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Saturday, August 18, 2007

EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to the Editor of Russia Profile

Dear Editor,

I'm appalled by Shaun Walker's statement in "Madness or Manipulation? Case of Murmansk Activist Creates International Backlash" (8/16) that: "Larisa Arap is not a journalist, and in contradiction to what has been widely reported, did not write the article in question. She is an accountant at the Murmansk office of the United Civil Front, and was quoted at length in an article written by a journalist named Ilona Novikova entitled 'Madhouse' and published in a special edition of a local opposition newspaper titled 'Dissenters March.'"

The fact that Ms. Arap has a day job does not prevent her from also being a journalist; virtually nobody who works for any of the opposition groups in Russia in a non-business capacity does so as a full-time professional, and for you to suggest otherwise is an outrageous smear on Ms. Arap's reputation. Ms. Arap is actively involved in reporting on acts by the Russian government to undermine democracy, and that makes her a journalist. In my view, her standing as a journalist and her contributions to the field are far, far greater than, just for instance, Mr. Walker's. The fact that the widely respected Committee to Protect Journalists, heartily agrees with me, and has written a letter of protest to "President" Putin expressing its outrage at her mistreatment, is a good indication of how far off base Mr. Walker really is. Moreover, the fact that Ms. Arap's name did not appear on the byline of the article in question does not mean she was not integral in its reporting.

In his biography on your website, Mr. Walker is described as follows: "Born in London to Indian-British parents, he studied Russian History at Oxford University, before coming to Russia to work for an anti-AIDS NGO. He joined Russia Profile in June 2005. His interests include opera, breakaway states, good food, and Southampton Football Club." That hardly sounds to me like the credentials of someone qualified to say who is a "journalist" and who is not, much less who actually is one himself (as Mr. Walker claims to be). How dare Russia Profile insult its readers' intelligence by allowing this football-loving gourmand to issue an edict defining the term for the rest of the world. What has Mr. Walker ever risked for Russia -- or for anything, for that matter?

Mr. Walker also writes: "It seems that Ms Arap does have a history of psychiatric problems." I simply cannot believe that even an institution of your dubious ethical standards would allow this statement into print without being accompanied by solid proof that is is so, yet none was present in the article. Moreover, it is totally irrelevant to the propriety of Ms. Arap's current confinement that she had treatment in the past, and you have not shown any evidence of any reports claiming she never did. In fact, all that has been reported is that she had a medical screening just before she was seized and was given a clean bill of mental health -- something Mr. Walker fails to accurately inform your readers about.

I call upon Russia Profile to make full public disclosure of the extent of financial and other support it receives from the Russian government, including the "Russia Today" media propaganda campaign, and to give a detailed description of the involvement of state-connected flunkies in its day-to-day operations. In my view, in light of the support you receive, the forgoing statements have the clear tinge of biased attempts to shield the Kremlin from blame it richly deserves.

I also call upon Mr. Walker to apologize to Ms. Arap for his misleading statements. To me, his article reads like a propaganda piece churned out by the Kremlin in Soviet times; it admits facts it cannot possibly deny, then seeks to undercut their significance in every way possible. As such, I find it no more entitled to being called "journalism" than a letter written by Stalin. I realize, of course, that to you this is probably a great compliment to Mr. Walker. More's the pity.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Zigfeld

La Russophobe

Note: A version of this letter was e-mailed to the editors of Russia Profile.

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