Russia is ranked as the third deadliest place in the world to be a journalist. Despite its leaders’ claims to support a free press and democracy; yet another reporter, Oleg Kashin, has been brutally beaten into induced coma in November last year.
Russia is the ninth worst country for solving journalist murders. So far, amongst many other cases with less media attention, neither the murder of Anna Politkowskaja in 2006, nor the death of human rights activist Natalia Estemirowa in 2009 have been cleared.
Finally, in late November 2010, one of Russia’s most acclaimed journalists, Leonid Parfyonov, reacted to the attack on his colleague Kashin. In an explosive speech, he publicly criticized federal TV channels for their servile attitude and affinity for propaganda:
“After real and imagined sins of the 1990s, the national television broadcasting has been put under state control at the beginning of the new millennium. This happened in two steps, first media oligarchs were removed and then to join ranks in the war on terror. (…) Legally speaking, this isn’t news, but rather a government PR, or anti-PR, if you look at the case of media propaganda against the former Moscow mayor Luzhkov before his sacking. The government is doing self-PR as well, of course. ”
It’s not so much what Mr Parfyonov said that was news, but rather the fact that he has said it. His brilliant and for him unusual solemn speech prompted talk about contemporary parallels with perestroika and glasnost, a period of economic and political openness initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev 25 years ago.
Then, too, newspapers have not been revealing anything that had not been talked about in private. It is the public reporting of what had previously only been privately discussed that is the true change in Russia these days. One of the hallmarks of Vladimir Parfyonov’s television documentaries is his skill to identify turning points in the Russian consciousness. Perhaps this speech, together with people’s bold refusal to blindly believe in government’s promises, marked one such point.
Next to come: The reason Russia’s journalists united so quickly and expressively after the brutal beating of Oleg Kashin.