Anatomy of Injustice

I’ve just attended the launch of the CPJ report Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in RussiaIndex on Censorship hosted a debate as part of the Free Word Festival.

Manana Aslamazyan, Jo Glanville, Nina Ognianova and Richard Sambrook discuss the report.  Photo by englishpen on twitter
Manana Aslamazyan, Jo Glanville, Nina Ognianova and Richard Sambrook discuss the report. Photo by englishpen on twitter

A culture of impunity has sprung up in Russia.  The murderer of Anna Politkovskaya has not been brought to justice, and the authorities are under no pressure to take investigations to their conclusion.  For the panel, the blame for this climate of indifference lies in a large part with the Russian media.  According to Manana Aslamazyan, there is no culture of solidarity amongst Russian journalists.  They fall into three categories:

  • A sizable group of cynics, who are content to game the system and support the regime;
  • A larger group of under-trained, provincial journalists, who live in fear of reprocussions and do nothing to upset the status quo;
  • A small group of “mad” campaigning journalists, who persist in holding power to account.

It is this group which is being murdered.  “An entire granch of journalism has been taken out” said Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC gobal news.  Investigative journalism has been effectively killed off in Russia.

It therefore falls to the Western journalists to keep Russia from sliding further into a deadly authoriarianism, and to support their beleagred Russian colleagues.  Foreign media can be a thorn in the side of the Russian authorities, says Aslamazyan, even ‘name-and-shame’ those in the domestic media community who are complicit in corruption and failure to accurately report.  By leading the way, Western journalists can embolden their Russian counterparts.  Indeed, said Oleg Panfilov (director of the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations), Russian journalists often ask foreign correspondents in Moscow to cover a trial on their behalf.  A report in the Financial Times of London is worth more than dozens of domestic reports.

Panfilov’s mentioning of the FT dove-tailed neatly with a comment by the author of the report, Nina Ognianova, who suggested that campaigners should focus on “shared interests” that the West has with Russia, rather than the rejected notion of “shared values”.  If the Russian government, and even the Russian public, are not outraged by the killing of journalists, then perhaps a campaign that aims for the wallet, rather than the heartstrings, might have more effect.  Business journalists, lead by (say) the Financial Times, should place more emphasis on how the decline of investigative journalism leads to corruption… which stunts the economy and ensures fewer returns on investment.  When the Russian elite realises that its own business interests are being irrevocably damaged by this culture of impunity, then perhaps they may be motivated to stop it.

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