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A Look at Russia's Media Landscape

Aired December 15, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: .convoy was attacked as it crossed into Gaza from Egypt. His son, among those wounded, while a bodyguard was killed.
Iranians going to the polls in what is seen as a new test of support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinijead. On the ballot, local councils and a powerful clerical body, the assembly of experts. This vote could show whether reformers, who are the president's rivals, are gaining any influence.

A farewell ceremony for U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shown here live, coming to you from the Pentagon. This, his last day on the job. A rousing tribute from President Bush. On Monday, Robert Gates will be sworn in as Rumsfeld's replacement. President Bush, the Vice President Dick Cheney, and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff there to take part in the tribute.

Police counting a serial killer in eastern England confirming the identity of a fifth victim, a 29-year old prostitute. The town of Ipswich is offering prostitutes financial aid to help them stay off the streets. Detectives, meantime, keep up the hunt for the killer.

The U.S. and China have wrapped up a two day trade session in Beijing, but without an agreement on ways to solve the currency dispute between these two countries. Critics and the U.S. charge that Iran is undervalued, giving exporters a trade advantage. China has pledged to work to a greater exchange rate flexibility, but it gives no timeframe.

Nintendo recalling more than three million wrist straps for those remote controls to its Wii computer game console. Apparently, excited gamers are losing their grip on the control and launch it straight into the TV set. Well, Nintendo is replacing the strap with a stronger one.

Those are the latest headlines. I'm Jim Clancy. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS is straight ahead.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome. I'm Becky Anderson. And you're watching CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the week.

And this week, we're coming to you from Moscow, where we're going to take a look at Russia's media landscape. Well, one disturbing trend that's emerged onto President Vladimir Putin's Russia is the number of high profile killings. Journalists and others who have spoken out against injustice or corruption have apparently been targeted for their work.

In a moment, we'll be taking a look at the freedom of the press in Russia.

But first, CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance takes a look at the culture of killings.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It can silence the harshest critics or clear the way for a lucrative business deal. Contract killing in Russia is an all too common tool. This, a police sting operation to stop one of them.

Police video is used in evidence to convict would-be assassins. This suspect was arrested with a pistol fitted with a silencer. Prosecutors say as many as 5,000 killings are carried out to order across Russia every year.

Investigative journalist Anna Politkovska was one high profile target gunned down outside her Moscow apartment. Now her family struggles to understand their loss, and why these kinds of murders are so common here.

"How are those things possible in Russia," her son Ilya asks. "It is terrible and strange. Yet those things are happening more often here than in other countries."

Fierce critic of the Kremlin and Russia's war with Chechnya, her killing bolstered Russia's position as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work.

So many others have died before her, like U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, shot dead in Moscow in 2004. He often wrote about corruption in Russia. And his family believes that's why he was killed.

(on camera): One grim statistic of Vladimir Putin's Russia is that in the six years since he became president, more than 13 journalists have been killed, like Anna Politkovska and Paul Klebnikov, apparently for their work.

Despite official pledges to find those responsible, most of the crimes remain unsolved. And it's not just journalists in Russia who are under threat.

(voice-over): Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko believed he was poisoned in London last month because of his outspoken Kremlin criticism. The Kremlin denies involvement.

Andre Kozloff was the deputy chairman of Russia's central bank, trying to reform the country's murky financial system, shot dead earlier this year after a football match.

And in the Russian Far East, a popular opposition politician was gunned down amid an election runoff. Police say the assassin used an assault rifle fitted with a silencer.

On Russian television, crime shows feed a public fascination with the murderous phenomenon. Former detective turned TV host Sergei Advienko has been tracking contract killings for decades. In Putin's Russia, he says, criminal gangs, disgruntled individuals, or in some cases even corrupt officials have been involved.

SERGEI ADVIENKO, TV HOST, "DEADLY DANGEROUS": Public officials looking for money, they're looking for sort of - not for doing their job properly, but using their positions to gain money for their personal needs. And definitely, people of that sort of psychology or that sort of way of thinking, they would never hesitate to solve any sort of problem by contracting a person to kill somebody.

