Committee to Protect Journalists Condems Russia

The Committee to Protect Journalists have released their annual report Attacks on the Press, which documents the killing and imprisonment around the world. The study, of course, includes a section on Europe and Central Asia. The report reads:

From Ukraine to Turkmenistan, 46 journalists have been murdered in the former Soviet states over the past 15 years, with 90 percent of the cases unsolved, according to CPJ research. The message from the authorities has been clear: When it comes to journalists, you can get away with murder. This has had the intended chilling effect on media coverage of sensitive issues of corruption, organized crime, human rights violations, and abuse of power in countries such as Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, CPJ research shows.

Shielded by institutional secrecy, authorities make little effort to track down the killers. CPJ has documented case after case in Europe and Central Asia where investigators ignore journalism as a motive. Instead, they classify the killings as common crimes and label professional assassins “hooligans.” Prosecutors open and suspend investigations, rarely informing victims’ relatives and colleagues, who have to scramble for information or do their own forensic investigation. Detectives sometimes fail to study the dead journalist’s notebooks, computers, and tape recorders. They fail to interview all witnesses, then ignore the testimony of those they do interview. Investigations are closed “for lack of suspects” despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

Among those nations listed above, Russia is characterized as “the worst record of impunity among countries in the region” and “the third deadliest country for journalists worldwide.” “Only Iraq, and Algeria when it was riven by civil war, outrank it,” the report reads. The highest profile killing of a journalist in Russia in 2006 was, of course, Novaya gazeta investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

The condemnation of Russia didn’t stop at official figures. In the report’s introduction, written by CPJ executive director Joel Simon, Putin was lumped with Hugo Chavez (the Latin American section is almost solely dedicated to him) as representatives of “a generation of sophisticated, elected leaders who have created a legal framework to control, intimidate, and censor the news media.” Simon even posits a new term for the Putins and Chavezs of the world: democratators.

The rise of “democratators”—popularly elected autocrats—is alarming because it represents a new model for government control of the press. These leaders stand for election and express rhetorical support for democratic institutions while using measures such as punitive tax audits, manipulation of government advertising, and sweeping content restrictions to control the news media. The democratators tolerate the fa?ade of democracy—a free press, opposition political parties, an independent judiciary—while gutting it from within.