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Contract Killings


Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Journalists are killed in contract killings in Russia

Alarming numbers of journalists in Russia have learned the hard way just how strong the opposition to their work can be. Since Putin came to power in 2000, more than a dozen journalists have been killed in contract killings -- the most recent occurring just last month, and the most sensational being the slaying of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.Forty-seven journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1992, according to the international Committee To Protect Journalists, while reports of beatings and intimidation are common.
Often enough, the government plays a prominent role in the pressures faced by the media. Natalya Morar, a correspondent for the weekly "Novoye vremya" who has Moldovan citizenship, was barred last month from entering Russia for a second time. She was prevented from entering Russia in December on national-security grounds after writing articles about alleged corruption within the Kremlin.
And as of April 7, accredited journalists have been barred from open access to the Russian White House, the main government office complex in Moscow. All official press communications will be distributed by fax and e-mail and published on the government's official website, ending the need for journalists to physically enter the building except for official events.Tregubova says she despairs of the current state of the media in Russia."It's probably not very ethical for me, sitting so far away, in a civilized European country, where human rights are guaranteed, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are taken for granted -- it wouldn't be ethical for me to criticize those colleagues of mine still in my homeland," Tregubova says. "But frankly, I think that what's going on there is less like journalism than some sort of harem."She says even the boldest of her Kremlin-reporter friends have been reduced to writing flattering anecdotes about the president. No one dares to criticize or write anything different today, she says, because they fear the consequences.As for television, she says, it has become a "nightmare similar to what was shown in Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev's era." Russia's three main television channels are either state-controlled or owned by Kremlin-friendly enterprises, which means you never see news that's critical of the government, Tregubova says.What is interesting, she says, is that samizdat -- the illicit reports published during the Soviet era that were critical of the regime -- have started to reappear, but in a different format."In fact, the strange thing today is that the Internet is playing the role of publisher of samizdat," Tregubova says. "I think that the future journalism textbooks will reflect this. Have a look, for example, at the website -- content-wise it is human rights-oriented per se. In fact, this is just what existed before -- underground 'chronicle of the current events' or chronicle of what was going on during the pre-reform times in the Soviet Union."Recently alarms have been raised that the government -- after becoming wary of modern methods of disseminating information -- has stepped up efforts to monitor and control electronic communications and the Internet. In addressing a recent Internet forum, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev reportedly told the audience that the government must consider "the delicate question of the relationship between freedom of speech and responsibility.""I'm afraid that the Russian media must go through the very same difficult path it went through [at the collapse of the Soviet Union]," Tregubova says. "Just as when Yeltsin's reforms began, we built journalism with our own hands, we started a new style, we tried to study western journalism -- so the next generation will have to do the same thing in 10, 15 years' time, when the current regime has gone."

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