The Western world shall not forget us

Russian journalists participated in World Press Freedom Day 2016 (invited by Nordic Journalist Center)

15 Russian journalists participated in World Press Freedom Day held in Helsinki. Meet journalists Ivan Beliaev and Vladimir Izotov from Saint-Petersburg

By Joan Rask

“We strongly need to communicate with each other,” says Ivan Beliaev.

He is a journalist at Vologda Russia, which is published online and broadcast on radio, and he is one of the 15 journalists from the Russian news industry who took part in the conference, World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), in spring 2016. Their participation was made possible by the support provided by NJC via its special programme aimed at Northwest Russia. To Ivan Beliaev, the predominant objective was to establish new contacts with Russian – and international colleagues.

“There are not that many ways to find each other in Russia,” he says.

Isolations is dangerous
The shared journey, where they meet like-minded people, makes up for this. All of the 15 participants work at various broadcast media, and they all endeavour to produce journalism which builds on facts, diverging sources, and that attempts to provide the reader with a true and fair view. All contrary to the conditions found in everyday Russia. This worries Ivan Beliaev.

Self-isolation is very dangerousand a threat to Russia itself and to the next generation — and to the Western world

– Ivan Beliaev

In this, he glimpses portents of a second Cold War looming, and he does not believe that it is desired by anyone — neither in Russia nor the West.

“We live in an interconnected world and our job, as journalists — the crucial part — is to keep interconnected,” he says.

Difficult to work as a journalist
Vladimir Izotov, who works at Radio Russia, the official state radio, is of the same opinion.

“Yes, it has step by step become worse and more difficult to work as a journalist,” he says.

It has step by step become worse and more difficult to work as a journalist

Vladimir Izotov

He has been a journalist his entire professional career and has, on multiple occasions, experienced control, self-censorship, and reprisals forced upon him.

His programme was closed
Some years back, Vladimir Izotov got his radio programme closed. Viktor Justjtjenko was then a presidential candidate for the 2004 Ukrainian election, and it was in the midst of this campaign that Vladimir Izotov’s programme was shut down.

In his radio programme devoted to the weekly results of political events, Vladimir Izotov played a fragment of an interview with Viktor Yushchenko, who was the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada then, which was recorded a year and a half before. In this snippet, Yushchenko says that Ukraine needs to conduct a multi-vector foreign policy focusing exclusively on its national interests.

“Shortly after, my programme was suddenly shut down without any reason,” he explains.

And he entertains no illusions of management accepting this.

“It would have caused them more trouble if they had fired me. That is why I kept my job,” says Vladimir Izotov.

Nevertheless, he continuous to write and broadcast undauntedly. He is not agitated — at least not outright. But there are things that he prefers to remain silent about.

“The hardness and strictness of Russian laws are compensated for by the fact that you are not obliged to follow them,” he says — and smiles — and laughs.

Journalists as bridge-makers
But what the West might treat facetiously is part of a day-to-day life in Russia and in those medias where the Russian conference-participants spend their daily life, and this reality is hard to describe. It remains one of the reasons why Ivan Beliaev believes that journalists need to bridge the gap between people, so that updated information about one another is available:

“I hope that I am a bridge-maker — at least a little bit in my daily work.”

Meet and talk – there is no alternative
At the WPFD, the Russian participants have had the opportunity to see how others have succeeded, and that is a great inspiration to both Vladimir Izotov and Ivan Beliaev.

“We must reshape what we hear into our reality in the special Russian context. There is no other opportunity than to meet and talk,” says Ivan Beliaev.

Russia moving backwards
It was specially inspiring to speak to journalists from Eastern Europe to Vladimir Izotov.

The nineties was — to me — the best period of my life. I think it was one of the best periods in Russian history

– Vladimir Izotov

“They are moving forwards very quickly, and Russia is going backwards, and a conference is a good opportunity to meet and talk,” he says.

They both wish the best for Russia’s future. The young journalist, Ivan Beliaev, has hardly known anything else, but Vladimir Izotov knows that it could be different:

“The nineties was — to me — the best period of my life. I think it was one of the best periods in Russian history.”

He regards the current abnormal situation as the norm. At present, his daily life is affected by how difficult it is to navigate the media industry, because Russian brand makers distort the image of companies, state, and especially the president.

“The Russian people got their freedom in the nineties, but most of them were not ready for it,” says Viadimir Izotou.

Nordic Journalist Center focuses on the dissemination of Russian news. It is actualized via a DKK 4.8 million (2016-2017) grant by The Nordic Council of Ministers.

NJC cooperates with the Saint Petersburg based Regional Press Institute.

Read as well:
The freedom of press is almost gone in Russia
NJC research project will map Russian media
Write so you don´t end op in prison