Media freedom in Russia – not as bad as they want you to think

This is a story by the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth about a police raid on some online journalists in Moscow.

The journalists run a website called “project” (проект in Russian). They were planning to publish a story (and have now published) about the secret wealth of a government Minister. Previous stories have included an investigation into the leader of Chechnya – Ramzan Kadyrov. The journalists have been questioned in connection with an old defamation case. It seems they were interrogated; and phones and computers searched. The “Project” website itself makes no mention of arrests. Roth says that one editor was “detained”.

Roth contextualises the story as an episode in a wider crackdown on “journalists and opposition groups”.

Roth must know that he is misleading the British public. According to his own reporting groups such as the one in this case use stolen information (“the government has been unable to get a handle on the troves of Russian data that have been leaked and sold on an expansive black market”) to produce stories which embarrass senior figures in the government. They (these groups in general) seem to be more akin to the News of the World than Panorama or Dispatches. The actual story in question seems to be that a government minister’s family have acquired property. The suggestion is that this must be the result of corruption. Nothing then all that terrible – and one can note that enriching themselves and their families (if that is what has been happening here) is hardly something exclusive to Russian government Ministers. British government Ministers seem pretty adept at this too.

Meanwhile Assange languishes in Belmarsh for publishing information about war crimes.

These kinds of websites are muck-raking. They are making money. It is a business. If Roth is correct they (these websites in general – not necessarily проект) use stolen information. In the UK at the moment a witch-hunt is taking place for whoever leaked the video which embarrassed a sleazy government minister. Politicians from all quarters are lining up to call for cameras to be removed from government offices.

As always, we see liberal journalists twisting a story on Russia and denouncing Russia for events which can and do take place in the UK. (In the case of Assange of course much, much worse since he is being destroyed).

Yes; undoubtedly the use of the old case to launch an investigation now must be connected to the present matter. It is true that Russian authorities tend to apply the law selectively and tactically to achieve ends. They like to observe the niceties and act legally – but being selective about when to apply the law is hardly “fair”. Yes – I am enough of a liberal to believe that ultimately it is better if people can freely publish scandals about government Ministers without fear. Russia is somewhat different in this respect than the UK. The authorities are in general more likely to defend state functionaries and less likely to support “media freedom”. However, the situation is not that different. Recall the “scandal” about the News of the World and phone hacking; in the course of the investigation into this people were arrested and at least one sent to prison for hacking phones. Roth seems to have no problem at all with phone hacking happening in Russia. The web site of this group is still live and accessible within Russia. The story has not been suppressed; Russians can read it today online. Possibly the police were simply interested in how the outlet got the information. This would explain why they were going through their phones and computers. if so, this is exactly what would happen in the UK.

The presentation of cases like this as an attack or “crackdown” on “journalists and the opposition” is misleading. The Guardian journalists who write these stories must know this. Presumably they just write them because this is what their editors want – and in turn the editors want it because this is what the financial-security-military establishment in the UK wants to see at the moment. It is paid-for propaganda masquerading as journalism.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer