[DJ: This book is a Center for Defense Information publication. The full book (in Russian) can be ordered in electronic form (as pdf file) from the CDI Moscow office (Moscow@cdi.org) or as hard copy though their number is limited
January 15, 2003
Book: It's Harder to Report on The Army
By Lyuba Pronina
Even as public interest in the military increases, defense journalists are facing a growing wave of secrecy, censorship and persecution, according to a new book.
"Contemporary Russian Defense Journalism," which is compiled by defense experts and journalists, looks at the evolution of defense reporting in Russia, with an emphasis on the past decade when the servicemen-cum-journalists writing for ministry-sponsored publications gave way to an eclectic mix of reporters in civil media.
"This is a first attempt at analyzing the experience of Russian defense journalism in the 300-year history of the press," co-author Mikhail Pogorely said at a presentation of the book Tuesday.
The book says that the military, after losing its monopoly on information, has all but closed up and eagerly gone after journalists who dared provide an independent analysis of its doings. Part of its attitude, which permeates all levels of the armed forces, is shaped by its anger over criticism and envy of reporters' relatively high incomes, the book says.
Vadim Solovyov, managing editor of the respected Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye defense weekly, writes that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has banned his subordinates from speaking with the newspaper, "giving preference to newspapers and magazines that are eager to lick the Defense Ministry's boots whether or not they have good reason to do so."
The Kursk submarine disaster proved to be a watershed in dividing journalists into "ours" and "not ours," writes Ivan Konovalov, a military correspondent with TVS television. Reporters for media such as RTR television fell into the "ours" category by following the official line -- and enjoying better access to information, he said.
Moreover, "when it became clear that the president favored naval Commander Vladimir Kuroyedov ... and that he doesn't take grief from anyone, cooperation with the press was curbed," writes Vladimir Yermolin of Grani.ru.
While the right for information and its analysis and reporting is guaranteed by law, the Constitution and the law on mass media, defense reporters face numerous hurdles due to a 1997 law on state secrets and a 1996 Defense Ministry order on what constitutes classified information, the book says.
Cases against Alexander Nikitin, Grigory Pasko and Igor Sutyagin, who were charged with high treason and espionage, only show that military censorship is alive and well, writes Viktor Litovkin of RIA Novosti.
Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov, who contributed to the book, said at the presentation that the military is not against criticism in the media as long as it is constructive and supported by facts.
Key questions raised in the book are whether objective defense journalism can exist under such conditions and whether it has a future.
Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the U.S. Center for Defense Information, said many defense reporters have moved to other topics or quit journalism altogether in the past 18 months due to the hassle of covering the military.
But even despite the difficulty in reporting, he believes, defense journalism will flourish as the public continues to fret about Russia's position in the world, the threats facing the country and how it is prepared to fend them off.