Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Protests, Political Pressure on Media Behind Rise of ‘New Russian Journalists’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 8 – The rise of a new generation of independent journalists in Russia who use technology to report directly to their audience and who are not shy about declaring their interest in promoting civil society is an entirely natural response to the increasing government restrictions on the official media and increasing public distrust of official outlets.

            This development – “the appearance of independent journalists who report events in real time and who do not under any circumstances have the opportunity to appear on federal channels” – is one of the “brightest spots” in the Russian-language segment of the Internet, according to an article in “Sovershenno Sekretno” (sovsekretno.ru/magazines/article/3316).

            “The audience for such journalists has turned out to be pleased,” the magazine says; “the authorities not so much.”

            Demonstrations in Moscow regularly attract large numbers of journalists and photographers, and it is often the case that the media representatives outnumber the participants. Those who take part in demonstrations regularly “know that people with a special kind of video camera and casual dress are representatives of the Center for the Struggle with Extremism.”

            Typically, the article continues, representatives of the official media are fewer in number, but the third and last group – and they are now “the overwhelming majority” – consists of “bloggers,” who describe and/or photograph what is going on for their web pages, twitter accounts and other social media networks.

            Many of the latter “call themselves citizen journalists, for whom such reporting is not work for pay but a civic position, a mission and even a style of life. And despite the economic crisis, society has responded” by providing them with sufficient financial support to allow them to continue.

            Kirill Mikhaylov, a 23-year-old translator form Ufa, is one of them.  He is supported by his 5,000 followers on his Twitter account (@ReggaeMortis1). Mikhaylov says that he goes from meeting to meeting, often without knowing where he will spend the night, but confident that his reporting is promoting the civic positions he espouses.

            A member of the Left Front in the Bashkortostan capital, Mikhaylov became a citizen journalist after travelling to Astrakhan to support Oleg Shein’s battle against the falsification of the elections there.  He says that “when I saw how Kseniya Sobchak went along the Volga embankment and invited the surprised residents of Astrakhan to come out to a meeting, I understood that this is something everyone has to see and began direct video broadcasting.”

            After that, he covered demonstrations and other events in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krymsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Kyiv, Voronezh, Kazan, and Kopeysk. But despite his experience, he “doubts that he has a chance to get a paid position at any newspaper or television station.”  That is because he has “a civic position” and therefore isn’t viewed as “objective.”

            Moreover, Mikhaylov continues, he frequently covers events in which relatively few people are interested such as “court sessions involving detained activists.” But he adds, “I work for an audience for whom all that is important.”

            Those who take part in protests have an ambivalent attitude toward what he does, Mikhaylov says. Some believe that his coverage leads some who might otherwise take part to stay at home and watch, but others are convinced that coverage like his boosts attendance. And he says he begins “each broadcast with a call” to “come and see for yourself.”

            Citizen journalism, he continues, is something anyone can do.  All that is needed is “sufficient desire, a smart phone, access to the Internet and a netbook.” The one needs to register with the authorities as a member of the press to limit the likelihood that the police will detain him or her.

            Mikhaylov says that he is not afraid of repression at least not for the moment. But “everything” is possible. Nonetheless, he plans to continue and is convinced that “if something happens to [him], then the number of those who will continue” the work he is doing “will become even larger.”

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