For the first time, both independent media and state media from all over Russia were gathered at a conference on freedom of the press and journalists’ safety in Moscow. NJC participated with two participants.
By Joan Rask
“The most important thing was that the conference actually took place”
So says Anna Kireeva, Chairperson of Barents Press Russia, just returned home from an unusual high level conference in Moscow last week.
The conference on freedom of the press and journalists’ safety was arranged at the initiative of OSCE with Harlem Desir as OSCE´s representative for ‘Freedom of the Media’. Harlem Desir had joined state owned Russian media, Russian independent media, Russian bloggers and representatives from the international media all in one place. Anna Kireeva and Olav Njaastad, editor at NRK in Oslo, participated on behalf of Nordic Journalist Centre (NJC). Both are members of the Nordic Journalist Centre’s advisory council.
The conference on freedom of the press and journalists’ safety where state media participated alongside Russian independent media, Russian bloggers and representatives from the international media. She and Olav Njaastad, editor at NRK in Oslo, participated on behalf of Nordic Journalist Centre (NJC). Both are members of the Nordic Journalist Centre’s advisory council.
“The conference was a very good initiative from OECD and an excellent example of diplomacy. There are a lot of uncertainties among Russian journalists, pertaining to both state media, the free independent media and the individual bloggers,” says Olav Njaastad.
Recent laws have made it even more difficult for Russian journalists to carry out their work. In June 2019, the Russian journalist Ivan Golunov was imprisoned while covering a potential case of corruption. Following massive pressure from Russian journalists and organisations, he was released from prison and the accusations of drug possession were dropped.
Many like Ivan Golunov
“Every journalist know Ivan Golunov’s name now, but if a similar thing happens to journalists in the regions, most likely nobody will know about it. The conference gave them an opportunity to tell about their colleagues still in prison or at risk of arrest, to speak their names and to tell what happened,” says Anna Kireeva.
She highlights one panelist who said: “It is not clear to us what we can write and what we cannot write – and what will result in our prosecution.”
Many conference participants were worried for the journalists and bloggers safety, and Anna Kireeva understands them all too well.
“In Russia, there is minimal risk of legal prosecution associated with attacking working journalists,” she says.
Anna Kireeva and Olav Njaastad tell that both Russian authorities and state media emphasise that they must protect Russian interests and institutions. This was a hot topic, but no one talked about the Russian constitution.
“The free media are the best way to protect the constitution, and I was surprised that this issue was not clearly raised as an important one,” says Olav Njaastad.
Dialogue – despite hard-drawn battle lines
The battle lines were hard-drawn, and some of the speakers and panelists said things as they saw them. Some issues were not discussed publicly, but were rather eagerly discussed during break-time. Despite potential shortcomings, the two NJC-representatives agree that the conference established an entirely new opportunity for starting dialogue.
“It was a very good conference for networking and getting contacts for further cooperation. It’s important that journalists from different countries meet and learn how to trust each other,” says Anna Kireeva.
Olav Njaastad hopes the conference can be a first-step in a new direction.
“Trust must be re-established between state, legislators and civil society – the latter which journalists belong to. This is very important work,” says Olav Njaastad.
Unfortunately, president Putin and the Legislative Assembly of Russia have pulled the trend in a completely wrong direction. The new media laws literally make journalism and independent journalists considered enemies of the state in Russia. It further polarises the Russian society,” says Olav Njaastad.