Reporters without Borders has issued a blazing condemnation of the Putin regime’s outrageous misconduct in repressing journalists, just as Stalin did, in regard to preparations for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Why are you so afraid of sunshine, Mr. Putin? What do you have to hide? On the latest RWB press freedom index, Russia ranks a shocking #153 out of 175 nations surveyed. Only 22 countries on the planet, then, have less free media than Russia.
As today’s closing ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics turns the spotlight on Sochi, the host of the next Winter Games in 2014, Reporters Without Borders would like to cast its own light on the situation of the news media in this Black Sea city and in Krasnodar, the populous southern Russian province in which it is located.
Sochi’s selection for the 2014 Games was given totally uniform coverage in the local media. Press-ganged into supporting the Kremlin policy of “the games at any cost,” they never reported the environmental concerns or the protests, such as those by the Imeretinskaya Bay residents facing eviction, except to brand them as anti-patriotic.
But this is just one symptom among many of how the media of Sochi and Krasnodar are heavily dependent on the local authorities.
Last summer, the German section of Reporters Without Borders conducted a detailed field investigation into the situation of the media in seven Russian regions, including Krasnodar, shedding light on a situation largely ignored until now. The “Atlas of Media Freedom in the Regions” that was produced on the basis of this survey has so far only been published in German.
Today, Reporters Without Borders is releasing the chapter on Krasnodar in French together with summaries of the chapter in English and Russian.
The report reveals that the region’s media have been brought under the thumb of its pro-Kremlin governor, Alexander Tkachev. Although there is a wide range of publications, the great majority are closely dependent on the regional or municipal authorities.
The lack of financial independence is the leading cause. With their money problems aggravated by recession and a fall in advertising revenue, the media are desperate for advertisers. The local authorities have turned an official “media register” into a very effective means of controlling privately-owned newspapers. Those that register enjoy major financial advantages but they have to publish content provided by the authorities and submit to close control of their accounts.
The few publications that have remained relatively independent of the government, such as the local edition of Novaya Gazeta (Kubani) or Chernomorskaya Zdravnitsa, face a daily battle for financial survival that is complicated by judicial harassment. Even with most of the local media censoring themselves because of their financial dependence, there have been cases of officials intervening directly in their editorial decisions. And despite slight progress, access to public information continues to be closely filtered.
Aside from the campaign for Sochi’s candidacy for the 2014 Games, the media’s lack of independence was glaringly obvious during the municipal elections in early 2009 when a liberal, Boris Nemtsov, ran against incumbent mayor Anatoli Pakhomov. The coverage of the campaign was totally biased, with most of the media denigrating Nemtsov and the four local TV stations running a spot defaming him during their news programmes.
The report by the German section of Reporters Without Borders says the only way to loosen the local government’s grip on the media is to strengthen their financial independence and to end the discriminatory treatment under the “media register” system. This situation should not be overlooked because of the mood of regional unanimity typical of sports events.