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The Russian press faces no censorship these days, but the news flow keeps shrinking, insiders say
Media freedom was the focus of a news conference at RIA Novosti today, designated by UNESCO as World Press Freedom Day. Three high-profile journalists of different ideological persuasions-Mikhail Leontyev, Leonid Radzikhovsky, and Pavel Gutiontov-reflected on how free the Russian press was nowadays. "Whether press freedom is existent or non-existent can be established only when it is being taken away. In the past decade, there've been no encroaches on our press freedom, but there've been repeated attempts to make the news flow narrower," pointed out Gutiontov, Secretary of the Russian Reporters Guild, who also heads a committee for protection of journalists' rights and liberties. In the present-day Russia, a lion's share of the media outlets are under the direct or indirect control of the government - whether federally or regionally, he said. In the provinces, most of the newspapers have now turned into leaflets centered around one single person-the regional boss. Seizure of controversial news output and attacks on editorial offices are quite common these days. Litigation is one other frequently used method of pressuring the media, Gutiontov said. He and his fellow journalists acknowledged that despite the circulation of the federal opposition press going down, print media and online publications continue to carry non-mainstream views. Russian media tycoons trying to use their outlets for personal political ambitions are the ones who have indeed been deprived of the freedom of speech, argued Leontyev, of the ORT television network. So in this sense, there is indeed less press freedom now than there used to be. Unlike print media, online periodicals, and radio broadcasters, the government-owned television networks, with their influence on huge audiences, do have to remain somewhat loyal to their owner, Leontiev pointed out. "Servility, loyalty-yes, indeed. But these channels are sterile ideologically and propagandistically, for our government is also sterile from this point of view," he said. In his opinion, the only Russian radio broadcaster still involved with propaganda is Ekho Moskvy, where he himself hosts a show. Radzikhovsky, who identifies himself as a pro-Western liberal, confessed that today's actual level of political culture in Russia made him fear the prospect of broader press freedom. Speaking of the print media, he said that they did not seem to be under more pressure now than ten years ago. He cautioned against airtime on government-run television channels being offered to any parliamentary party, whatever its platform. "This would be democratic, but harmful, from my viewpoint. Given today's [level of] political culture, we may just end up with the freedom of fascist, xenophobic, and nationalistic discourse," he explained
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