Television presenter tells President Medvedev he often faces censorship

One of Russia’s best known television news presenters Alexey Pivovarov revealed the extent of state media censorship during President Dmitry Medvedv’s final interview before he hands power to Vladimir Putin.

During the wide-ranging interview with journalists from a number of the country’s major television channels, NTV host Pivovarov said: “The hand of the state is obviously seen in controlling federal TV channels’ editorial policy.” He added:

I regularly confront certain limitations, stipulated by political suitability. This [control] prevents me from fulfilling my professional duty – informing people of current events.

Medvedev denied censorship exists, pointing out the Russian constitution forbids it. He said that it is “natural that political influence is higher on bigger channels”, adding that “the question of censorship within a channel is a question of chemistry between the management, journalists and audience”.

Media observers believe Pivovarov’s brave expose will cost him his job at NTV. Pivovarov was already notorious for confronting NTV management, after the first mass protest against allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections on Bolotnaya square. He delivered an ultimatum to his bosses, refusing to host the evening news if the channel did not cover the rally – in the end programmed bosses capitulated.

Last week, Russian Forbes quoted anonymous sources in NTV, who alleged several leading journalists have been forced out after clashing with NTV’s head Vladimir Kulistikov over censorship. Kulistikov denied the conflict, saying he is guided by ratings and not personal attitude in his policy. The journalists involved refused to comment.

Several NTV anchors have left the station in recent weeks: Pavel Lobkov, Nikolay Kartoziya, Anton Krasovsky.

NTV is notorious for censorship. The list of programmes and stories pulled in recent months includes, among others, a broadcast about kidnappings and tortures in Chechnya; news about Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s cellmate who assaulted him in prison; and coverage student arrests during Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the journalism department of Moscow State University.

The channel also angered Russian opposition activists by airing a documentary claiming that election fraud protesters were paid for attending rallies. The programme is the subject of several defamation lawsuits.

Russian human rights activist Olga Romanova wrote on Facebook that no journalists who confront NTV’s management and fight for the freedom of speech could continue to work at the channel. Romanova emotionally added: “And let the ones who stay there burn in hell”

Russia gets ready to protest

The first meeting of Russia’s newly elected State Duma will be held on 21 December. Tens of thousands of Russians protested the parliamentary elections, based on claims that they were unfair. This week protesters will take to the streets again with a rally against election fraud on 24 December.

The European Parliament echoed the protesters’ concerns, and passed a resolution calling for new parliamentary elections in Russia, as well as a thorough investigation into all reports of alleged fraud on elections held on 4 December. The Russian authorities rejected the EU parliament’s intervention.

Prime-minister Vladimir Putin said the protesters had been paid to attend the 10 December rally, which was the biggest in post-Soviet Russia. Putin added that opposition leaders had referred to them as “sheep” from the stage. Both allegations are untrue. President Dmitry Medvedev said that the EU parliament resolution supporting protestants’ demands “meant nothing”, and former deputy head of State Duma international committee Leonid Slutsky told ITAR-TASS news agency that the resolution was “gross interference in the affairs of a sovereign state”.

The controversial resolution mostly covered the context of the recent elections, but it also highlighted “concerns, regarding the human rights situation in Russia, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the repressive measures taken against journalists and the opposition”.

The resolution merely captured the bitter truth of the situation, as proved by events last week. In the Republic of  Dagestan — a federal subject of Russia — journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of Chernovik, an opposition newspaper, was shot outside his office on 15 December. Kamalov was remembered as a brave man, respected for the risks he took by investing in the independent media. He inspired people to write about corruption and human rights abuse in North Caucasus. His colleagues along with Memorial, an international human rights society said his murder was “political” and motivated by his work. His articles and investigations he made public in Chernovik were widely quoted in Dagestan. Makhachkala city administration filed an open letter to Kamalov in September, accusing him of “libel, deception and mutual distrust fomentation”, which Chernovik journalists regarded as an attempt to silence them.

The detention of one of Russia’s opposition leaders, Sergey Udaltsov further confirms the statements of the EU parliament resolution. Udaltsov was arrested on 4 December while attempting to protest in the rally against violations of election laws, and sentenced to administrative arrest until 25 December. Since his arrest, Udaltsov has been on a dry hunger strike, and his health is under serious threat according to his wife and attorney. He is now in the resuscitation department of one of Moscow’s hospitals. Human rights activists and opposition leaders have expressed concern for his life.

Musician Vassily Shumov, also famous for having held a concert to support music critic Art Troitsky, planned to hold a concert in support of Sergey Udaltsov and other prisoners rights activists considered to be “political”, but was suddenly rejected by the club which had previously agreed to carry it out. Shumov suggested that the club might have declined to participate based on pressure from the authorities.

Opposition leaders, rights activists and public figures are now preparing for the rally on 24 December. It is meant to be the public’s response to authorities, who have ignored their demands to set political prisoners free, hold new and fair parliamentary elections, and to protect freedom of expression. Their primary objective is to encourage citizens to overcome fears of repression for expressing their views, and to build confidence in their ability to influence Russian government policy through publicly expressing their discontent. Christmas Eve will determine whether or not they succeed.