#4 - JRL 7060
Russia: IFJ condemns draft law as "statement of failure" on media freedom
Source: International Federation of journalists press release, Brussels, in
English 10 Feb 03
Text of press release by International Federation of Journalists in English on 10 February
The International Federation of Journalists today congratulated Russian journalists on the 300th anniversary of the Russian press, but has condemned Government proposals for a new media law as a "statement of failure" regarding press freedom in Russia. The IFJ General Secretary, Aidan White, told journalists' leaders in Moscow that a ministry draft for a new media law was "vague, potentially dangerous and will create bureaucratic obstacles to press freedom". He said that after 13 years of reform, "it is a statement of failure on efforts to create a democratic media culture in Russia".
The IFJ has written to President Vladimir Putin, asking him to oppose this draft for a new law. "Too often in this text we see the government insisting on the right for its voice to be heard and limits being placed upon what journalists can and cannot say," says the IFJ. It is asking President Putin to oppose changes in the law that might restrict media freedom and, instead, to give his backing to efforts by the Russian Journalists' Union to defend journalists' rights. The IFJ statement came at a celebration in Moscow where Russian journalists gathered to mark the publication in 1703 of the country's first newspaper.
The IFJ says that journalists and media in Russia are facing a profound crisis of confidence. "The government and political rulers have failed to create the conditions for media freedom as enjoyed in other democratic countries," said Aidan White, "while media owners have failed to respect basic social and professional rights of journalists and media staff. Journalists in many parts of the country still live and work in conditions of poverty, professional neglect and under intolerable pressure from powerful groups in society." The IFJ warns that unless action is taken to reinforce independent journalism and to bring forward reforms that will transform the current media landscape, the country's media face a drift back towards authoritarianism and censorship. The IFJ says legal rules governing mass media should be the minimum necessary to protect pluralism, ensure fair market conditions and create public confidence that there is no political or commercial power manipulating the work of journalists. "Ethics of journalism and the news gathering process should be left to media professionals," said White. "Where the government has a role, it is to act as a guarantor of pluralism and quality, particularly in the broadcasting sector."
In its letter to Putin, the IFJ protest cites provisions in the draft that restrict reporters' rights, or create cumbersome and discriminatory accreditation and registration procedures and threaten to restrict citizens' rights to freedom of information only to what they receive through mass media. "Free expression and freedom of information is something to be enjoyed by all citizens, not by journalists alone," says the IFJ. The IFJ calls for a new approach in which the law defines clearly the government's responsibility to create safe and professional conditions for the exercise of journalism. "What we do not need is legal interference in the process of selection and definition of content in media - that is the job of journalists and of journalists alone."
The IFJ says that the authorities must act to support journalists striving for better social and professional conditions. "Journalists demand the right to work without interference, to receive decent pay and secure working conditions and to have their professional status properly respected." The IFJ says that while the law should provide a level playing field on which journalists and media struggle for professional integrity, "it cannot be used to substitute for the ethical, moral values upon which journalism is based".
Full text of IFJ letter to President Putin: www.ifj.org
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries. For further information, contact the IFJ, International Press Centre, Residence Palace 155, Rue de la Loi - Bloc C, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium, tel: +322 235 2200 or +322 235 22 01, fax: +322 235 22 19, e-mail: email@example.com, Internet: http://www.ifj.org/