Putin’s Eyes on Television

Russia is a big country. It has the largest land in the world and was the only superpower opposed against the United States during the Cold War. Despite such a superpower, or because of such a superpower, freedom of press in Russia is ranked as “Not Free” according to Freedom House (2013, p. 17). While some people including 60 per cent of Russians (according to Russian governmental survey) think a restriction on freedom of speech is necessary to some extent because Russia is too big country to organise every citizen without integrated press, it is not acceptable that this kind of country is one of principal ones in the world.

Vladimir Putin was haunted by television because television was the most popular resource of news for 80 per cent of Russian people (In Putin’s Russia, 2011). He knew about effect of television so well that “no one understood better than Putin just how powerful television could be in the new Russia and that he who controls it controls the country” (Baker & Glasser, 2007). There is one example which gives a vivid account of his stress upon manliness. Alessandra Stanley (2012) points out that Putin seriously consider his machismo. For instance, he makes a straight face whenever he is in front of someone else—shooting tigers or rebuking ineffective bureaucrats—not to make creases on his face. He now controls all national television programmes. They report corruption of opposition leaders when the election is coming soon, and you would be convicted six months in prison with 2,000 dollars charges if you just throw stone to police. Although he sometimes acts this hard, he also sometimes acts soft. To illustrate, he does not censor the Internet like Chinese government does. Thus he can be considered to be good at playing the violin─he responsively gathers that “oh, it’s time for democratic music” from the atmosphere. This is why he is not regarded as dictator so much as Kim Jon-Un, making him the master politician.

However, journalists’ situation in Putin’s Russia is still hard compared to other countries. Many international organisations evaluate freedom of speech in Russia very low. For instance, Reporters Without Boarders (2013) ranks Russia as the 32th strictest country on the media out of 179 countries and harshly blames Kremlin for invoking its power against the massive opposition protests, saying, “Russia (148th, -6) set a tone of increased repression in the former Soviet Union in 2012.” It continues, “The state responded with a wholesale crackdown: re-criminalization of defamation, tighter control of the Internet, making foreign funding of human rights organizations a crime. This marked start of a new era in relations between the state and society that presents huge challenges for freedom of information.” Freedom House, too, criticises Putin for his dictatorship. It asserts that “Russia took a decided turn for the worse after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Having already marginalized the formal political opposition, he pushed through a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition.” These evidences show that people in Russia cannot know information without biased perspectives. In other words, Russian domestic audience cannot be informed as to something disadvantageous to the government.

Those who affected by this censorship is not only domestic nation, of course. Foreign people also cannot get a certain kind of information on Russia. Related to the incident in which Russian police detained and harassed two Norwegian journalists in Sochi, Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch (as cited in Russia: TV Crew Reporting on Sochi Olympics Harassed, 2013), shows her unpleasantness as “the government’s treatment of TV2’s crew should shock the International Olympic Committee.” After that, The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs apologized to Norwegian Embassy. However, nothing seems to be improved since right after this incident, journalists of Yomiuri Shimbun were demanded to delete photographs they took by police when they reported Sochi with official permit to do so. Even though these incidents are sort of because of the Olympic Games, they partly show censorship in Russia. In this case, journalists who get interrupted were from foreign news agency. This situation would let people around the world neglect the concerns for freedom of speech in Russia.

Is this kind of censorship necessary in Russia? The answer is no. There are much more important things Putin has to do before censoring Russian and foreign television. The first thing to do is definitely eradication of corruption since corruption of bureaucracy in Russia is thoroughly terrible. Jose Gonzalez, a Spanish national court prosecutor, exposes Russian evil deeds which are even similar to what mafias do. He reports that “Kalashov, whom he said worked for Russian military intelligence to sell weapons to the Kurds to destabilize Turkey” (as cited in US embassy cables, 2010). Not only does he expose this example, but he also discloses other many evildoing which Russia has made, such as smuggling components of missile into Iran. Unfortunately, Russian bureaucracies like FSB, a Russian intelligence agency, are involved in every case.

To make matters worse, corruption is not for organisations alone. In fact, Paul Goble (2009) states that up until 50 per cent of the students in Russian universities regularly bribe the professors and a third of professors methodically accept them. Elena Panfilova, the head of the Russian section of Transparency International, describes this is because a number of Russian households let their children attend higher education instead of escape military service by bribing the authority (as cited in Half of Russian University Students ‘Regularly’ Bribe Instructors, 2009). The statistics illustrates that bribery deeply penetrate into Russian society. And yet, what Russian government does is just censoring of television which originally should report these severe corruptions. It is very ironic that a country where communism once ruled has become such a capitalistic and rotten country. This situation will never last for ever; Russian government must reform the old-fashioned conventions.

The second thing to do is improvement in human rights condition. Because of “Foreign Agents Law”, human rights groups are forced to face much difficulty. John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, criticizes Kremlin for inspecting, warning, fining and shutting down more than a thousand NGOs (as cited in Russia: A year on, Putin’s ‘foreign agents law’ choking freedom, 2013). Moreover, Russia is also famous for its human rights abuses, such as one against Chechnya and LGBT. In spite of international criticism, Russia is strengthening its restriction on basic human rights. In current trends, this Soviet-like restraint is clearly a retrograde step. A number of human rights groups have begun campaign against Russian indifference as to violation of human rights. They are calling for foreign governments and citizens to argue against it, and to boycott Sochi Olympic Games and Russian products. Yet the condition is slightly better than China, which is also considered as an alien from the West, at least Russia is no longer socialistic country. As Russia got rid of socialism before China does, it should show how big effect would be made by a humanistic change and abolishment censorship on the media including television.

In conclusion, Russian government regulates television in two ways—both domestic and foreign directions. Russian nation cannot access the neutral news on television, and people out of Russia also cannot be informed as to what is happening in Russia if they are not advantageous to the Russian government. Vladimir Putin accelerated censorship by any means such as stricter restraint to the Internet and making a certain kind of NGO illegal. He also takes action against foreign journalists, preventing them from report real Russia to the world. So far, neither people within Russia nor people out of Russia exactly know negative aspects of Russian government owing to censorship. However, Kremlin should work on termination of corruption and reform of human rights condition in Russia because letting the television report blots of Russian society and government would raise awareness of reformation amongst nation and eventually enhance the country Russia itself.

References

Freedom in the World 2013. (2013). Freedom House, p. 2, 17.

Goble, P. (17th June 2009). Half of Russian University Students ‘Regularly’ Bribe Instructors. Moldova.org. Retrieved 23rd Nov 2013

In Putin’s Russia, TV Censorship Crosses Time Zones. (1st December 2011). Associated Press.

Russia: A year on, Putin’s ‘foreign agents law’ choking freedom. (20th November 2013). Amnesty International. Retrieved on 23rd Nov 2013

Russia: TV Crew Reporting on Sochi Olympics Harassed. (5th November 2013). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved on 20th Nov 2013

Stanley, A. (February 2012). TV in Putin’s Russia: Jesters, Strivers and a Longing for Normalcy. The New York Times.

US embassy cables: Russia is virtual ‘mafia state’, says Spanish investigator. (2nd December 2010). The Gurdian. Retrieved on 21st Nov 2013

World Press Freedom Index. (2013). Reporters Without Boarders.

記者にも「データ消去しろ」…ソチ「監視の目」(27th November 2013). Yomiuri Online. Retrieved on 28th November 2013

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