(Washington, DC--April 22, 2005) The everyday concerns of the average citizen living in Russia's regions are not being addressed by the local media, according to an expert on Russian journalism. Dmitry Strovsky, a Professor of Journalism History at Ural State University told a recent RFE/RL audience that, although in the Soviet era Russia may not have had a free press, "at least the common man's problems" were covered, which fostered "some public discussion" of local issues.
There are "lots of media in the Urals" said Strovsky, but Russian regional media face a "difficult and unpredictable situation," in part because of government ownership of the media. Even publications and media owned by private individuals are highly dependent on local governments, he said. This dependence allows local officials to continue the Soviet-era practice of self promotion in the media, as well as the "informal phone call", which can prevent the airing or publication of a story.
The absence of "public journalism" in the regions, Strovsky said is also the fault of journalists themselves who "don't interview common people," since they perceive that these stories are not newsworthy. Government decrees are also commonly printed in newspapers without any explanation of what those decrees mean to readers.
Fostering journalism that is in the public interest and gives people "a voice" is difficult in Russia, with its "history of Soviet journalism," Strovsky said. Yet, Russians need access to truthful information in order to express accurate views, and public journalism, Strovsky said, is an effective way to promote the development of civil society and democracy. He suggested some ways to improve Russian journalism, such as holding public forums on journalism and hosting roundtables with the public to get feedback on coverage. Strovsky also strongly advocated sending Russian journalists abroad, as such visits "broaden their world view."
Strovsky noted that Russian press law is "advanced by many European standards," but there are problems in how the law is enforced. The "pendulum of history" has provided few periods of freedom for Russians, and "you have to know what independence is," he said, "to be an independent journalist."
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