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Russian News: Less Objective than in the West?

The Moscow News Weekly has published an article on Kosovo's declaration of independence, which from its tone I assumed was in the "Comment/Opinions" section.  However, it turns out it was actually in the "World News" section.  Here is a snippet:
While burning KFOR checkpoints may not be the best of ways for Kosovo's ethnic Serbian minority to express its anxiety and anger over recent events, global democratic leaders should think twice before voting to award a chair to Kosovo on New York's East River. In the Basque country, Quebec, Belgium, northern Cyprus, Georgia and many other places across the globe, they have TV sets, too, and are watching. Telling them Kosovo is different and unique won't work. That's the price you pay for being a hypocrite, I guess.

Not to say western newspapers are completely objective, but at least you can read multiple perspectives on a story on this side of the Urals, without worrying about whether your favorite columnist may mysteriously die one day.

Of course this is only one article in one newspaper; it may not be fair to judge the entire Russian media based on this article alone. To get a better idea of press freedom trends globally and by country, you can check out an annual report produced by Freedom House titled "Freedom of the Press."  The 2007 version reported this for Russia:

Media freedom in Russia continued to be curtailed in 2006 as President Vladimir Putin’s government passed legislation restricting news reporting and journalists were subjected to physical violence and intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, authorities are able to use the legislative and judicial systems to harass and prosecute independent journalists.

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franchie on :

I hope Corsica will jump on the occasion to claim independance, though I fear they won't, sad ! :lol:

Nanne on :

There is a point to doing news analysis without excessive care about balance, and there is a point where balance becomes an excuse for lazy 'he-said, she-said' stories. But the Moscow News Weekly article is more commentary than analysis. So it's in the wrong section. As an institution that is [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_House]funded to the tune of 75%[/url] by the US Government, I would take Freedom House's rankings with a pinch of salt. But again, that does not apply to this specific case, as it is right about Russia. The Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, which I put more stock in, [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reporters_without_borders#Worldwide_press_freedom_index]corroborates[/url].

John in Michigan, USA on :

Freedom House has a long history of integrity and independence. It is hardly fair to discount it just because it gets an embarrassingly large amount of its funding from U.S. government grants. It is more accurate to say that two prestigious NGOs have independently concluded that Russia has very limited press freedom.

Nanne on :

There are differing opinions about its degree of independence, as the wikipedia article shows. I don't think it is off the mark about Russia. I do think it is overly positive about the US and a few other countries (as a contrast with the reporters without borders index shows). It might be a question of different selection criteria rather than turning a blind eye.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Well, Freedom House's rankings may have a bias towards certain [i]concepts[/i] of freedom. For example, it treats the German opposition to religious groups like Scientology or of extremist groups like the neo-Nazis as limits on free speech. It would be fair to call this an American concept of freedom, because it is popular here. As discussed elsewhere on Atlantic Review, in a consensus-based political culture, such as Germany, it might be correct to be less excited, or even unexcited, about these examples. However, from what I can tell, Freedom House applies these somewhat Americanized criteria fairly. In other words, when other countries do a better job of realizing the particular concepts of freedom that Freedom House defines, then they will recognize that fact. My complaint about Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is their absurdly low ranking of the US for the past two years. There have been some minor changes to US law and practice, but nothing that could possibly take us from a 4.0 to 14.5 in three years. I have read what I can find about RSF's criteria, and their complaints about America (Josh Wolf, Sami al-Haj, etc.). These are exceptional cases; in the US 1000's of journalists and even more bloggers have written or done more controversial things without any penalty. The NY Times leaked the NIE, and absolutely critical information about trans-Atlantic efforts to curb terrorism financing, and suffered no penalties. Meanwhile the UK, with its strict libel and slander laws that are so often abused to chill journalists, is ranked dramatically better? So is Canada in spite of abusive so-called Human Rights Commissions? Including al-Haj's case is particularly problematic, since he was detained in a war zone. Are we to seriously believe that if countries such as Nicaragua went to war again, they would provide even a tiny fraction of the press freedom we've provided in Iraq and elsewhere? I wonder if they are being selective in whether they decide to count war zone behavior for a given country? Also a big problem: RSF appear to be penalizing the US because firms like Microsoft and Google are helping certain countries filter the Internet. But, obeying the bad laws of another country should hardly count against America's ranking; if it does, then all the other countries that permit their IT companies to do business in places like China should also be mentioned and have the appropriate penalty on their rank. I am curious, do you know RSF well enough to answer any of these questions? Of course, my complaints don't mean that I am against RSF. Perhaps the lesson here is that we should have multiple, competing organizations that each monitor press freedom from their own perspective.

