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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Neo-Soviet Censorship at Rolling Boil in Russia

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin is enaged in full censorship mode over the Estonia and Other Russia issues, crushing the life out of reporting on basic facts and leading to mass resignations by journalists. Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!

Seven journalists have resigned from Russian News Service after new management censored their reports about a Dissenters' March and a dispute with Estonia, among other things, several of the journalists said Friday.

Russian News Service -- a leading private broadcast news agency that provides news to the country's largest radio station, Russkoye Radio, and other partner stations -- is run by general director Alexander Shkolnik and editor Vsevolod Neroznak, both of whom joined the agency from Channel One state television.

Reporters started leaving after Shkolnik fired editor Mikhail Baklanov last month and replaced him with Neroznak. Deputy editor Maria Makeyeva, who anchored morning broadcasts, and Dmitry Mangalov, who anchored the 5 p.m. news, left first, followed days later by Anastasia Izyumskaya and Artyom Khan. The latest three -- Olga Shipsha, Lyubov Shirizhik and Margarita Bondarenko -- tendered their resignations Thursday.

Shipsha declined to discuss her resignation, and Shirizhik and Bondarenko could not be reached for comment. But Khan and Izyumskaya said censorship and pressure had prompted all seven resignations.

Khan said management had accused him of siding with Estonia in his coverage of protests held by the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group outside the country's Moscow embassy in late April and early May. The protests were over Estonia's decision to relocate a World War II memorial in Tallinn.

Khan also said management had refused to air his reports about a World War II monument being relocated in Khimki, a town on Moscow's northern outskirts, and an opposition Dissenters' March broken up by riot police in Moscow in April.

"I realized that I would cease to exist as a professional [journalist] if I stayed," Khan said by telephone.

Izyumskaya said she felt she was not allowed to prepare balanced reports. "I was taught that news can never be good or bad and that all points of view should be presented on the air," Izyumskaya wrote in her resignation letter, Novaya Gazeta reported May 7.

"Those who have left were the face of the service and our best professionals," Baklanov, the former editor, said by telephone.

Shkolnik blamed the departures on new rules he had introduced to boost the professionalism of the editorial staff, Interfax reported. Shkolnik, who previously oversaw children's programming at Channel One, also downplayed the resignations, saying that only five of the 50 members of the editorial team had left on his watch.

Baklanov, who founded the agency in 2000, said he knew of only 25 members on the editorial team.

Elsa Vidal, of the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, said the resignations were a positive sign that journalists were willing to form a unified front to resist government pressure.

"It's a desperate turn, but a good turn because the journalists could have accepted the new rule and that would've been even more appalling," she said by telephone from Paris, where the group is based, The Associated Press reported.

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