Journalism Under Fire
Welcome to the Web site for Miami University’s April 2-3, 2007, conference, “Russian Journalism Under Fire.” Since the election of Vladimir Putin as president of the Russian Federation, journalists have faced increasing difficulty in performing their jobs. Many media outlets are finding themselves back under governmental control and journalists who try to stay independent sometimes find their very lives threatened. From this site you can access biographies of our conference guests, read a history of Russian journalism, learn about journalists killed for their work and view the blog we are maintaining on current events in Russia.
This conference was made possible with generous funding from the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, The Provost’s Office and The Dean’s Office of the College of Arts & Science. The Journalism Program and MU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also provided support.
Special thanks go to the planning committee for Russian Journalism Under Fire: Karen Dawisha, director of the Havighurst Center; Ed Arnone, Cheryl Gibbs and Cheryl Heckler, all members of the Journalism Program faculty; and students Samantha Berk (journalism), Nick D’Amico (history and political science), Emile Dawisha (journalism), and Janet Mokhnatkin (political science). Additional thanks to Nick, for generating content for this Web site. Thank you to Lynn Stevens for constructing the website.
Patricia Gallagher Newberry
Conference Committee Chair
Lecturer, Journalism Program
From Revolution to Glasnost: Soviet Press from 1917-1984
A free and independent press does not have a very long history in Russia. Control of the media by the government dates back to the very beginning of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks curtailed freedom of speech and press in Russia from the very beginning. One of the most important initial decrees passed by the Soviet of People’s Commissars and signed by Vladimir Lenin October 27, 1917 was the Decree on the Press (Murray 2). This Decree essentially outlawed newspapers that published views opposed to the October Revolution. Claiming such papers to be tsarist reactionaries, the communists closed 319 newspapers from 1917-1918 (Murray 5-6). Additional measures soon followed. A tribunal was established in 1917 to investigate and suppress bourgeois newspapers. Later in 1917, a state monopoly on advertising was instituted, depriving most papers of revenue (McNair 36).
The basic structure of the Soviet press was established by decree August 11, 1930. The decree created a pyramidal structure of papers that would reach down into all levels of Soviet society (McNair 45). At the apex of the pyramid were the all-union publications, such as Pravda or Izvestia, which published official accounts of activities by the highest governmental bodies. Then, each of the fifteen Soviet republics had a corresponding paper for its own high governmental bodies. The structure went to increasingly smaller divisions, including even city, town, or factory papers (McNair 45).
A number of controls existed which allowed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to tightly control media content (McNair 49) The government (and therefore the party) controlled rights to licensing and financing papers. Appointment to high-level media jobs, such as editors, was controlled by the CPSU and based on purely political and ideological considerations. According to one study, few Soviet media officials had significant experience working in the individual media they came to control (Murray 40). Training for journalists was completely controlled by governmental institutions and finally, if all else failed, governmental censorship was utilized. Contrary to a common belief that the Soviet Union widely practiced censorship, after an initial period of censorship and repression under Lenin and Stalin, the true controls over a free press were embodied in the close relationship between party officials and the media. Editors willingly made for compliant news outlets that followed the party line.
Controls over freedom of speech were not just limited to the press. Joseph Stalin was particularly infamous for his micromanaging of many cultural institutions. He personally interfered in the writing of plays, novels, movies, and even music, enforcing a cultural homogeneity that encompassed his vision of the new “Soviet man.” The party tightly controlled all mediums of expression. John Murray explains that “[t]he regimented views appearing in the press of the thirties constituted the party line, and none other” (Murray 21). Coverage was black and white, always towing the party line, no matter what it was, and always condemning the enemies of the people. This was the style of journalism that predominated in the Soviet Union for the majority of its existence. It would begin to be totally unraveled in the 1980’s when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev instituted his policy of Glasnost, in an attempt to revitalize the USSR. Glasnost was not the first period when censorship and control were loosened, though.
