After the silly business of STV and Stephen Daisley’s be-or-don’t be drama of the Scottish silly season, let’s stop and think about what it means that Russia is, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, the third deadliest country in the world for journalists. Russia currently ranks at 180, of 199 for Press Freedom. That’s a worse position than places like Sudan and Iraq.
Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, after the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin, and since then press freedom in the country has steadily decreased. Immediately Putin started a process to coerce the press to the regime’s agenda. For instance, in 2000 the government raided the broadcaster NTV, arrested its owner Vladimir Gusinsky and charged him with fraud. The charges were dropped when Gusinsky agreed to sell NTV to a government owned company. This was the start of the successful push to capture all of the big mass broadcasters. From 2012, when that job was finished, the Kremlin started to pressure the smaller outlets.
While 34 journalists have died for doing their jobs since 2000, few people have been convicted. Notable exceptions are the convictions of the killers of Anastasia Baburova. The two ultranationalists who killed her were convicted. In 2000 however, Igor Domnikov from Novaya Gazeta was murdered, and the process took so long that the man who ordered the hit, a deputy governor, didn’t face trial because of statutes of limitation. The people who physically carried out the assassination were convicted, though. Lots more have died, of course, but those 34 are the ones that can be proven to have died as a result of their work.
Process is generally the preferred tools of the Putin regime when it comes to deny justice for slain journalists or for pressuring media organisations to comply to the government agenda. Russia isn’t involved in killing individual journalists. The examples we have of journalist deaths in Russia generally come from criminals killing off journalists who come too close to the truth. For instance, the deputy governor in the Igor Domnikov assassination was being investigated for corruption and graft by Domnikov. It is unlikely that Domnikov’s death was ordered by the Kremlin. However, once the case entered the justice system, it was delayed and slowed down and neglected.
No, it’s more like how it was with NTV. The case of RBC is closer to the present, but the same methods were employed there as when NTV was captured. RBC was a small, private news organisation owned by an oligarch called Mikhail Prokhorov. RBC was a rare organisation that launched scrutiny of the Kremlin and Putin. This resulted in a raid against Prokhorov’s offices on “unrelated charges”. Prokhorov, having large operations in Russia, started firing editors soon after. Prokhorov’s business interests are allowed on the severance of the Kremlin, after all.
Through legislation, licensing, pressures on advertisers, launching the police on owners and shareholders, and a refusal to investigate or prosecute crimes against bothersome journalists, Russia has earned its place on the Committee for the Protection of Journalist’s list of shame. And through action it has proved that journalism is seen merely as a tool for government influence. Outlets that go against those interests are pressured to fold, or to sell out to owners who toe the Kremlin line.
When Putin by executive decree in 2013 folded RIA Novosti, and in its place formed Rossiya Segodnya, Russia Today and Sputnik News, he thus did not do so to create diversity in media coverage. The Kremlin’s action within its own jurisdiction say that it created a mouth piece to further the regime’s agenda.
Have a look at the American journalist Ed Schulz who before he started hosting a show on RT America was one of Putin’s fiercest critics. After Schulz’s show on MSNBC was cancelled after six years, and he got his job on RT, his tone is completely different. Now instead of excoriating criticism of ‘Putie’, the host talks about the West’s failure in the Middle east, and leads discussions about how great Putin is.
This is why it’s so important to know what kind of outfit Sputnik News is as it launches in Edinburgh. It’s why it’s important for friends of those journalists who choose to work there, for instance, to impress on them what a bad decision that is. If it was a deliberate decision to join, despite knowing the facts, then there is a case to be made for publicly criticising this decision in the clearest terms imaginable.
This is also why the whole discussion about Scotland being a one party state with SNP because Stephen Daisley misbehaved on STV’s Twitter account is so close to being deranged. No, the situation in Russia is what happens in a one party state that doesn’t respect journalism and journalists. The Russian situation is what happens in a country that doesn’t respect the freedom of the press. Scotland is nowhere near that, and to say it that it is, is silly and counterfactual.