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Inaugural Session of the Media Sub-Working Group for the U.S.-Russia Binational Presidential Commission

U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Issue Areas Listed in Fanned Out Pattern Around Stylized Graphics of U.S. and Russian FlagsJudith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Charles Hotel
Cambridge, MA
March 2, 2011

I am pleased to welcome everyone to the first meeting of the Mass Media Sub-Working Group.

Many of you traveled long distances to be here today, and put in even longer hours of preparation for our meetings this week. So thank you for your dedication and for the personal sacrifices you have made to ensure this conference is a success. The expertise in this room is a critical component in the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission. And together, we are helping build a thriving partnership for both our nations to succeed in the 21st century.

It is also is an honor to welcome my working group co-chair Mikhail Shvydkoy; the co-chair of this sub-working group on mass media, Mikhail Gusman; and all our Russian colleagues to our country and to this historic city.

And I'd like to thank our local hosts at Harvard, MIT, and the Boston Globe for their support. You represent great American institutions with long traditions of excellence, and we are proud to share in those traditions this week.

We meet at a promising time in U.S.-Russia relations. In the last two years, we have worked to transform mistrust into partnerships and progress. We ratified the New START Treaty to limit the number of nuclear weapons. We supported global nonproliferation priorities with increased coordination to address Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs.

Our cooperation has opened new supply routes to support international forces in Afghanistan and tackled drug smuggling. And in Russia and the United States, our two-way trade and investments are up, the ties between our people are deepening, and our attitudes toward one another are improving. Indeed recent polling in both our countries indicates that favorability ratings are higher than they have been in decades. These results show that our reset is real, and that our cooperation pays concrete dividends.

The challenge before us now is to sustain this momentum in 2011. President Obama has made it a top priority to help Russia join the World Trade Organization. And the Administration is committed to doing everything it can to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik provisions this year.

On missile defense, an area that caused differences in the past, we see historic new opportunities for cooperation. If Russia, Europe, and the United States can answer the common security challenges we face together, all of our citizens will reap the benefits of a safer world. So we have made impressive strides, but there is still much work to be done.

No longer can we afford to let mutual frustration or outdated stereotypes stand in the way of our shared interests. President Obama was right when he said we not only need a reset between our governments, we need a fresh start between our societies­more dialogue, more listening, and more cooperation. So we are doing more than just improving our cooperation on security issues, we are creating new ways to connect our people, particularly our young people, on issues that matter to Americans and Russians.

For example, in the Presidential Commission Working Group that I co-chair with Ambassador Shvydkoy, we have nearly doubled partnerships between American and Russian universities. We have established new youth sports exchanges, and announced new Fulbright initiatives in science and technology. I am sure you all saw the coverage of the Russian students playing basketball with President Obama. Now that is a real exchange! We've shared some of the best of American heritage and culture with Russian audiences, from the friendship between Tsar Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln to the music of the Supremes, through more than 50 American arts and cultural events.

We are using technology to connect our youth in new ways. Students from the Russian Academy of Theater Arts in Moscow and the California Institute of Arts began exchanging ideas using YouTube and Skype. Now they are working to develop a joint production. And today, our discussions are being live-streamed to groups of journalism students in Moscow and St. Petersburg, people across Russia, and students at the University of Kansas, University of Maryland, and at Columbia University.

When I worked at MTV, I saw the energy and enthusiasm of youth power a cultural revolution. We had to think about television and mass media in new ways to tap into the desires of a new generation.

The same was true of my time at the Discovery. We recognized that we all share a natural curiosity about our world. So we asked people for their input, and we harnessed the cross-cutting power of media to deliver programming that both inspired and enlightened people all over the world.

Today, events in the Middle East and around the world are once again showing us the human desire for a voice is irrepressible. Students in Egypt and Tunisia may look different from the MTV generation, but their passion is familiar and their identity is equally unique. In today's media landscape, whether we represent countries or corporations, we ignore the will of the people at our own peril. Individuals organize movements using social media and cell phones, and actions in once-distant parts of the world are as immediate as those next door. As Secretary Clinton has said, the internet is the public square of the 21st century, and we all shape and are shaped by what happens on the Internet.