Brief Openings: Limited Press Freedom during the NEP (1921-1928) and Khrushchev Era (1953-1964)
The first period when competing ideas were allowed was during debates over the New Economic Policy (NEP), from around 1921-1927. After experiencing drastic economic disaster and displacement during the collectivization and industrialization of War Communism, Lenin and a leading Soviet economic thinker, Nikolai Bukharin, began a debate on how to structure the Soviet economy and achieve industrialization. Journalists were allowed to criticize the old policies and talk of the economic tasks facing the country (Murray 8). Unfortunately, the debate was extremely limited in scope. Lenin simultaneously in 1921 initiated a ban on factions within the party; and criticism of the party or its final policy decisions was strictly off limits (Murray 9). The press could simply report negatively on issues determined by the party in a manner approved by the party.
After Lenin’s death in 1924 and Joseph Stalin’s consolidation of power, all open debates ended. Soviet citizens would not enter another period of limited free expression until after Stalin’s death, with the rise of Nikita Khrushchev. After Khrushchev’s 1956 Secret Speech that denounced the Stalinist years for its excesses, the Party allowed criticism of Stalin and some of his policies. Again, this was a very limited form of expression and did not extend to the creation of any free press or ability to criticize core tenets of communism or Lenin. The press was still utilized as a tool by politicians.
This was particularly true when the Soviet papers ignored the events of the Hungarian Revolution until it became impossible. Then they simply resorted to printing straight out lies about the situation (Murray 26). Khrushchev, who himself was a high-level party official during Stalin’s rule, was also deemed beyond criticism. Khrushchev would also use the papers to print articles in support of his economic changes, termed Reform Communism. The opening for expression was extremely small and with the rise of Leonid Brezhnev, what opening there was would be closed.
Throwing the doors open: Gorbachev and Glasnost, 1984-1991
Not until the mid-1980’s would dissonant voices of the party be heard. As part of his effort to revitalize the Soviet Union, General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged a policy of glasnost (openness). It began with Gorbachev and his allies voicing internal party dissent over a number of issues confronting the USSR, particularly with regard to the economy. Gorbachev encouraged papers to print criticisms of the government and to continue a reevaluation of the Stalinist period in an effort to force a change in policy direction.
Arrayed against him were a number of conservative party members, led by Yegor Ligachev, the head of ideology (Murray 45). While some papers did print criticisms, many held off, unsure of whether Gorbachev or Ligachev would win the battle of political wills. The conflict would culminate in a letter published (likely with support by Ligachev) in 1988 by a teacher, Nina Andreeva, who criticized Gorbachev and glasnost as harming the Soviet Union. Gorbachev would respond with his own letter in the paper and the affair marked the defeat of Ligachev, who would later be removed from his position of as Head of the Department of Ideology within the CPSU Secretariat.
John Murray explains that during the early Glasnost period newspapers were hesitant to report freely, but the extreme opposition they garnered from Ligachev demonstrated the growing independence of the media from governmental and party control (Murray 47). The June 1990 Law on Press Freedom further affirmed and protected the independence of journalists and newspapers (Sakwa 332). Forums were opened to debate Soviet economic and foreign policy, but also to debate the merits of breaking up the Union.
The Yeltsin years: 1991-2000
Newspapers and independent journalism thrived during the Glasnost and early post-communist years, but the transition to a market economy was particularly difficult for the media. After years of state subsidization, papers were forced to compete in an open market, the results of which were predictably uneven (Sakwa 332). Some papers took the route of reporting sensationalized news of sex and scandals, while some that were sympathetic to the government found limited subsidization. Still others, but definitely a minority, survived through quality reporting and meeting the needs of their readership while maintaining their independence.
Unfortunately, many others were bought up, or created, by the newly enriched billionaires of the Russian Federation, known as “the Oligarchs.” They purchased newspapers and television stations, appreciating their value in presenting to the public a rosy view of their shady business practices. Richard Sakwa quotes Boris Berezovsky (an oligarch who was particularly close to President Yeltsin) as buying newspapers not for their business potential but because they were a powerful lever of political influence (Sakwa 333). Berezovsky would buy the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta (The Independent), which had previously been a major supporter of the democratic intelligentsia of the country. NTV (Independent Television Network), the independent and innovative television station of Vladimir Gusinsky, another Oligarch, was know for its criticism of the government and fearless reporting of the first war in Chechnya. The state gas monopoly, Gazprom, subsequently forced Gusinsky to sell a significant stake in the station, and later it was completely taken over by the state during the presidency of Vladimir Putin. During Yeltsin’s years, the media was faced with a difficult transition to capitalism. But, some form of independent press still operated throughout these years. Criticism of the government’s policies in Chechnya was particularly prevalent. With the election of President Vladimir Putin in March 2000, the media faced an entirely new set of challenges; not from market forces this time but from the government.
