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GUEST COLUMN: Journalism in Russia is different but not completely compromised

By: Anastasiia Marchenko
June 26, 2017 Updated: June 26, 2017 at 4:15 am
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What are the differences between journalism in the United States and Russia? To answer that, I am going to explain how media works in Russia. Each media outlet in Russia has different degrees of independence depending on who owns it - the federal or local government, or a private investor. If government owns a media outlet, that outlet accepts its position and does propaganda for that government.

In the case of a private owner, everything depends on the owner's personality. The owner can also support the local governments and demand this loyalty from journalists, or he may not be connected with state power structures, and will allow his journalists to criticize the government. Private media companies have much more freedom, but some borders remain.

The government can always crack down as well. Over the past few years, the authorities have changed the management of the best media outlets in the country. Galina Timchenko, the editor-in-chief of the once independent "Lenta.ru," was fired, and almost the whole team left "Lenta.ru" together with her. Journalists could have continued to work, but they disagreed with the decision of the CEO and left in protest.

These people founded another media outlet, "Meduza.io", in Latvia, which allowed them independence from the Russian state and freed them to write what they want about Russia.

"RBC" is also changing its leadership. Liberal businessman Mikhail Prokhorov was forced to sell his media holdings to former oil merchant Grigory Berezkin.

The "Rain" TV channel is also experienced difficulties. It had to introduce a paid subscription model for its programs, which Russian people are not used to. The change chased away viewers, but "Rain" journalists continue working, despite their difficult financial situation.

The state is very closed off to the media in Russia, in comparison with the United States.

A journalist can not just come to a meeting with the mayor or call him - he is unlikely to pick up the phone. Officials are extremely reluctant to contact the media, and if they have to communicate with a journalist, they usually say common, meaningless phrases. There are exceptions.

There are people in state structures who are ready to make contact, and there are journalists who maintain good relations with the authorities, and influence their decisions on city affairs.

I work for the largest independent media company in southern Russia, "Yuga.ru," which has existed for 15 years, a respectable amount of time for the Russian media market.

We can afford a lot: We broadly cover the activities of Putin's opponent, Alexey Navalny, in our region, and write articles on the protection of civil rights in Russia.

For example, a group called Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus complained of harassment by the authorities, and their offices and even private homes were searched. "Yuga.ru" wrote about this, and sanctions were not imposed on us by the authorities.

The media outlet that is owned by the municipality in the area does not cover these topics at all, or covers them from the point of view of the authorities.

There are also differences in how Russia and the United States cover U.S.-Russia relations.

In January of this year, the liberal media outlet "Meduza.io" (which has an English version) published an article with the headline "5 Questions on the U.S. Intelligence Report on Russian Hackers." The article challenged some of the conclusions reached by U.S. journalists about the reported Russian cyberattack on the U.S. presidential election.

"The weakest point in the report of American intelligence is the lack of concrete evidence, on the basis of which conclusions are drawn about Russian cyberattacks. Perhaps they are, but the general public was not represented," the article said.

The publication also asked how it is possible to draw conclusions about the intentions of Russia, based on the statements of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. (Though it is named Liberal and Democratic, it is actually not. In fact LDPR is more nationalistic than liberal, and Zhirinovsky has nothing in common with liberals.)

As part of the evidence that showed Russia helped Trump win the election, U.S. intelligence agencies quote Zhirinovsky, named in the report as the "puppet of the Kremlin."

The fact is that Russians don't take Zhirinovsky seriously; he always makes crazy statements, and doesn't carry much weight in Russia.

"To what extent the authors of the document relied on the statements of pro-Kremlin politicians and journalists, it is not known, but the examples cited are puzzling," according to the article.

The publication recalls that in one of his stories, Zhirinovsky assumed that the elected president of the United States may be his distant relative. "There are no such quotations in the report, and there is a feeling that the intelligence services of the United States are taking seriously the words of Zhirinovsky and Kiselyov," "Meduza.io" writes.

On June 13, the U.S. Senate agreed to new sanctions on Russia. Pro-Kremlin media reported this information sarcastically.

Unfortunately, such journalists appeal to a receptive part of the population. On the other hand, the socio-political media outlet "Kommersant" and several other media outlets presented this information quite neutrally.

Despite the complexity of the situation, I remain optimistic about journalism in Russia. There are many devoted, honest people who do their jobs. They do not do propaganda, they cover events from different points of view and they create a quality product.

There is no absolute evil, as there is no ideal country without problems.

In Russia, the system works as it works, but there are people who are trying to change it.

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Anastasiia Marchenko is a journalist for Yuga.ru in southern Russia. She is visiting The Gazette in Colorado Springs for two weeks as part of a fellowship with the International Center for Journalists.

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