Nanne on :

John, I know the situation well enough. First, the PFI is a perception-based index, much like Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. What reporters without borders writes in its reports is accompanying editorial. As you'll see, the report for the US for 2007 is more positive, even as its rating has deteriorated. There is another (notably worse) rating for the US extraterritorial situation. I do not know where the Sami al-Haj case figures in. Saying 'this is just a single case' is something you can do for all countries. As reporters without borders makes abundantly clear, there is a lack of effective legal protection for journalists on the federal level with regard to protecting sources - even as legislation is being drawn up to deal with that. UK libel laws have been adjusted in recent years, partially following a judgement from the ECHR on the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLibel_case#European_Court_of_Human_Rights]'McLibel'[/url] case. The only thing I could find on Canada's Human Rights Commissions was this [url=http://www.reason.com/news/show/124925.html]Reason article[/url]. If a stifling effect of litigation-as-such is taken as a barrier to press freedom, the US also has a few things to answer for. It is a highly litigious society, after all, the actions of the Church of Scientology offer a good example for this. Also see the recent [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikileaks#Bank_Julius_Baer_suit]wikileaks[/url] case.

Joe Noory on :

I've heard over and over this lunacy of giving journalists a kind of "diplomatic immunity", when in reality a jounralist is a citizen like any other, and anyone who writes down an observation to their Auntie Lulu in Saskatoon is a journalist of sorts. This notion that they deserve more protection than any other citizen seems like a rather desperate measure one would never concider were it not for the number of places where neither libel protection nor the protection of speech exist or go unenforced. It's a form of unequality when you think about it, making some people designatable as "super citizens" by the granting of credentials, (and don't think for a moment that THAT won't be manuipulated,) in the same way that foreign journalist behind the iron curtain were credentialed, and had a slightly looser leash than the population, but without the fundamental freedom. But hey, the **intention** was good, and there are people out there who will march in the street to get behind that "sentiment" or opportunity to represent oneself with it. They have every right to be short-sighted. As for RSF's ideces, John Rosenthal found them to have become the victim of governmental manipulation, in an attempt by democratic governments to promote their virtuous social campaigning to their own population. Since this requires a kind of wierd porochialism to accomplish, and has failed, they have to gin-up some good metrics. So then we discover that RSF can be readily [url=http://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2007/11/reporters-without-scruples.html]bought off[/url].

Nanne on :

Joe, Journalists need to have a certain amount of professional secrecy, particularly with regard to their sources, in order to do their work properly. If you disagree with that, why stop at journalists? Surely doctors, priests, and yes, diplomats have certain priviliges that ordinary citizens don't. (journalists, priests and doctors also have the accompanying duty to keep their secrets, but that apparently doesn't count for anything).

Joe Noory on :

If you have privacy, or special secrecy as you like to think of it, you don't need any more protection that any citizen has. WHat makes a journalist a "super citizen with extra rights", then?

John in Michigan, USA on :