Contemporary Russian Journalism: The Putin Years, 2000-2007
Since Putin’s assumption of the presidency, journalists have faced an increasing number of challenges in trying to report the news. The first hurdle is the tremendous governmental centralization of control over the press. During the Yeltsin years, citizens could get the news from three different viewpoints on three different televisions stations. As explained above, this coverage was not always flattering to the government.
According to a 2006 recent study published by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 91% of news coverage focuses solely on Putin and the Kremlin leaders, with three quarters positive, one quarter neutral, and none of it negative (Smith). Control of newspapers by the government has not been through explicit nationalization, but through transfers to government affiliated or supported organizations, like Gazprom. Berezovsky’s media empire was almost completely seized by Gazprom after Berezovsky was driven into exile by Putin. Independent publications still do exist and are not formally censored by the government, but their ability to spread their viewpoint is extremely limited. Many of these publications struggle to reach a circulation of just 100,000 in a country of 143 million people (Smith). In 2006, most Russians got their news through government controlled television. Recently, Russian radio stations were pressured to stop broadcasting reports from Radio Free Europe and Voice of America (Smith). As journalist Michael Specter remarked on the February 1st episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, the government lets journalists write whatever they want to, as long as no one reads the paper it’s printed in.
Even more significantly, journalists have been faced with death threats if they continue certain investigations. Thirteen journalists, all notable opponents of the Kremlin, have been killed since the beginning of Putin’s presidency. Most notable amongst these murders were Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, and Anna Politkovskaya, a crusading anti-Putin journalist who worked primarily for Novaya Gazeta. No one has been convicted for any of these 13 murders (Ricchiardi 52). International pressure for protection of journalists and press freedom has been severely curtailed by a new Russian law requiring Non-Governmental Organizations to reregister with the government for greater oversight. This is making it difficult for organizations like Human Rights Watch or the Committee to Protect Journalists to fight for press rights within Russia.
The curtailment of a functioning free press in Russia could prove to have possibly devastating effects on their continued transition to democracy. When taken with the curtailment of opposition political parties in the country and consolidation of political power in Moscow, the lack of a free press is even more alarming. Without active journalists working to help keep the public informed of debates on issues, it will be extremely difficult for Russians to keep government power in check and stop a return to the former days of the Soviet Union.
McNair, Brian. Glasnost, Perestroika, and the Soviet Media. London: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Murray, John. The Russian Press from Brezhnev to Yeltsin: Behind the Paper Curtain. Aldershot, Hants, England: E. Elgar, 1994. Print.
Ricchiardi, Sherry. "Iron Curtain Redux." American Journalism Review 29.1 (2007): n. pag. Web.
Sakwa, Richard. Russian Politics and Society. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Smith, Sebastian. "Unreality Television." U.S. News and World Report 17 July 2006, Vol. 141 ed., Issue 2 sec.: n. pag. Print.
Nina Ognianova, Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Before joining CPJ as Europe and Central Asia research associate in December 2003, Nina Ognianova worked as a staff writer for the International Journalists’ Network, the media-assistance Web site of the nonprofit International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington, D.C. She covered the countries of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. In September 2003, Ognianova coordinated an ICFJ conference, which was held in her native Bulgaria, for Balkan investigative journalists about covering the problems of human trafficking. Ognianova earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the American University in Bulgaria and a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism--Columbia. While in Missouri, Ognianova was on the editorial staff of the magazine of the International Press Institute, Global Journalist, where she also published articles. Ognianova is a native Bulgarian speaker, fluent in Russian, and proficient in Macedonian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, and Italian. She was promoted to senior research associate in January 2006 and became program coordinator in June 2006.
