Tue, May 24, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Self-censorship dulls Russian TV’s election news

Television is the main news source for 80 percent of Russians, but even the younger generation of reporters avoids topics that might cost them their jobs

By Alissa de Carbonnel  /  Reuters, MOSCOW

When one of Russia’s top TV reporters, Leonid Parfyonov, was awarded the nation’s highest TV journalism honor in December, the former NTV presenter chose to speak out.

“Journalists are not journalists at all but bureaucrats, obeying a logic of service and submission,” Parfyonov, who now produces sardonic historical documentaries shown on state television, told TV executives at the black-tie event.

No state channel broadcast his criticism.

Playing to frustrations with what some reporters say is the “Sovietization” of Russian TV, a media start-up TV Dozhd (Rain TV) launched online and on satellite last year with slogans of “Give TV another chance” and “Don’t be afraid to turn on the TV!”

Bold, critical and 60 percent live on air — a form long removed from national channels — Dozhd’s bid to contrast with the docile coverage of the federal channels struck a chord with Moscow intellectuals, who likened it to the NTV of the 1990s.

It consistently invited guests shunned by other channels and aired topics that many believed were banned — from opposition protests to the trial of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

However, the channel’s first birthday last month was marred when the station’s director quit after its owner decided not to air a poem lampooning Medvedev just weeks before the Kremlin chief visited for an interview.

Defending her decision, the owner, Natalya Sindeyeva, said she had not been ordered to pull the segment.

“No one called me,” she said. “But I know we are being closely watched.”

The verses “crossed the boundary of acceptable constructive criticism,” she told entertainment weekly Afisha.

TV Dozhd’s Facebook page filled with expressions of dashed hope from its viewers.

“It’s shameful. Medvedev tamed ... you,” Yevgeny Pustoshilov wrote.

“There was an overall feeling of betrayed hope. A feeling that a new, free product was possible, but that now we have slid backward again,” former Dozhd director Vera Krichevskaya said.

Many asked why Dozhd’s young reporters had skirted tough questions in the subsequent Medvedev interview.

“I am surprised at these young people who weren’t reared on Soviet censorship and represent a liberal voice,” said Anna Kachkayeva, head of Moscow State University’s TV journalism faculty.

“It shows how much fear has accumulated in these 10 years, when all the freedom-loving reporters have been eliminated,” she said.

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