[FPSPACE] Kremlin Tightens Control of Russian News Media
joberg at houston.rr.com
Fri Jun 4 08:00:48 EDT 2004
San Francisco Chronicle
June 3, 2004
Kremlin's wishes TV newsman fired after reporting on murdered Chechen
By Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer
Moscow -- Leonid Parfyonov was one of Russian television's most
recognizable faces, his week in review show one of his network's biggest
hits. But after the veteran television anchor broke the golden rule of
Russia's state-run journalism by reporting on a politically explosive
murder trial, he became the poster boy for the difficulties reporters face
trying to report the news in President Vladimir Putin's managed democracy.
On Wednesday, Parfyonov was fired from Russia's state-run NTV television
after he flouted the Kremlin's unwritten gag order to keep mum on the trial
of two Russian officers in the murder of a Chechen rebel, and then
criticized the channel after his former bosses pulled the controversial
five-minute segment off the air after it had been broadcast in the far-east
region, but before it was shown in Moscow. NTV management said in a
statement that he violated his labor agreement that "obliged him to support
the policies of the television company's leadership."
Parfyonov's story is an unsettling reminder of the difficult balancing act
journalists working for Russia's state-controlled media have to play as
they navigate between what they believe is their journalistic duty and what
the Kremlin wants them to do.
Putin says Russia should have a "genuinely free" mass media, but since he
came to power, he has been meticulously silencing his critics. Under his
rule, the Kremlin has annexed all national television channels, making some
topics - - such as Moscow's bloody, 10-year-old campaign in the separatist
republic of Chechnya -- virtually off-limits for journalists.
At the same time, uncensored reports of what Putin says and does dominate
state-run television news broadcasts in a style reminiscent of the Soviet
era, and Putin, like some Politburo leader from those times, sometimes
encourages journalists to report about certain events.
Last month, Putin said he hoped journalists would "give proper coverage" to
the economic union aimed at boosting trade between Russia and the former
Soviet republics of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Parfyonov's dismissal Wednesday showed that no one, not even prominent
journalists, is immune to punishment for daring to violate the unwritten
rules by which all state-controlled media operate under Putin, critics said.
"We news people understand that this serious attack is also a warning to
us," Elena Savina, an NTV journalist, told the Newsru.com news Web site.
Parfyonov tried to broadcast an interview with Malika Yandarbiyev, widow of
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen rebel leader who died in a car bombing in
Qatar in February. The slaying of Yandarbiyev is particularly sensitive
because two Russian security officers are on trial in Qatar for his murder.
In the interview, which is available online in Russian at www.newsru.com,
Malika mostly talks about her grief, her children and the hospitality
Qatar's government offered to Yandarbiyev, who fled Chechnya in 1999.
Parfyonov and his former boss, NTV Deputy Director Alexander Gerasimov, say
they had received a verbal instruction from the Kremlin to avoid any
commentary on this politically sensitive case. "The request came from
people on a level that you don't argue with," Parfyonov told the Kommersant
This was not the first time Parfyonov came under fire for defying the
Kremlin line. In November, the NTV director, Nikolai Senkevich, reprimanded
Parfyonov for trying to broadcast an interview with Yelena Tregubova, a
former Kremlin journalist whose tell-all memoirs portrayed Putin's handlers
as venal and shallow mandarins intent on keeping all news about the Kremlin
out of the media.
Senkevich refused to allow the Tregubova interview to air.
"Censorship on state-run channels ... is so active that there is no need
for a censorship committee," Alexei Simonov, chairman of the Glasnost
Defense Foundation, told Ekho Moskvy radio. "The journalists' managers --
heads of channels and programs -- have taken on the role of censors."
After NTV banned the Yandarbiyev report from Qatar, Parfyonov lashed out at
the Kremlin's tight control of the network's coverage.
"Stop teaching us how to love our motherland. I've been a professional
journalist for 25 years and for 25 years I've been hearing: 'It's not time
yet, buddy, it's not time yet,' " Parfyonov told the newspaper Izvestiya on
Monday. "... It is time to realize that information is precious."
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