La Russophobe has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Journalists Evicted

Radio Free Europe reports: Russia's journalists union is protesting an order from the authorities to vacate their office in Moscow so it can be occupied by a Kremlin-backed television station. The Russian Union of Journalists says it received a letter from the federal estate agency asking it to move out of their office by May 18. The union was given the office by late Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. The union plans to take legal action against the eviction.

The International Herald Tribune reports that the the journalists are now defying the eviction:

The largest society of independent journalists in Russia, long critical of the Kremlin's curtailment of the independent news media and its substitution with propaganda, on Friday defied a government eviction notice and said it would try to remain in its offices in spite of state pressure.The refusal by the society, the Russian Union of Journalists, to follow the government's order marked a moment of resistance to a fresh round of crackdowns on the independent news media here.It occurred as all of the radio correspondents for the Russian News Service, a network that provides broadcasts heard at the top of every hour on radio stations across the country, announced that they had resigned in protest of new network policies that censor news and require the airing of pro-Kremlin material.

Independent news reporting, which flourished after the collapse of the Soviet Union and included courageous reporting on themes like corruption, poverty, public health and the wars in Chechnya, has sharply declined under President Vladimir Putin. Critics of the Kremlin say that opposition views are now at risk of disappearing from the public discourse. In place of diverse opinions and perspectives, the three national television networks have been brought under the state's influence or outright control, and Russia Today, a state-run global television channel, was created in 2005 to promote pro-Kremlin views in formats that resemble modern news broadcasts. A few news Web sites, a shrinking pool of independent newspapers, all with limited circulations, and a sole radio station, Ekho Moskvi, provide almost all of the remaining alternative insights and public dissent. Foreign radio material has been restricted or blocked from most Russian frequencies across the country. Parliament, at the request of the country's top prosecutor and law enforcement arm, is considering restrictions on the Internet, which could further limit choices for audiences seeking uncensored content.

The latest crackdowns have take a range of forms, including direct police action, the policy at Russian News Service requiring journalists to air content deemed "positive" by managers friendly to the Kremlin, and the eviction notice to the journalists' union, which occupies space in a state-owned building. The eviction order, which the union said Russia's Federal Property Management Agency had presented to it on May 15, ordered the union to vacate the offices by Friday - 10 days before the 26th World Congress of Journalists is scheduled in Moscow. Restrictions on press freedoms in Russia are expected to be high on the congress's agenda; the union has been helping to coordinate the gathering and trying to find donors for it. Igor Yakovenko, the union's general secretary, said that Russian officials had told the union's lawyer that its office space was needed for Russia Today, the state-owned channel. "This action and its timing are clearly political and send a distressing message," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based organization. "The government is ousting an independent press group in favor of an outlet dedicated to propaganda."

The dispute centers on the validity of a presidential decree, issued in the 1990s by then-President Boris Yeltsin, that ordered the transfer of former Soviet office space to the union for "infinite and free-of-charge use." The federal property agency contended in its eviction notice that the language was no longer binding because of amendments to Russian law. Yakovenko, the union's general secretary, said he hoped to prevail, but left open the possibility that the union could be forcibly evicted before a resolution in court. "If we stick to the legal way of development, the only possible way to kick us out of here is to go to court," he said. "But we understand that the law is not the main regulator of relationships between people and organizations in Russia." The eviction notice followed several other actions that restricted alternative views from circulation. On May 11, the police confiscated three journalists' computers at the offices of the Samara regional edition in Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper, ostensibly in a search for illegal software. Samara is the location of a summit that began Friday between Putin and the European Union.

And this month the four correspondents at the Russian News Service have submitted letters of resignation in protest of policies issued by the service's new pro-Kremlin management. Although it was not possible to evaluate listener reaction in full, comments posted on the service's Web site suggested that some listeners were angry, bored or disgusted. "Down with Kremlin censorship!" one person wrote. "Yesterday elevators were discussed. Today, buckwheat. Are not there any other topics?" One listener, who identified himself as Stanislav, recalled the dull formats of the Communist past. "I suggest we change the name to 'Putin News Service' or 'Soviet News Service,' " he wrote. "Such templates I heard only in the '70s and '80s - extreme nonprofessionalism and surprisingly visible censorship. It's a disgrace."

No comments: