Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Moscow Media Exacerbating Ethnic Conflicts in Russia, Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 7 –  By its failure to pay attention to ethnic and regional issues until there are clashes, by its effort to keep the media from one region from developing contacts with another, and by its low level of professionalism, one-sidedness and open racism, the Moscow media are exacerbating rather than calming ethnic problems across Russia.


            That is the judgment of the participants, drawn both from the central and regional media, in a conference two weeks ago in Cherkessk, a summary of which was provided by Gamzat Izudinov yesterday by the Makhachkala version of “Moskovsky komsomolets” (


            The keynote speech was delivered by Margarita Lyange, the president of the Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalism, who pointed out that ten percent more Russians believe this year than last (49 percent compared to 39 percent)  that relations among the country’s national groups are tense, something for which she said the media must share the blame.


            For much of the last year, she noted, the events in Ukraine have united Russians, and in fact, “on the territory of the Russian Federation at the present moment there is not a single inter-ethnic conflict in active form.”  But she said most people think it is otherwise because central Russian media “show the negative” all the time.


            The journalists aren’t responsible for this entirely, Lyange pointed out, because “people themselves also seek out the negative” – and if the mainstream media do not give it to them, they now can turn to other outlets online and elsewhere which will and in an often irresponsible way. But the mainstream media all too often simply follow along.


            Instead, she continued, the media should recognize that “Russia is the motherland of 193 peoples, that they speak 239 langauges, and that each individual is a system of values onto himself.” That means, she says, that each has something to offer and that the entire country could be in trouble if one of them is lost.
            “God forbid” that there should be a nuclear war followed by a nuclear winter, Lyange says. But if there were, “where would it be necessary to run? To the North,” whose peoples “have preserved a unique means of survival in such cold conditions.”  Only they would know how to survive that tragedy, and losing them would thus impose a cost on all Russians.
             The Russian government maintains a seed bank in the name of national security, she points out. But “the culture of our multi-national country is also a type of bank because in each culture there are specific features which allow it to survive and be more capable of coping with the environment.”
              Unfortunately, Lyange said, the Russian media encourages Russians to view it “exclusively” in terms of conflicts. Thirty-seven percent of Russians now say that the multi-national character of the Russian Federation say it is a minus, the same share which say it is a positive one. The other 26 percent are not prepared to say.
             The head of the Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalism concluded by saying that the places where ethnic conflicts have broken out have been made worse because “in each case” the local authorities showed themselves to be incompetent and the journalists demonstrated their lack of professionalism.
              In response to questions, she said that the “horrific” term “person of Caucasian nationalities” was first put forward in press releases issued by the Moscow interior ministry administration 20 years ago and then quickly disseminated without much thought or criticism by journalists. 
              Lyange said she had worked hard to convince the Russian State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company not to use it. She said she used three arguments: no such nationality exists, such a term is completely xenophobic, and no official agency or professional journalist should be spreading it.
             Unfortunately, that term and many others passed into the language. And Radik Amirov, the chief editor of the Russia for All portal, said that it had spawned such “neologisms” as “person of Tatar nationality,” a term of abuse that continues to inform the thinking of those like a Moscow official who refused to register a child with the name Tamerlane.

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