Translation: Up And Down The Freedom Rating

In a comment for popular Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Anatoly Karlin compares media freedoms – or the lack thereof – in Russia and the “free” West. There is a longer version of this article at Da Russophile.

Recently the French human rights organization Reporters Without Borders unveiled new press freedom ratings, which showed Russia sinking to 148th place out of 179 globally.

This finding is consistent with the yearly ratings of the American organization Freedom House, which deems the Russian media to be “not free.” In contrast, the Western countries are, of course, at the top of this list. But personally, as a regular reader of the mass media from both sides of the Information Curtain, I have long been under the strong impression that the Western intelligentsia – including the creators of all these ratings – often consider that the only “free” and “independent” media outlets in Russia are those which support their own ideas and prejudices, and that when compiling their ratings they lean exclusively on the opinions of their like-minded colleagues.

Yes, there really are cases in which the voices of “democratic journalists” in Russia are suppressed. For instance, to take a recent incident, after the recent elections Kommersant Vlast published a photo of an election ballot with an obscene scrawling about Putin. The newspaper’s owner quickly fired those responsible.

Harsh? Maybe, but there is a wealth of similar examples in the West. For insulting the recent US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accidentally caught on open mic, the journalist David Chalian was fired from Yahoo News. One can compile an entire list of journalists who were fired for criticizing the state of Israel: Sunni Khalid, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, etc. Likewise there is another substantial list of journalists fired for attending Occupy Wall Street protests.

I do not want to idealize the state of the Russian press, which has a huge number of its own problems. For instance, writing about Putin’s private life is just about as big of a taboo, as is criticizing Israel in the US. And the situation as regards unsolved murders of journalists is far worse than in the West. Although, that said, it is far better than in quite a number of widely acknowledged democracies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, and Turkey – all of which have substantially higher freedom ratings than Russia.

But the Americans too have some things to be “proud” of. American “dissidents” such as Hearst Newspapers journalist Helen Thomas and former professor Norman Finkelstein are not only fired, but also put on blacklists, which not only complicates getting access to high-ranking officials but even of finding another job. Meanwhile, in “baleful Russia”, the American journalist Masha Gessen can publish a book about Putin titled “The Man Without a Face” and get a personal interview with the President regardless. She is then free to practically demonize him in an account of their meeting in the journal Bolshoi Gorod – and to then go on to head the Russian service of Radio Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is headquartered minutes away from the walls of the Kremlin.

So in some sense Russia still has many, many steps still to climb up the stairs of the press freedom ratings…

The original publicationВверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы (Анатолий Карлин, Комсомольская Правда). 1 February, 2013.

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