CHANCE: It's that perception of official involvements that's become a hot political issue in Russia. The Russian president has vowed to solve the crimes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): When such gory crimes take place, it's quite understandable that they attract people's attention. However, I should tell you that the number of contract killings is declining. It is the duty of the state to bring to an end any investigations of this kind.

This concerns both the murders of members of the press and the crimes in the economic sector.

CHANCE: But Russia's culture of killings, be it politicians, businessmen, or journalists may have a devastating impact. Human rights workers say for one, it sends a clear and chilling message about freedom of speech here.

ALEXEI SIMONOV, GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION: People do understand that to survive, they have to be loyal. To make their media work, they have to be loyal to what is said by those who pay money for that. And as soon as you are not loyal, you might be driven out of your editorial.

CHANCE: There are still many Russians prepared to speak out, to oppose the powerful, despite the risks. But with every killing, every act of intimidation, they become fewer.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


ANDERSON: Well, let's talk more about the freedom of the press here or lack of it and the risks that journalists face. Joining me now from outside the (INAUDIBLE) Cathedral here in Red Square is Tony Halpin of The Times of London, the correspondent here in Moscow.

Journalists do face significant risks here, don't they?

TONY HALPIN, THE TIMES: Yes, that's right. And particularly Russian journalists. More than 40 have been killed here in the last decade simply doing their jobs. And there's very little reward for what they do, since it's difficult to get an audience. And even when they have an audience, it's difficult to make change here.

ANDERSON: How wide ranging is the reporting on the death of these journalists in the local press here and broadcast media?

HALPIN: Well, in fairness, it does get considerable coverage immediately after the event. But then it tends to die away. And there's very little evidence on many occasions that the perpetrators of these killings are actually found. There's little pressure. There's an initial noise, but then it dies away.

Most famously, Anna Politkovska, of course, who two months ago was killed outside her apartment. Nobody yet has been arrested for that.

ANDERSON: How much pressure do you feel under as a Western journalist here?

HALPIN: Much less, I would say. Western journalists are protected in many ways, simply because of our stages here. And they'll be a much greater noise created at home.

Russian journalists don't have that protection, but there are still risks obviously.

ANDERSON: There are - it's hard there, of course, because the journalist who worked for "Forbes" magazine.

HALPIN: Yes, Paul Klebnikov, yes.

ANDERSON: .was also killed.

HALPIN: Yes, he was. He was one of a hybrid in many ways. He regarded himself as a Russian journalist. Clearly, he was an American. He was doing what was considered to be a stellar job here and got killed.

ANDERSON: All right, let's talk about press freedom here. Is there any freedom of the press?

HALPIN: There is. It's difficult to say on television whether there is because the agenda is much more tightly controlled. It's much more concentrated on the government officials. Alternative voices and critics don't often get heard.

In newspapers, there is more freedom, but the difficulty there is getting an audience.

ANDERSON: Should we be surprised, though, that there isn't much press freedom, when you see the influence of the state increasingly?

HALPIN: Well, yes. A lot of people here are not very interested in the problems of their country. They had a great and difficult decade after - immediately after the Soviet collapse. Many of them are tired of hearing about scandals. They believe rather resignedly that there are scandals. They think things won't improve very much. They want to concentrate on their lives.

It's difficult, therefore, for journalists to get that sort of steam of anger behind people. It's made change when they publish scandalous articles or articles that really expose corruption.

ANDERSON: President Putin will stand down in 2008.


ANDERSON: We've got about a year and a half of the build up to that election. As I talk to people here, they believe that the state will become more controlling, not less as time goes on. Do you believe that? And how will that affect the media, do you think here?

HALPIN: Well, everything's very tightly controlled. The message is being tightly controlled. You said there's 15 months to an election, but you could ask anyone in the street whether there's anything resembling a campaign, and there isn't because people already understand that the decision will mainly be made there in the Kremlin. And they will then be offered the choice to almost exhaust in many ways.

There will be opposition candidates, but they will struggle to find a voice here, particularly on television. They will struggle to get people to know who they are. And if people don't know who they are, they're not going to vote for them.

ANDERSON: Let's just talk about the access you get to stories then, because we're here in Moscow, where one assumes things are perhaps a little easier than they are outside. Just talk to us about stories that you cover away from Moscow.

