chapter  1
18 Pages

The Struggle for Press Freedom in Russia: Reflections of a Russian Journalist

AS I WRITE THESE LINES, IN APRIL 2007, I am in a rather strange mood, subject

to mixed feelings and expectations. A week ago my office e-mail failed because, we

were told, the server was somehow connected with the one at the ‘Internews’ NGO,

and therefore had been ‘arrested’ along with all the documents and equipment of

Internews after a sudden and unmotivated visit and search by police and

prosecution officials. Internews1 was the oldest and most prominent training centre

for broadcast journalists in the country, educating hundreds of professionals

throughout the Russian regions. Its subsequent closure after this episode stunned

the media community. It was not involved in political campaigns, did not

participate in PR activities, and was wholly devoted to education and training,

promoting quality journalism, and committed to national-level broadcast initiatives.

Although it had been criticised several times by the authorities and by President

Putin for using Western aid, the same president had explicitly identified it at a

recent public event as an important NGO leader. The official explanation for the

search at the Internews office was that half a year previously its chief, Manana

Aslamazyan, had not declared extra cash at Russian customs. However, in the view

of many media professionals and intellectuals, this explanation lacked seriousness-

a view supported by the Russian Union of Journalists, who published open letters

in support of Internews.