"perception-based index"...interesting. Whereas Freedom House is more of an analytical index in that experts are commissioned to provide the rankings. That in my view goes a long way towards explaining the sudden decrease in the US ranking. Following Joe's link to the [url=http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/Article.aspx?id=1350]original source at World Politics Review[/url], I read: 'RSF provides a brief note on "How the index was compiled" -- pompously titled a "methodological note" in the French version. The note is barely 400 words long...The only relevant piece of information one learns from RSF's "methodological note," is that RSF's rankings are supposed to be based on the responses to a questionnaire sent out by RSF "to its network of 130 correspondents around the world, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists." Just how these responses are supposed to have been converted into the numerical "score" that determines the rank of each country in the index, we are not told. We are merely told reassuringly that the RSF has "devised a scale" for this purpose. The questionnaire is made available on the RSF Web site. The responses are not, nor are the names of the persons whose opinions are supposed to have been surveyed.' Compare this to [url=http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=351&ana_page=333&year=2007]Freedom House's detailed methodology[/url]. They use academically rigorous, but not strictly speaking scientific, surveys. We could learn a lot from comparing an expert opinion study to a scientific survey of perceptions of a representative sample of journalists. But, if the post at World Politics Review is correct, the RSF survey [i]doesn't even qualify as a scientific survey[/i]! Granted, an informal survey of what the RSF membership thinks, is useful. But if Freedom House's findings must be taken with "a pinch of salt", RSF's findings require a heaping handful. Aside: The World Politics Review articles raise important questions about the amount of direct and indirect subsidy RSF gets, but I think the writer John Rosenthal goes too far in his conclusions about the subsidy question. Also, even if RSF turns out to be mostly subsidized, it could still be a useful organization, as is Freedom House. re Canada's Human Rights Commissions - they are provincial commissions, not federal, so you have to search on "Alberta Human Rights Commission", "Ontario Human Rights Commission", etc. Yep, the Reason article is the thing I'm talking about...is RSF membership even aware of this? "If a stifling effect of litigation-as-such is taken as a barrier to press freedom, the US also has a few things to answer for." Yes, our lawyers are abusive! But, in this area there have been no dramatic changes in overall US law or practice in the past three years. Minor changes, yes, but nothing to justify the huge changes in the US rank. Even the wikileaks case is merely the court recognizing the mutual agreement between a plaintiff and a defendant (the name registrar). This agreement is horrible, but it has already failed utterly and I don't think it is a major threat to press or other freedom.

Nanne on :

John, I agree that RSF should be more comprehensively open about their income and their methodology. The John Rosenthal piece does not merely go to far, it is in fact mostly supposition - John Rosenthal does not have any evidence that RSF received funding from the EU in 2006 and hid it. The 420,000 he brings forward was in fact budgeted in 2005 and would explain much of the difference between subsidies in 2005 and 2006 -- and as another point, it was programme-related rather than general support. The fact, moreover, that RSF does not explicitly mention a few [i]causes célèbres[/i] of the right does not mean that they do not figure in the rankings, as the rankings are perception-based. Note that the network the RSF distributes its questionaire to is larger than merely member journalists. As for Freedom House, considering their country report on the US, I still don't understand how they could give such a favourable rating to the political and legal situation.

Axel on :

Could you please explain to me what the Russians' complaint about the alleged (political) "Western hypocracy" [i]when dealing with and supporting different separatist or secessionist movements who wants to break away[/i] has to do with the quality of newspapers or the freedom of the press? I simply don't get it.

John in Michigan, USA on :

While it may be possible that a few independent newspapers still exist in Russia, my sense is that all the ones with large circulation or influence understand they have to reflect the party line of the oligarchy. I think it is being far too charitable to state the topic as a question, rather than a statement.

joe on :

I happen to agree with Putin's assessment that this is a very bad idea. The agreement reached by the UNSC on this issue should have been quite acceptable to all parties. It seems as it was not. Should either Russia or Serbia decide to take military action, they would be advised to wait till after the US election cycle. If they do there might be a window of opportunity for them.

David on :

Joe, I happen to agree with you on Putin in this instance. "Should either Russia or Serbia decide to take military action, they would be advised to wait till after the US election cycle. If they do there might be a window of opportunity for them" So, does this mean you're conceding?

joe on :