HALPIN: Yes, in fairness actually, away from Moscow it's somewhat easier. The difficulty there is it's just dealing with bureaucracy. And bureaucracy is the same everywhere rather sadly.

Government, though, are very reluctant. Government bodies are very reluctant to talk to journalists on the record. You can call a press office here and the stand of responsibly that there's no comment. And they'll tell you to fax your questions to their department.

You may get a reply, you may not. There isn't a culture here of providing information openly. And that makes it very difficult to get to the bottom of stories.

ANDERSON: As a posting for a foreign correspondent, just - let's just address this issue. How good or bad is it?

HALPIN: It's a great place to be. I mean, Moscow is one of the most important capitals in the world. Russia is - newspapers are being showing over the last few weeks remains a hot story. People want to know who will succeed President Putin. So next year will probably even be a bigger story.

And there's some evidence that the succession questions Mr. Putin is generating tensions in the society here. So it's very unpredictable.

ANDERSON: And how much interest do you get from The Times of London at home? Is it difficult to sell your story these days?

HALPIN: Particularly after the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning, there's a huge appetite for what's going on in Russia. Not only in politics, I have to say, but society culture and increasingly in business, which is a very big story out of him.

ANDERSON: We must leave it there. Tony Halpin of The Times of London, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.

You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS this week from Russia.

Coming up, the Kremlin tightens its control on media outlets. That, after this short break. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS this week from Moscow, where we are taking a look at the Russian media.

Now since Vladimir Putin came to power, there's been a shifting control towards state ownership of the media. And some say that has come at the cost of independent reporting, particularly at the TV broadcasters.

Well, joining me now is Sergey Brilev. He is a director of the state's TV company RTR and presenter of one of the weekly shows of (INAUDIBLE) Daily.

We thank you for joining us. You're on assignment, I know, in South America at present. Let's talk about RTR and its reporting. How independent do you believe the reporting, for example, on your show is?

SERGEY BRILEV, ANCHOR AND DEPUTY DIRECTOR, RTR: Let me tell you this. To begin with, Russia is not a free country and has never been one.

It's not a free country by Western standards. At the same time, it's so much more Democratic country in comparison with what is was. And it's so much a Democratic country in comparison with so many neighbors of Russia, which are to the south of this country. Well, not of this country, because I mean, Argentina obviously. But from looking from Russia.

I can't really say that the Russian media is free. And I'm not exactly happy about the state of affairs as far as state ownership is concerned.

At the same time, what I stress is that given the current political circumstances in Russia, they are at least rules of the game.

Now it's extremely difficult to form a political party in Russia, for instance. You've got to find 50,000 people all over the country. You've got to find - to help representatives of these political parties in at least half the regions and so on and so forth, but you can do it.

The same applies to television. Rules are difficult, but they are rules. And it basically - the question is what do you fill this formula with?

Now as far as my program is concerned, you know, if you talk to opposition figures, they won the complaining about their absence in my program. I do have the ruling governing United Russia party. I do have communists. I do have liberals and bright forces.

But I can't really.


BRILEV: .say this about the whole picture. This is certainly right. And I'm afraid so, yes. Becky?

ANDERSON: Let's take a practical example then. The murder of Anna Politkovska, for example, the journalist who was murdered recently in Russia. How much time on your show did you devote to that murder?

BRILEV: As far as my show is concerned, Politkovska works for a newspaper with 50,000 circulation. Had I started my program with the night on her murder, I'm absolutely sure that 95 percent of my viewers would have said who - I absolutely agree that she was a key figure, especially in the political past and among the journalists.

Of course, we knew who she was, but I wouldn't be saying this about 95 percent of my viewers. She was very popular among people for the country - human rights, among journalists, among politicians.

ANDERSON: I heard an item on her in my program. I heard it in the second part of the program. We dedicated - I don't remember how many minutes exactly, so I think.

I certainly called her the harshest critic of the Russian government. We had an interview with editing chief and showed some pictures. That is as far as that day is concerned.

We've been, of course, coming back to these here ever since - but I don't really think that the murder of Anna Politkovska was that revealing thing that - by which you can judge how the government's own media is operated and so on.

