10 Years Without Anna Politkovskaya

Published: 7 October 2016

Country: Russia

by Nadezda Azhgikhina,

Russian Union of Journalist and Vice-president of the European Federation of Journalists

Anna_PolitkovskayaAnna Politkovskaya was not the first journalist killed in Russia after the end of USSR.  On 7 October 2006, the day of her assassination in Moscow, the Glasnost Defense Foundation death list consisted of 211 names. We, organisers of the memorial meeting at Pushkin Square in Moscow, have been reading those names loudly. It took us 40 minutes to read them all what stroke all attending Russian and international journalists.

Anyway, Anna Politkovskaya was the first Russian journalist whose killing became an international news and initiated, after many years, new interest in Russia and the Russian media.  Dozens of international conferences, films, books, debates and articles made it an iconic image of courage, dedication to profession and human rights for hundreds of colleagues and general audience in many countries. Remembering Anna, today we remember  at the same time all  those who paid with their lives for the truth.

Standing in Pushkin Square in 2006, we believed that that Anna’s murder would be the last. We were wrong. Up to this day, the number of deceased media professionals, those who have been killed, disappeared, died under unclear circumstances in Russia, is bigger than 350. Some of them lost their lives during conflicts in the Caucasus and East Ukraine. Many have been killed rather far from conflict zones. Most of tragedies ended with impunity.

To tell the truth, according to UNESCO data, less than 10 per cent of all killings of journalists around the world ended with court and punishment of responsible, killers  and masterminds.

So Russia is not an exception.

There is a culture of impunity. Facts of violence against journalists are neglected by law enforcement, attackers on journalists and those who threat them, are not punished on a regular basis. Legislation devoted to the protection of journalists does not work properly. This is a real threat to freedom of the media and to democratic development itself.

Recent media regulations, especially since 2014, create new challenge for independent vices in the media. As Director of Mass Media Defense Center and a Board member of Article 19, media lawyer Galina Arapova wrote: “All recently adopted laws create additional privileges  for state media, in particular state TV and at the same time authorities make a strong use of administrative resources to keep the press in check and tighten censorship around individual journalists and media organizations”.

“Criminal code gives a variety of about 30 provisions that could be used against journalists, starting from criminal defamation and infringement to privacy and up to discourse of state secrets, extremism and  separatism,” added. Article 144 of the Criminal code, the only one that should protect journalists from harassment – criminal liability for “obstruction of the lawful professional activities of journalists”- is used very rarely.

There is no exaggeration to say that new restrictions for  the media  (as well as for NGOs) are  closely associated with anti-Russian sanctions, is obvious reactions on political tensions and are really harmful for free speech and civil society  in Russia.

Shadows of new Cold War are becoming more dark, and spoil media environment.  Mainstream media in Russia  produce anti-Western and Anti-American propaganda as response to anti-Russian propaganda and the widespread presentation of Russia as a new “Empire of Evil”. Many journalists are scared to combat propaganda and do not want go risk their jobs. Self-censorship is really strong, especially during crisis in the industry and job cuts.

Anyway, Russian media landscape is not a desert and many independent and interesting media companies still act in the country and produce interesting content and innovative strategies, both in management and  investigation, courage, commitment to journalist mission, human rights and justuce. It is a pity that their experience is not known abroad.

Russian media are undergoing  a crisis. Economical crisis squeezes  space for  diversities, many independent voices could not survive, print media found shelter in Internet, many have been closed. Lack of transparent market and domination of the state in media industry, monopoly in distribution, small and dependent on the state ads market  is also a problem.

But the main problem today is a lack of professional solidarity among media actors, a weak solidarity among journalists and lack of public awareness of how important is independent journalism as public good.

The audience in Russia is passive. Recent elections showed that clearly.

Raising awareness in journalism as a public good and everyone’s business, as well as developing professional solidarity, could be the main tools in overcoming culture of impunity and pressure on the media freedom.

The Russian Union of Journalists is working on raising this awarness. On 7 October 2016, in Moscow Journalists Club, RUJ will held a memorial event and the play “Life in Second” based on texts of Politlovskaya and Shchekochikhin, prepared by young actors.

It is important that young people pay attention to those who died for the true word.  It is our hope. Hope that masterminds of killings of Anna and others will be out to court.  Than journalists would  not face violence and threats, and Russian audience would support general development of free and responsible media.

10 years after Anna’s assassination was very tough time for Russian media and Russian journalists.  And it is important to be  honest and to realize that future depends on all of us as well.

Our profession is a profession of everyday choice. It is important to remember. It is important to make Russian journalism and its independent voices to the international  audience. It will be also our tribute to Anna.