David, I am not sure what you mean. During the transfer from one administration to another even if it is within the same party, there is a period of disorganization and general confusion. There are a lot of key positions which have to be filled - SECDEF, SecState, National Security Advisor, etc. This has little to do with which party wins the WH. If I were doing the planning for the Russians, I would roll 3 armor divisions on 15 January. There is nothing there to stop them from occupying Kosovo. David, I don't think even you would expect KFOR, made up primarily of European nations, to fight.... Get for real or you do need to go cold turkey on that Kool Aid you keep sipping. The EU would be off to the UNSC. The UNSC could do nothing given Russia and or China would veto any action. Besides there is already an agreement in place, which the Russian could say they were enforcing. So either President Bush or the new POTUS or both would have to come up with some response. Even if they could reach a US position there is also the EU and NATO that must come to some agreement. I really don’t think that is going to happen in less than 2 weeks if at all. There would be no good options. If words were tossed around, to make those words have any meaning what so ever, then they have to be backed up by some military force. There would also have to be a clear message that once assembled this force would be prepared to go to war. That understanding would be critical for all parties. This is not something I do not believe the US/NATO/EU want to bluff Russia with because I think Russia would call that bluff. I know I surely would. Russia could cover most of Kosovo with ADA assets. Serbia could deploy its paramilitary forces. The ADA coverage would force this into a ground war. If that happens NATO folds unless the POTUS is prepared to make this a US war only. I think that would be a hard call for your guy or McCain. I am not sure in the environment we are in today that Congress would agree without a strong commitment from Europe. I don’ think Europe would make that commitment. Peacekeeping is one thing. Peacemaking is something else. The euros never signed up for that. This entire exercise by Kosovo, the EU, and the US has not been very well thought out as to the risks. It was and is not a risk free adventure. The West faces a lot of risks and Russia very little. In fact, it might be the perfect opportunity for Russia. It would demonstrate to the world that they are back in the game. It would increase their sphere of influence and probably drive a dagger through the heart of NATO. All what I would consider as obtainable goals for the Russians. Besides at the end of the day Russia could stop the flow of gas and oil to Western Europe and the game would be over. Europe would fold leaving the US to go it alone once more.

Zyme on :

Your military analysis is quite interesting and there are no fundamental points I could not agree with, should such a conflict arise. Just like you I can hardly imagine european forces engaging russians in Kosovo. In total contrast to you though I can also not imagine russian forces engaging europeans there either. The country has become a de facto EU protectorate, with a german heading the executive branch. Germany and Italy have sent 1200 civil servants, judges and policemen to create the new state of Kosovo. Thus this has become a matter of european prestige. And why is this supposed to stop russian hardliners? I suggest you take a look at the following document from eurostat, the statistical office in Brussels: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-07-114/DE/KS-SF-07-114-DE.PDF Even if you don´t speak any german, you can still scroll down to page number four. There you will see a graphical image of Russia´s foreign trade. The Blue Part is representing the EU. So EU-products represents 44 % of russian imports, while the EU is the partner that buys 47 % of products exported from Russia. In the meantime russian products represent just 10.4 % of the EU-imports, and only 6.2 % of european products are sold to Russia. (http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/PGP_PRD_CAT_PREREL/PGE_CAT_PREREL_YEAR_2007/PGE_CAT_PREREL_YEAR_2007_MONTH_10/6-25102007-DE-BP.PDF) Now do the maths. How many countries on this planet would be willing to risk almost half of their foreign trade relations for a mere matter of prestige abroad? Clearly even somebody as focused on military matters as you seem to be could then see that the EU is not the kind of body you would like to challenge from a russian perspective. Aside from that, I totally welcome the declaration of independence in Kosovo. It is hardly surprising that germans and italians create the new state. This is their traditional sphere of influence after all. So at the moment this looks like a humiliating defeat of the russian influence in this region. In contrast to Joe, I don´t think they will retaliate militarily. Instead, Moscow will support secessionist groups in the eastern european countries that have Berlin´s or Brussel´s support and will try to pull the same stunt there. From a german perspective this could even turn out to be a win-win situation. By helping Kosovo to become independent, we not only furthered our sphere of influence to the south-east, but might also have started a chain-reaction of similiar movements in western Europe. Should countries like France, Spain and the UK become as paralyzed as Belgium is today with the threat of a possible break-up, such a marginalization can only be to our advantage in Brussels.

John in Michigan, USA on :

There is a lot of territory between Russia and Kosovo that these Russian divisions would have to cross. They would almost certainly use the Black Sea to avoid Ukraine, but I don't see how they could avoid either Romania or Bulgaria, both of which are NATO countries. Forcing the Bosporus seems out of the question. Any path would cause a great deal of diplomatic outrage, and may in fact see the EU/NATO resolve strengthened substantially from the nearly non-existent state it is now. Then Zyme's points become more relevant. Furthermore, Russian resupply would be extraordinarily difficult. They would find these supply lines harassed at almost every step by local mafias, paramilitaries...and by US or NATO air operations. Their ADA coverage would have to cover not just the Kosovo area, but also their supply lines; this is a huge area. Russian ground troops have been tested in battle plenty since the fall of the USSR, but their air defense abilities (ground and navel) have not. Russia dominates the Black Sea currently but with Turkish support we could turn it into a NATO lake or at least no-go territory for Russia. Zyme: Your point that Russian has more to loose from a trade embargo that does the EU, is true. However, Russian gas and oil would be sorely missed in Europe. You write regarding Russia, "How many countries on this planet would be willing to risk almost half of their foreign trade relations for a mere matter of prestige abroad?" It seems this is what they did, more or less, in Afghanistan. It would be stupid of them, but it could happen. Individual European nations have historically been willing to make sacrifices, but the EU is new and untested. So I have to ask: would the EU be willing to risk even 6-10% of its trade, plus endure a very cold winter, for the mere matter of Kosovo? The EU probably has the ability to deter Russia without fighting, but does it have the will? Overall I agree with Zyme that a Russian invasion of Kosovo is highly unlikely, and would fail if it were tried. However, the fear of a NATO response is probably more of a factor than the fear of an EU embargo.