ANDERSON: OK, well let's talk about the complexities of the picture, because you and I know and those watching the show will know that the role of the media in any democracy is that (INAUDIBLE) state effectively. With a state controlled organization, how can the media do a better job effectively going forward?

BRILEV: Let me quote someone called Jeffrey Hacha (ph). I'm not trying to avoid the question. On the contrary. He's got this book called, "Fourth State," which he describes the multiple murder rivalry. And there, he describes how once murdered by - murder - by the newspaper comes to their editorial boards on Monday to say that I've bought a trademark. I'm not going to influence the fact your editorial policy whatsoever.

And then next day, he appoints a new editing chief. Now the political culture in Russia is such that onus of newspapers, television channels, magazines or radio stations do not even say things like murder (INAUDIBLE) on that particularly Monday out of politeness.

No, the owners of newspapers and television channels in Russia, were they government or were they indeed coming from the private sector, love affecting editorial policy.

This was very much true back on the `90s, when major federal channels were controlled by private owners. This is quite right today when it's the Russian government which owns by one way or another the majority of the federal channels.

The Russian political culture is somewhat different. But then I'm coming back to my point number one. Russia is not a democracy by Western standards, but it so much more a democracy than it used to be.

ANDERSON: Sergey Brilev, we'll have to leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Coming up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, this week from Moscow, a glimpse of Russia that you don't often see. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN with me, Becky Anderson in Moscow.

Well all week, we've been bringing you special coverage from Russia. Putin, power and politics. We had a chance to get out and about to do some reporting on a story that is not often covered. That of national pride.


ANDERSON (voice-over): A Moscow (INAUDIBLE) party is just getting started. This contest features DJs who've played around Europe. And they say this is as good as it gets.

DMITRI ASHMAN, DJ, PARTY ORGANIZER: I have a lot of friends, very famous DJs and they're coming, they say that the parties in Moscow are - the best - one of the best in the world.

ANDERSON: This is a new generation, one coming of age in Vladimir Putin's Russia. And like their country, they've got lots of energy, radiate confidence, and are proud of who they are.

Still, there has to be more to Russia's resurgent national pride than Moscow's night life. After the frenetic club scene, I head for the calmer waters of an art studio.

Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander (INAUDIBLE) are among Russia's leading contemporary artists. They describe how art here has evolved entirely with the country's politics.

During the Yeltsin years, it was fashionable to eject national themes and favor Western ones. Profitable, but in no way reflecting life in Russia. Since President Putin came to office, they're seeing that change.

You talk about how nationalism is expressed in your art. Are you seeing that in other forms of pop culture?

VLADIMIR DUBOSSARSKY, RUSSIAN ARTIST: We are in a period when artists, still looking for how to answer the question of expressing national ideas. Now I think it's a very important theme and very contemporary.

ANDERSON: Vladimir speaks in terms artists use, of pride expressed to the pursuit of metaphysical ideas. And that under President Putin, art need no longer be politicized or relevant, but not quite touching what it means to be Russian today.

As the weekend draws to a close, I visit Victor Eroleyev, one of Russia's most popular authors and host of a television talk show, brings together intellectual elites to probe various topics.

I want to know why it is people here can say they are proud to be Russian. Difficulty of finding a common narrative.

VICTOR EROLEYEV, AUTHOR: When we had communism, you know, communism is against nationalism as idea. Then communism gone. And people, they didn't know really what is the - identification, right? What they could think about themselves.

ANDERSON: We talked about the definition of Russian pride, beginning with understanding a country caught between two cultures, east and west.

EROLEYEV: But in good moments, we are sitting on the - on two chairs, having east and west in our soul. But in bad moments, we are sitting between two chairs. And I think last 20 years, we were sitting between two chairs. And finally, slowly, we're starting to put these chairs together.

ANDERSON: Back at the club, the beat is still thumping. The crowd still dancing. Young people thinking more of the moment than tomorrow. Yet when tomorrow comes and they find their own place in the world, have no doubt that they'll do so proud to be Russian.


ANDERSON: How people here feel about being Russian today.

Well, that's all for INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. We've been taking a look at how the media covered the big stories of the week. Join us next week here on CNN at the same time.

I'm Becky Anderson in Moscow. Good bye.



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