Sunday, February 23, 2014

Independent Broadcasting Takes a Backseat in Russia

By Rabin Man Shakya. Ph D

Russia has definitely made a successful comeback as a formidable sports powerhouse in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but with Dozhd, Russia's only liberal independent news station on the verge of closing, the independent broadcasting takes a backseat in Russia.

Dozhd is an independent TV station of Russia and therefore it can not  and should not work like NTV of Russia and other pro-government TV channels. Dozhd's coverage of a secret dacha owned by a top aide to President Putin is reflective of the independent reporting. And Dozhd can not be chastised for its  independent reporting on Ukraine crisis

Likewise, many of the discussions that Dozhd was covering about corruption at the Sochi Olympics are intrinsically positive for the cause of independent Russian broadcasting journalism.

In one of its programmes, it asked the audience whether the former Soviet leaders should have surrendered Leningrad to the German Fascists in order to save hundreds of thousands of human lives from a crippling, 900-day siege during  World War II. I think this was where Dozhd screwed up. There is no such thing as unlimited press freedom.

When we talk about press freedom, we also should think about the vulnerabilities of the people, the sacrifice, pain and ordeal the people faced during the painful days. 27 million Soviet people were killed during the World War II, also called "Great Patriotic War" in the former Soviet Union. Later on, the TV channel apologized for the wrongful 'poll' and that should be it. The episode should not be dragged on to take a political vendetta against the independent TV station.

There is no doubt the Russian TV journalism has made tremendous strides in the journalistic professionalism after the fall of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, it would  just be futile to imagine about the press freedom in the former Soviet Union. But there there was professionalism even in the Soviet media system, albeit that 'professionalism'  was used to champion the cause of communist propaganda. Still in 1970s, the "Pravda" daily was simultaneously published in 42 different cities of the Soviet Union and it was the largest circulated daily newspaper in the world.

Still in 1970s, the state-owned Soviet TV broadcast pro-Soviet news from the Western capitals on a live basis through satellites, a job BBC, ABC, CBS could not afford at that time. The Soviet correspondents of the TASS news agency and the Pravda were stationed across the world including  in Nepal, that also is something the AP, AFP, the Reuters, The New York Times etc can not afford.

Meanwhile, in press freedom sector, because of harassment and legal entangling of journalists, Russia has slipped from a ranking of 'partly free' to 'not free'. There is no doubt that Russia should take several measures to improve the press freedom scenario. True, improving press freedom scenario especially in a volatile country like Russia is a daunting task and cannot be carried out overnight.

But the latest bid to close Dozhd is an attempt to fish in troubled water at a time when Russia is still in a painful transition. In terms of press freedom, Russia is still going through a painful period of prolonged transition after the downfall of the former USSR in 1992. 29  journalists were killed in Russia during the period from 1995 to 2005, thereby  making Russia one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the last decade. Notorious journalistic deaths like that of Anna Politkovskaya should not be allowed to happen again.

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