Oleg Panfilov, Director, Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES)
Oleg Panfilov was born in 1957 in Tajikistan. In 1979 he graduated from Leninabad State Pedagogical Institute (formerly Khudzhandh University). He initially worked in a village school, then, from 1979 to 1989, he worked as a research fellow at the Institute of History at the Tajik Academy of Sciences. From 1989 to 1990 he worked at the Tajikistan Fund of Culture as a senior expert. Since 1974, he has also worked as a journalist. He has presented the program Pamiat’ proshlogo on Tajik television, worked as a correspondent for the newspaper Komsomolets Tadjikistana, the radio station Yunost’, the news agency Associated Press, and as a correspondent for Nezavisimaia gazeta and Gazeta wyborzca (Poland). Between 1995 and 1997 he served as deputy editor-in-chief for the journal Tsentral’naia azia (Sweden). Since November 2000 he has been writing materials for and presenting the program Authorities and Media on Radio Liberty. From 1994 to February 2000 he headed the monitoring service at the Glasnost Defense Foundation. Between 1994 and 1997 he served as a human rights expert in UN-lead peace talks in Tajikistan.
- Graduate of the International School of Human Rights, Warsaw (1992).
- Author and editor of 23 books (by July 2003). He has published more than 2000 articles in papers and journals around the world and written scripts for 8 films.
- Laureate of the Russian Union of Journalists' prize (1995).
- International Film Festival Grand Prize "Obraz very" (1993).
- Medal of the Zoroastrian College of Bombay (1991).
- At the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations since February 2000
Alexey Simonov, President, Glasnost Defense Foundation
Alexey Simonov currently serves as president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, working on the issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Born in 1939, he completed Moscow State University in 1964. In 1970, he completed a graduate degree in cinematography and began working for the Ekran film collective. Between 1970 and 1991 he directed 20 musical and documentary films. From 1991 to 1995 he worked as a dean and professor at the Institute of Cinematography. Since 1991, he has been the chairman of the board and president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation. He is the author of many articles on issues relating to the freedom the press.
Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor
Fred Weir, a Canadian-born journalist, has lived in Russia for the past 20 years as correspondent for a variety of Canadian, US and other news organizations. He travelled widely in Europe and the Middle East during the 1970’s, and lived on an Israeli kibbutz 1973-74. He received an honours history degree from the University of Toronto in 1984, and a teaching diploma from the Ontario College of Education in 1986. Weir moved to the USSR in 1986, to write about Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika campaign for a left-wing Canadian weekly, the Canadian Tribune. The next year he married a Russian, Mariam Shaumian, and ended up staying permanently with his family. The couple has two children, Tanya, 18, and Charles, 6, both of whom are Russian citizens. Mariam works as editor of the monthly corporate magazine and quarterly catalogue of Mercury, the leading Russian retailer of luxury goods. The family maintains a flat in Moscow, but recently built a house in Razdori, a village about 10 km outside Moscow, where they now live year-round.
Dr. Igor Zevelev, Washington Bureau Chief, RIA Novosti
Dr. Igor Zevelev is Washington Bureau Chief of RIA Novosti, Russian News and Information Agency. Prior to joining RIA Novosti in 2005, Dr. Zevelev was a Professor of Russian Studies at the George Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany.
Dr. Zevelev received his doctorates from Moscow State University (kandidat nauk) and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences – IMEMO (doctor nauk). He was Head Research Associate at IMEMO, where he had also served as Head of Department and Deputy Director of the Center for Developing Countries. Dr. Zevelev taught at the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, and Macalester College. He was a Fellow at The Woodrow Wilson Center (1996-97) and a Senior Scholar at the US Institute of Peace in 1997-98.
Dr. Zevelev has written five books and numerous articles on the politics of Russia, Asian countries, human rights, international relations, and security issues. Among his books are Russia and its New Diasporas (Washington, DC: The United States Institute of Peace Press, 2001), in English and Global Security Beyond the Millennium: American and Russian Perspectives (co-edited with Sharyl Cross, London: Macmillan Press, 1999), in English; The most recent publication is Power and Influence in the US-Russian Relations: Semiotic Analysis (co-authored with Mikhail Troitsky, Moscow: NOFMO, 2006), in Russian.
