most of them have been established by district or municipal administrations, or registered as state or municipal enterprises that are financed from mayoral or district budgets and have a degree of freedom and independence that is close to zero.

Generally speaking, Simonov added, the notion of freedom of expression is hardly applicable to Russia. Freedom of expression is a public agreement resting on fundamental pillars: laws, traditions, professional habits and skills. The legislative basis for full-fledged freedom of expression in Russia is non-existent or, as a minimum, insufficient. One cannot freely express oneself in a country where there is a law supporting the journalists, but there is no law giving everyone unhindered access to information. There has never been any tradition of freedom-of-expression in Russia. Such a tradition could not have possibly emerged over the twenty years of perestroika, not even if the authorities had pooled their efforts with the general public to establish it. Traditions take a long time to be created.

The journalists' habits and skills, just as those of the readers, viewers and listeners, are rather contradictory. The older generation, which has begun acquiring some experience in the line of democratic reporting, appears to be too burdened by the sinful heritage of Soviet times when journalism boiled down to propaganda and a journalist's effort to persuade everyone of something he himself did not believe in was called mastery. Media outlets began to mushroom in the early 1990s and crowds of professionally incompetent people rushed into journalism having had a good many ideas, but not even a grain of responsibility for the forms or methods of bringing those ideas home to the public. Neither the former nor the latter group has ever been exposed to freedom of expression in practical terms.

The Glasnost Defense Foundation defends the right of people, in the first place journalists, to what is deemed to constitute freedom of expression, which consists of two elements: on the one hand, of glasnost [openness] and, on the other, of society's ability to get the message. Russians do have glasnost, but the second element is still missing. Censorship is banned under the Constitution and Media Law, however, some facts are known. There are some official relations between the authorities and the regional media. The Glasnost Defense Foundation has identified twenty-three incidents of censorship in 2005 and twenty-eight in 2006. Censorship is triggered either by ideology or by fear. Since a sufficiently new and sufficiently defined ideology is still lacking in Russia, the mechanism of fear is geared toward self-censorship, which is fuelled at different levels by news media's fear for the future of their businesses. It is also engendered individual journalists' fear for their lives, their income and the future of their own children.

Apprehension is inherent in any journalist's work. Some publicly significant events trigger the atmosphere of total fear in journalism. The Russian media's latest history has known of such events created by the ruling elite as clear and unambiguous hints at how the media should behave. At the federal level, NTV and TV-6 channels were liquidated. In the print media sector, the newspaper Izvestia's editor-in-chief was dismissed and the entire staff of Itogy magazine was fired. In a country already infected with apprehension, measures of this kind switch on the mechanism of self-censorship automatically. More examples can be cited at the regional level, including the closure of the newspapers Gubernia in Petrozavodsk, Karelia and Dobriye Sosedi in the Republic of Mariy El. There were also fearful events with reporter the actions against Olga Kitova in the Belgorod Region or the military journalist Grigory Pasko in Vladivostok. These types of violations number now about 1500 per year.

In conclusion, here is a quote from an analytical article by one of Russia's best political scientists, Lilia Shevtsova that was published by the Carnegie Center in Moscow. The article said, in part:
Vladimir Putin has fulfilled his historic mission by completing the Yeltsin-initiated construction of a bureaucratic authoritarian system holding Russia's old-time autocracy tradition - this time in a liberal-democratic cloak. Putin managed to plunge Russia into its past while building it into the present day context by legitimizing state power on the basis of alien ideology. The question is how long the ruling class will be able to continue playing this game of illusion and keeping society believe the whole thing is real.
I am slightly optimistic about the future in Russia, despite these pessimistic drawbacks, that journalism remains alive despite the efforts of the authorities. Just read: Rebecca Kalisher, ed., Efrem Yankelvich, tr., Journalism as An Act of Conscience, a Collection of Articles by Winners and Finalists of the Andrei Sakharov Award, Kostroma Publishers, Kostroma, 2007.

During questions, Simonov dismissed the argument that "the people may just want censorship." In his view, people need to have the chance to decide for themselves and are poorly informed. Right now the only option in Russia is unofficial censorship and individuals cannot chose freedom of expression as a viable choice without penalties. Simonov also spoke on the current rise of nationalism and fascism in the country and its effect on freedom of speech. He was deeply concerned that the party [Nashi, Youth Movement "Ours!"] had been officially accepted [in 2005 by the Kremlin] and an elected representative represented its views in the Duma. It does not help the overall situation. Reprisals against journalists from extremist sections of society are more common and harder to counter. Many of the journalists' killings originate within that context. According to Simonov, over the past ten years only 50% of journalist murders are investigated with only about 5% going to court.

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ФЗГ продолжает бороться за свое честное имя. Пройдя все необходимые инстанции отечественного правосудия, Фонд обратился в Европейский суд. Для обращения понадобилось вкратце оценить все, что Фонд сделал за 25 лет своего существования. Вот что у нас получилось:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни