“War” against Press Freedom escalates as Operation Ukraine continues

There is a “war on press freedom” in Russia which has escalated dramatically since the commencement of ‘Operation Ukraine’, according to prominent Russian investigative journalist and Chair of the International Press Institute Galina Sidorova. William Pimlott reports.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 17, 2014

Sidorova’s comments to WAN-IFRA come in response to a slew of interventions in independent Russian media.

In Russia, the Editor of a liberal news outlet which ran a story on Ukraine has been replaced by a “pro-Kremlin” journalist, while in Ukraine a major Russian newspaper chain has closed its Ukranian branch. Radio Free Europe also reports that four prominent opposition websites have also been shut down in Russia.

Galina Timchenko, who has edited the Russian news website since 1999, will be replaced by a more pro-Kremlin editor, Alexei Goreslavsky. Timchenko recently published an article with a link to an interview with a member of one of the Ukranian right wing paramilitary groups that helped unseat Ukranian president Viktor YanukovychThe Guardian reports that the Russian media watchdog then complained and her dismissal followed hours after.

Sidorova, told WAN-IFRA “that is exactly the result of this war against the press freedom here (in Russia) which has been escalating dramatically since they started Operation Ukraine.”

Meantime, in Kiev, the Russian publishing house Kommersant announced it was closing its Ukranian edition. The closure is ostensibly for financial reasons. “It had a certain trend (the advertising market) toward reducing losses that made it possible to hope that in a while it would break even or better.” Kommersant PH chief executive Pavel Filenkov told Interfax. “But the recent events in Ukraine have led to the fact that the advertising market has not only collapsed in the segment in which Kommersant worked, it has simply ended.” The Kyiv Post quotes reports Filenkov saying to Interfax that the motives were 90% economic.

Others seemed less convinced of the financial motives. Freelance foreign correspondent covering Ukraine Maxim Eristavi tweeted, “Top-influential Ukraine’s newspaper Kommersant-Ukraine is closed by its Russian investors.” while Evgen Vorobiov, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs commented, “@kommersant_ua is closed by its owner as “hopeless”. After censorship of, the “information war” by RU is a more likely explanation.”

“I know they have confronted collapse of the advertising market, so the reason of the closure looks, as the media house CEO put it , 90 per cent commercial. On the other hand, he said nothing about the rest 10 per cent,” explained Sidorova to WAN-IFRA, “ And here I would suggest the reason may also be political considering the present (almost) state of war between Russia and Ukraine, the information war of  Kremlin against Ukraine and the war inside Russia that Putin regime has unleashed against Russian independent media.”

Boris Najman, Social Professor of Economics at the Université Paris-Est Créteil, explained the move as part of a recent historical trend in Russia. “For Russia, the trend in the three years is to close down all the opposition media. It is stronger at the moment because clearly Putin, if he is preparing an intervention, he does not want opposition,” he told WAN-IFRA. Najman explained that he was aware of media developments in the rapidly changing situation because of frenetic Facebook activity among Russian users of the site. “They’ve been updating minute by minute.”

But Namjan emphasised that media independence in Ukraine might remain robust. “Journalism is being affected mostly in Russia, in Ukraine there are many more independent local news outlets, the points of view are much more free and the civil society is much stronger.”

Namjan predicts that such curtailments of media freedom could set a bad example in the region. “In central asia where the freedom of press is low it will get even lower. It will also be a signal to Europe, a tendancy to limit the press that might be copied in Eastern Europe. The regimes in Hungrary and Serbia are tough and hate critics and do now want a free press.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the Süddeutsche Zeitung has decided to cancel its monthly publishing of a pro-Russian advertising supplement. The supplement, called Russland Heute (Russia Today), is financed as a PR project by the Russian State Newspaper Rossijskaja gasetaDie Tageszeitung reports that the Russland Heute editor, Jekaterina Iwanowa, regrets the decision and hope that the March issue will be published later.

The vice chief editor of the Süddeutsche ZeitungWolfgang Krach (a World Editors Forum board member), emphasised that the decision was the publisher’s and not the editorial board’s. However, he commented to Die Tageszeitung that there was a clear problem, “…we know that Russland Heute is about conveying a positive image of Russia. But at a moment when Russia is sending soldiers and tanks into the Crimea, we fundamentally do not think that is appropriate.”

The supplement still appears in The Daily Telegraph and other international dailies.

Share via
Copy link