The panel was entitled “The Struggle for Press Freedom in Russia: The Role of Independent Regional Newspapers” and it featured Anna Koshman who runs a network of independent regional newspapers in Russia. The other two panelists (Valdimir Kara-Murza Jr. and Andrei Piontkovsky) were more politically focused journalists based out of Washington, DC.
Much of the discussion was centered on the link between the media and civil society as each panelist identified the overwhelming cynicism and apathy that is seen in Russian society on a national level. Koshman’s focus was a bit more nuanced than the other two panelists, as she spoke from a more regional point of view. She made it clear that independent media does exist in Russia, if only at the local level. She identified the biggest challenges facing these media outlets as the pressure for self-censorship, their need to be financially independent and the fact that they don’t know how influential they are. Many of the regional papers can’t identify exactly how widespread their readership is, and therefore, they do not know if they are making an impact outside their neighboring communities. Koshman acknowledged that while these papers would like their influence to grow they are also aware of the political dangers that come along with such expansion.
Kara-Murza and Piontkovsky are both active members of the opposition party in Russia and spoke about the lack of independent media outlets on the national-level. They faulted the apathy of Russian citizens as contributing to the government’s silencing of media outlets. These two journalists seemed disillusioned by the lack of a societal demand for real news reporting. Piontkovsky pointed to the fact that no one is shocked when journalists are threatened, beat up or killed in Russia. Both Kara-Murza and Piontkovsky cited the need for a more active civil society to be present in order for independent media and oppositional politics to grow. Koshman stated that on a more local level, the link between journalism and civil society activity is in existence. It is allowed only because it is not yet a threat to the regime’s stability.
In addition, there was a discussion on the increase in internet media, which has remained free in Russia. However, Kara-Murza spoke of a proposal that was brought to Russian law-makers’ attention just this week. This proposal would regulate the internet in a similar way to print and broadcast media. Kara-Murza doubted that it would be as strict as China, he did assume that some internet freedoms could be threatened in the near future.
— Norah Mallaney