A Journalistic Dance on Broken Glass


Sensitive topics, such as domestic violence, suicide and sexuality are difficult to write about in Russia from a journalist’s point of view and perhaps this is exactly why NJC received an unusual amount of applications for two seminars which were recently held in cooperation with Barents Press Russia.

In Danish 

By Joan Rask

Being a journalist is far easier in the Nordic Countries. The statement belongs to Anna Kireeva, Russian-based journalist.

“In the Nordic countries, journalists only have to find a story, research it and then write it – we have to do so much more,” says Anna Kireeva and continues:

We need to write it in a metaphoric language to be published, we need to hide the real problem between the lines. It is important not to insult any decision makers or any officials – and we have to use a lot of effort to persuade our editor to publish it,” she says, pausing.

“And then, in the end, we need to avoid all the negative consequences we face personally and those the mediahouse faces”, she continues.

Anna Kireeva is a part of the NJC Advisory Board and Barents Press Russia. She has planned the seminar with NJC and, this time, the topic was domestic violence, a topic asked for multiple times by a journalist from the Russian part of the Barrens Press network.

This journalist was clearly not alone with this wish, because more than 50 very qualified journalists applied. Due to Covid-19, the seminar was split in two – one in Petrozavodsk and one in Murmansk – with only 20 participants each place at one time.

Inspiration and new methods
A key part of the seminar is the cultural and professional knowledge exchange between the North and Russia. One of the Nordic presenters was Leif Lønsmann, Russia-expert, member of the NJC Advisory Board.

“Despite the fact that Covid-19 has gradually changed everything, the journalistic dilemmas remain the same and Covid-19 doesn’t reduce the call for teaching,” he says.

Under normal circumstances, he would be physically present, but this time he and the other Nordic presenters had to participate online instead. He showed cases about: sexuality, accidents, suicide, crime, and hidden camera.

“Through dialogue, we hold up the North as a mirror. We face the exact same dilemmas and issues as they do in Russia, but this Nordic mirror shows them nuances and perspectives, which help to loosen the reins and challenge habitual thinking. It’s healthy and educational to experience the possibility of a society where people are able to speak freely on sensitive topics,” he says.

Anna Kireeva knows what the participants are here for.

“They are almost hungry after knowledge and examples. They want to know the rules of the game – both in terms of ethics and legality. The participants said that the most useful tasks were those containing practical advice on how to find and approach a person, how to persuade them to give an interview, even when a person doesn’t want to and how to remain objective, but still human, when writing the story,” she says.

Hidden numbers – fake, conjectures or fact
To Leif Lønsmann, it’s important that he and the other Nordic presenters acknowledge the professionalism of the Russian journalists and understand that it unfolds in a very different culture.

“We don’t provide the ‘Nordic answers’ and tell them what to do. The Russian journalists work with a media legislation wich is very different to what we know and their culture is more puritanical. We have to respect this. When they write about sensitive topics, it’s like a dance on eggshells – or broken glass with great personal consequences,” he says.

He specifies that the number of domestic violence and offensive behaviour cases is a difficult journalistic topic all over the world. Both in Russia and In the North, great uncertainty is associated with the numbers and statics and blurred by so called ‘dark numbers’. Some numbers can be exaggerated or  underestimated by interest groups or authorities. And others can be purely fake and conspiracies. This calls for journalistic professionalism.

Provocation or reality
“In the North, we have rules – and realities in the real world. We sometimes become holy, speaking about ethics associated with journalism, but when we are approaching the deadline or the large headlines we often forget the rules. Nearly all my cases shows how we are in conflict or violate our own ethical guidelines. The big difference is that we have the freedom to try, press and to break the borders. The Russian journalists don’t,” Leif Lønsmann says.

The North and Russia differ most in terms of writing about homosexuality and nudity. For example, in Russia, it’s very illegal to write anything positive on homosexuality. It is considered propaganda, such that a portrait of a happily married gay couple is unacceptable. However, such sensitive topics are touched upon, and Leif Lønsmann has come to learn that the Russian journalists master the use of euphemisms.

Anna Kireeva recognises this picture.

“Russian journalists would be able to teach the Nordic journalists a lot; for example, how to write a story when you are not allowed to say anything”.