Zyme on :

Good point with geography - keeping this in mind, the russian options look even less promising. I agree that it wouldn´t be easy for the EU powers to reach an agreement for an embargo. Even without one, the prospects of EU-Russia trade would go down the drain, once military action is taken. Since this is the vital bloodline of russian trade, I can hardly imagine them to be this audacious.

Joe Noory on :

Russia Today, a satellite TV outfit run by a majority state-owned media outfit makes SOME distinction between opinion and reporting, but the traditional international radio broadcaster, Voice of Russia, has devolved back sounding a n awful lot like the Radio Moscow of old. Case in point, the "news" would begin with statements by Putin, about Putin, and what foreign delegations were around visiting 'fearless leader'. In other words, the news starts with the state to the state, and the public second. Anyone getting nostaligic yet?

franchie on :

the Russians don't care of Kossovo which is a muslims country ; they use the Serbs device to annoy the americans ; life is more interesting on the eastern front for them, whereas oil, gaz, space, customers who's got good money, China, India... plus, Serbia and Kossovo will be integrated into the EU club, that will make them again in the same country ; not that I like one muslim country coming in, but I do hope that they won't think to impose the Sharia et get educated in an enlightened islam with scientists and writers as new prophets. 'Besides at the end of the day Russia could stop the flow of gas and oil to Western Europe and the game would be over. Europe would fold leaving the US to go it alone once more." oh please, big daddy come and help us, please : IN YOUR DREAMS ! Russia need our money and exchanges

franchie on :

Mr Tadic wants to halt Serbia's drift back into isolation. He hopes to see Serbia continue on its path to European integration. http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10750204

Merkel-2 on :

[plus, Serbia and Kossovo will be integrated into the EU club, that will make them again in the same country ;] Comment: If this can be a solution to Kosovo problem,it seems the fact that Kossovo stay in Serbia sovereignty and EU absorb Serbia into its family, will make everyone happy. Because in your point of view , when a country join the EU , The recognition to its ethnic nation/state will be meaningless. But things happened in Kosovo does not evolve in your threads. Kosovo Albanian cherish their independence more than anything else. You provide a proposition, but hardly can you prove it . You can not answer why the Kossovo vehemently claim its independence without considering its aftermath. Why the EU avoid the United Nation's final approval on this matter,I guess I don't need to prompt you this: EU itself got splited on Kosovo future status. The situation (uniquely claiming independence,some western powers seperately recognize its sovereignty) also result in so many leagal problems in the whole world. EU give a very bad example in international sphere. Their imprudent action can not be validated by such a ridiculous excuse(i mean special case or Kosovo's uniqueness ).

franchie on :

“Muhamedin Kullashi, a philosopher based in Paris, is Kosovar Albanian. For him, “thesis we sometimes heard in France, and that the independence of Kosovo could cause a split of our continent, is at least reckless. It is the domination of Serbia on Kosovo, which was one of the most dangerous sources of instability Serbian and Yugoslavia. The danger lies in maintaining the status quo indefinitely. The Serbian historian Dubravka Stojanovic noted in a recent article that Serbia has lost Kosovo not in 1999 but rather in 1912, the invading against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants. Serbia has lost Kosovo at that time, because it has exercised a systematic terror military. ” (google translate) Effectively Serbia annexed Kosovo in 1912 http://www.reforme.net/dossiers.php?id=136

rus on :

http://www.wkiosk.com/kiosk/kiosk?country=ru

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