The Telegraf story

01. decembris, 2010


Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis

I've just heard that Alexander Krasnitsky, chief editor of Telegraf, one of major Russian-language newspapers, resigned. In an interview to BNS, Mr Krasnitsky cited differences in opinions with the newspaper's publisher regarding "the freedom of the media, their content, and structure" as the main reason for his resignation. Only a year ago, Olga Proskurova, the previous chief editor of this newspaper, quit due to (as I've heard) similar reasons.

What will Telegraf become? For clues, hear what Jelena Breslava, a representative of the publisher, and a self-styled economist, had to say in an interview to BNS [my translation]:

“We think that in these times one has to write to support efforts to take this country out of the crisis, society needs directions, connected with economic development, and not identification and emphasis of problems. Mr. Krasnitsky has a different opinion. He thinks that journalists are the public’s watchdogs.”

This all begs the question of who will tell the public what these “directions” of “economic development” are. Mrs Breslava? Or, whoever pays her salary? It’s hard not to guess that “whoever” is Mr. Antonov, a Russian businessman who is rumored to have bought Telegraf some time ago. What does a Russian businessman care about this country’s “directions of development”? Are there more ‘whoevers’ out there? Perhaps, the key to interpreting all this is that there is probably no such thing as a politically-unconnected (or, should I use the word “authorized”?) large businessman in today’s Russia.

What are the broader implications of this? I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that independent Russian language newspapers in this country have become nearly extinct (is Bizness & Baltija the last one?). Sadly, in recent years we have seen some very similar developments in the Latvian-language newspapers. Although, there have been some notable pockets of resistance, such as “Ir” and “pietiek.com”.

However, I wouldn’t like to end on a pessimistic note. Yes, big boys have interests, and they see media as an investment to influence the simple-minded voters and put (a semblance of) pressure on the politicians. Economic power seeks to acquire political power to further its economic interests. It has always been like this and it will be. And yet, although many countries ended up in the feudal pit where political power is same as economic power (and vice-versa), some countries have escaped from this predicament. Why? I think it happened because the sum of the many acts of individual courage reached a certain critical mass. Like the one committed by Mr. Krasnitsky, who preferred to lose his job, rather than agree to peddle the new owner’s vision of what’s good for Latvia. Like the group of journalists that walked away from captured Diena and established “Ir”. Like (some) of the remaining journalists at Diena who often refused to do what they were told by their new masters. Like those who are putting their efforts into pietiek.com. The list is quite long, really. Some may think those individual acts of courage are too few and fragmented to be effective. I think these acts of courage are much more influential than it may seem at a first glance. They inspire others, and they let the like-minded know they’re not alone. And last, but not least, the silent majority is watching.

PS I just read the pietiek.com piece on this, including an audio-recording of the meeting in Telegraf where the rep of the publisher, that same Jelena Breslava, openly said that “censorship exists always”. So Mr. Krasnitsky also quit with style. I like that.

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