The Shackles Tighten In Russia
In another sign that the regime of Vladimir Putin continues to advance it’s plans to stifle freedom in Russia, the state is continuing to consolidate control over what’s left of the independent media:
MOSCOW, April 21 – At their first meeting with journalists since taking over Russia’s largest independent radio news network, the managers had startling news of their own: from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.”
In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.
How would they know what constituted positive news?
“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”
In a darkening media landscape, radio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.
This isn’t exactly like the old days of the Soviet Union, where all the media was state-owned and state-controlled. Instead, Putin appears to be engaging in something that more closely resembles fascism than communism:
â€œThis is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,â€ Masha Lipman, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a telephone interview.
Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin â€” or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.
The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.
Protect the public, of course, means protecting from bad news about the economy, or the truth about the autocratic tactics of the Putin regime.
Interestingly, though, the people are not necessarily going along this time:
â€œI want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,â€ one listener, who signed a posting on the stationâ€™s Web site as Sergei from Vladivostok, complained. â€œMaybe youâ€™ve tortured RNSâ€™s audience enough? There are just a few of us left. Down with the boring nonintellectual broadcasts!â€
The change leaves Echo of Moscow, an irreverent and edgy news station that often provides a forum for opposition voices, as the only independent radio news outlet in Russia with a national reach.
And what does Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, think of the latest news from Russia?
â€œFor Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,â€ Mr. Venediktov said. â€œWe are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.â€
One wonders how long it will be before Mr. Venediktov gets a knock on the door.