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Public discourse is still a contentious issue in modern Russia

Guest commentary

Boris Banchevsky, Head of Distribution for CIS

With the ongoing events in Ukraine and new international pressure building against Moscow, there is an acute need for accurate and objective information both domestically and abroad. As an international broadcaster based in Europe, DW can play an important role, not just through its own independent news coverage but also by supporting Russian media that tries to tell a different story than the state-controlled channels which are pervasive in the Russian media landscape.

There are a few points of light on the horizon for Russian journalism. TV Dozhd is one of the last truly independent media outlets in Russia and they also have recently added DW’s Russian-language news magazine, Geofaktor, to their programming catalogue. With this acquisition, DW can contribute directly to providing independent journalism to Russian audiences while making a statement for independent journalism.

TV Dozhd (“TV Rain” in Russian) first went on the air in 2010, operating in a Russian media landscape that was lacking impartial and independent news coverage. TV Dozhd’s audience grew quickly as they was doing what other channels weren’t– providing unbiased live broadcasts, interviews and independent global news along with critical, alternative coverage of important events and public personalities in Russia.

Despite this success, TV Dozhd nearly met its demise earlier this year after publishing an opinion poll asking if St. Petersburg (former Leningrad) should have been surrendered to the Nazis during World War II, in order to spare the immense loss of life.

Ostensibly for publicizing this question, nearly every major Russian cable and satellite provider dropped TV Dozhd, even after they removed the poll and apologized. As a result, TV Dozhd lost 90 percent of its advertising. According to an article written by Tikhon Dzyadko, the Deputy Editor at TV Dozhd, certain network heads revealed off the record that they were pressured to drop the channel by the Kremlin. TV Dozhd currently broadcasts online and charges a yearly subscription fee.

This proxy attack on independent journalism is no surprise in Russia, where many of those in charge see the purpose of the media as nothing more than a propaganda factory and real, investigative journalism is actively subverted both publically and in secret. The outspoken Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was brutally murdered in 2006 for a still unknown client, comes to mind. She wrote in 2004 about her experience covering the Beslan school massacre by Chechen terrorists, “We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the Internet, where information is still freely available.”

Now there is a new conflict being covered, but we also have more resources to tell the truth and publicize independent opinions. Independent media is critical for the development of a free society in Russia and through our active involvement, DW is making a statement that there should always be more than one voice telling the story.

Date

2014-08-22 | 11:10

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