As we discuss the role media organizations will play in this new public space, I urge you to think about how new media technologies can help Americans and Russians to connect with one another. In this working group, we can learn to navigate this new environment together, and explore the opportunities of our networked world.

Both Russians and Americans have embraced these new ways to connect and increasingly seek out information online. Home internet access has grown enormously and smart phones now provide unprecedented access to information and the internet anywhere there is a cell signal. Even our presidents are certified technophiles. President Obama insists on carrying a blackberry­and let me assure you, that was a challenge for our secret service­and I'm told that President Medvedev uses 15 online platforms to communicate with the world.

These technical advances bring both upheaval and opportunities for the business side of media. In the United States, the traditional weekly magazine Newsweek has linked its future to the Daily Beast, a two-year-old internet start up. And AOL, itself an upstart of the internet age not that long ago, is infusing new blood by acquiring the online Huffington Post.

The recent mergers of traditional and online media are merely the tip of the iceberg in the evolution of today's media business environment. As you saw yesterday at MIT, media is literally reinventing itself. And, as in so many areas, the challenges for Russians and Americans are shared ones.

How should the media profession adapt to the rise of "citizen journalists" and the new media environment? What does this mean for reporters, media executives, and journalism students? Where is social media heading, and what do we need to do to prepare for the next generation of connective technologies?

Today's sessions will begin a conversation about these questions, and many more. We will see where our interests coincide, and think about new ways to cooperate.

At the heart of all these issues lies the need for innovation. We must foster innovation in the news business, in journalism education, and in media technology, or we will surely be left behind. When President Medvedev visited Silicon Valley last year, he spoke of the need for Russia to innovate in order to achieve a modern, prosperous, democratic society. The entrepreneurs in California told him plainly what entrepreneurs in Russia and around the globe recognize: freedom is the key ingredient of innovation. This is true for businessmen and journalists alike.

The United States fully supports President Medvedev's vision of a nation powered by human capital, knowledge, and new technologies ­ by the talent and passion of the Russian people. Americans share a similar vision for our own nation and our own people.

But we also understand that innovation is a bottom up, not a top down process. The challenge is to foster an environment where innovation can thrive. Government has a role in helping create that environment. Investing in education, health, and infrastructure is necessary. So is respecting the rule of law, protecting intellectual property rights, and promoting other core freedoms. That includes freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and what Secretary Clinton has termed the "freedom to connect" ­ to the internet, to unfiltered information, and to one another.

In the spirit of the improving relationship between our two nations, let me be clear: We want Russians to succeed in implementing President Medvedev's emphasis on fighting corruption and promoting media freedom. At the same time, we are still troubled by the violent attacks against journalists and citizen activists.

Environmental activist and journalist Oleg Kashin was nearly beaten to death last November for his political reporting. The murders of Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya and other journalists remain unresolved. As long as journalists do not feel safe to practice their craft, particularly on controversial issues, achieving an innovative society will be difficult.

Russians and Americans have a shared commitment to addressing our common problems together, and holding open discussions when we disagree. I am sure that the participants here will find in each other willing partners ready to respond to new opportunities and tackle our toughest challenges.

Over the next two days, I challenge you to propose concrete projects for us to develop together. You have the power to help us discover new ideas and answer big questions: How can the Russian-U.S. dialogue encourage the media to become more professional, more accurate, and more accessible? How can the media better educate our citizens? How can we better inform Americans about Russia and, vice versa, Russians about America?

I look forward to learning about the outcomes of your discussions. But after you decide on specific projects, the real work will begin. The value of this session will be measured by its results: the journalists who travel between our countries and bring home fresh ideas. The Russian teachers and American students who learn from one another. The old barriers we tear down and replace with new bridges of trust and cooperation. These will be the true yardsticks for progress. And it is my hope we measure our successes in miles.

Thank you.

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