Andrei A. Zolotov Jr., Editor, Russia Profile (www.russiaprofile.org)
Andrei Zolotov, Jr. graduated from the Moscow State University's School of Journalism (M.A., 1992). During his studies, spent a year as an exchange student at Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, New York) and a year as a visiting scholar at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (New York City). He began his journalistic career in 1992 as a translator and fixer at the Moscow bureau of The Christian Science Monitor. Worked as the CSM bureau manager from 1994 to 1996. From 1995 to 2003, Zolotov served as Moscow correspondent for Geneva-based news and features agency Ecumenical News International (ENI). In 1997, he joined the staff of Moscow's leading independent English-language newspaper, The Moscow Times, where he covered politics, media and religion as a senior staff writer. Mr. Zolotov's coverage of the takeover of NTV and TV-6 television companies, as well as other aspects of the country's media policies earned him the reputation as an expert on media issues. He has been interviewed by leading international broadcasters, such as BBC, CNN, PBS and NPR and contributed opinion pieces to The Christian Science Monitor, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and other publications. Mr. Zolotov is also recognized as an expert in Russia's religious affairs and global developments in regard to Orthodox Christianity.
In 2003, Mr. Zolotov left The Moscow Times and ENI to develop a new project - Russia Profile (www.russiaprofile.org). It is an analytical on-line and print magazine in English covering Russia's trends and developments, which is published by Independent Media publishing company (publisher of The Moscow Times, The St. Petersburg Times, Vedomosti and 11 magazines in Russia) in conjunction with RIA Novosti.
John Templeton European Religion Journalist of the Year (1997)
Carnegie Media Fellowship at Duke University (1999)
Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned Russian journalist who reported extensively on the turmoil in the region of Chechnya, was found murdered Saturday, October 7, 2006. Politkovskaya was a strident critic of Russian policy in Chechnya and wrote on a number of atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred during the two recent Russian-Chechen wars.
Born in New York in 1958 to two Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya grew up in Moscow and earned a journalism degree from Moscow State University in 1980, after which she worked for over ten years at the newspaper Izvestia. Most recently she was a columnist and contributor to the Russia newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She traveled throughout the Chechen region to report on events there. She wrote numerous articles and three books: A Dirty War: A Russian reporter in Chechnya (2003), A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya (2003), and Putin's Russia (2004). She had acted as a hostage negotiator when terrorists seized a Moscow theatre during the play Nord Ost and attempted to again negotiate at the Beslan school hostage crisis. She reported that she was poisoned on the plane ride and unable to help.
Ms. Politkovskaya went to great lengths to report on human rights abuses, even when faced with numerous death threats. In response to them she said “"I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannot stop because it's my duty."
She was found shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building. Her editor told reporters that she had been on the verge of filing a story on human rights abuses of Chechen police forces who received their orders from the Kremlin backed Chechen government. Police believe that the primary motive for her killing is likely her reporting work. An investigation into her death is still underway.
She was a remarkable woman who fought against injustice, no matter the risk to herself. Thousands mourned her at her funeral. Nicola Duckworth, of the rights group Amnesty International said "Russia has lost a brave and dedicated human rights defender.” She leaves behind two children. Below you may find links to a number of Politkovskaya’s articles, as well as some interviews with her conducted by the BBC.
"Russian Journalism Under Fire" ended after two days of intense discussion and numerous class lectures and presentations from our conference guests over the course of three weeks. Here you can find an article by Emile Dawisha on the evening dinner lecture by Dr. Igor Zevelev, as well as the text of an article by Anna Politkovskaya,, read by Alexei Simonov during the closing lunch.
Also, you can find summaries of each conference panel as well as interviews with a number of our conference guests, written by students from Professor Patricia Newberry’s journalism class.
Also, check out the Russian Journalism Blog, for more analysis and thoughts on the conference’s happenings from students in Dr. Karen Dawisha’s Russian Politics class.
Conference Panel Summaries:
Session 1 [PDF]*
Session 2 [PDF]*
Session 3 [PDF]*
Session 4 [PDF]*
Session 5 [PDF]*
Fred Weir [PDF]*
Nina Ognianova [PDF]*
Oleg Panfilov [PDF]*
Igor Zevelev [PDF]*
Alexey Simonov [PDF]*
*Accessible versions are available upon request. (See Report an Accessibility Issue.