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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 09:53 GMT
Is free speech under threat in Russia?
The television station, TV-6, has been a persistent critic of Russian government policy, especially over the war in Chechnya.

It abruptly ended transmissions on Monday, prompting claims that free speech in Russia is under attack.

TV-6 director Yeveny Kiselyov said "Russia is heading towards an authoritarian and totalitarian regime."

He says he has 'no doubt' the closure was President Putin's decision.

However, the Kremlin has insisted that the row between the Russian authorities and TV-6 is based on its failure to make money.

Does the closure of TV-6 suggest that freedom of speech is under threat in Russia?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The decision to close the TV-6 station is outrageous

Said Ahmed, UK
The decision to close the TV-6 station is outrageous since the December 1993 Russian constitution-still used- provides freedom of speech and press. I think Putin-being an ex-KGB officer- can handle the press scrutinising his every action.
Said Ahmed, UK

NTV and TV6 were independent in so much that they were not state-owned facilities. It would be a mistake, however, to confuse independent broadcasting with purely objective coverage of events. Yes, this may be the final death knell for media pluralism in Russia and the end of any hope of objective news coverage.

Whilst foreign ownership of the mass media remains illegal, financial backing can only come from internal figures who, tainted by shadow of embezzlement, will always be open to accusations of wrongdoing, and are liable to fall victim of selective application of the law should they show any anti-Kremlin bias.

Yes, this is hypocrisy, but the Russian people have taken a leap of faith and trust their president to restore their country's national pride and international standing amongst civilised countries. Western observers must be hoping as much as them that this trust has not been misplaced.
Matthew, UK

Freedom of speech as meaningless hype? The whole point of media freedom is to make the government accountable to its electorate. The fact that it has not been since post-soviet democratisation has led to much of the material need which Vincent, Liverpool describes. You are not being as pragmatic and realistic as you think you are by dismissing media freedom as hype.
Matt, U.K.

The double standards of the West are manifest and plain to see

Matt, UK
Vladimir - The double standards of the West are manifest and plain to see. Is that an argument for suppression of non-state media in Russia or grounds for improvement on both sides?
Matt, UK

Events concerning TV 6 and other channels sponsored or created by Oligarch gangsters get too much coverage in the West. I would like to hear another perspective (how free is the western media, ha ha). There must be other channels, it would be impossible for there not to be, let's hear about that regardless of the size of their audience. After all this is said and done, new TV Stations will spring up and those who would be clean from the vile hands of gangsters are likely to survive if they are just and responsible. Lastly I'd like to say that the Americans here are naive like puppies.
Janne Nikolov, Sweden

Surely it can't get as bad as the US, where no newspaper prints anything against the US, and any journalist who dares to do so gets fired.
Mark Briers, UK

I've read I don't know how many analyses on this item. Seems to me there is lots of freedom of expression in Russia - just not on prime time television. That's the way it is elsewhere. What makes Russia any different?
John Anderson, Canada

I think that it is important to note that those journalists who lost their jobs of reporting the world around them are still journalists. They will continue to observe and put to words what it is that is going on around them. Instead of turning on TV-6 there will be another mode for communicating, a solution which the Russian people will have to deal with. Free speech will continue to exist although maybe not in the present form. Free and objective media is difficult to find in the US and sadly even harder in Russia.
Brian, US

NTV and TV-6 were little more than propaganda tools

Roy, USA
I would ignore the absurd rants from my fellow citizens here in the Good 'ol US of A. They have been spoon-fed propaganda for so long, they no longer can recognize fact from fiction. TV-6 tried to take up the mantle of anarchy and revolution and was squashed. NTV and TV-6 were little more than propaganda tools for Russian thugs and the US State Department. No broadcaster in America would be permitted to stay on the air under similar circumstances. Imagine CNN or CBS running a story about rampaging American troops in Afghanistan or human rights abuses of Taleban prisoners.
Roy, USA

The shutdown of TV-6 signifies not only the suppression of free speech, but the suppression of intelligent thought! TV-6 was the only channel to broadcast serious, educational programmes that gave the Russian people food for thought. In my opinion, it's like shutting down Oxford University in England. How like the Stalinist regime, which strove to demolish human intelligence, seeing it as an obstacle standing in the way of totalitarian power.
Anna, USA

TV6 was biased against truth and by any standard of quality should have gone out of business along time ago. Only in the mass media is such sensationalism and irresponsible behaviour tolerated.
Randall, USA

It seems that freedom of speech in Russia is declining in proportion to its further commitment to extreme capitalism and its blind 'war on terror' (in this case Chechnya). It is possible to say the same thing about the US. CNN can hardly be called independent, neither can ABC. Both entities are so heavily influenced by the US government that it's truly alarming. I respect though, that it is very difficult to govern these days because of rising conflicts of interests etc.
Chris Ralph, Auckland, New Zealand

The question is if it is at all possible to have really free television?

Irina, Russia
I am sorry, but I never thought Russian post-communist television has ever been free. One or another journalist has always backed one or another political leader. I admire professional skills of former NTV and resent TV-6 journalists Mitkova, Novozhzhenov, Shenderovich, etc., but even they are always servants of their lords. The question is if it is at all possible to have really free television?
Irina, Russia

Free speech is already being banned in the USA (you try to criticise the USA for it's arrogant militarist posturing behaviour currently and see what happens) and is being banned in the UK (you try to criticise the police, or the Labour Party, or the British involvement with the Americansin Afghanistan and in killing innocent civilians in Iraq and see what happens) so the Russians are only following the fine example set by their western allies; and why not too! If the Americans and the British say it's okay, then it's okay for the Russians too.
Eric Hall, Pionsat, France

The West brings freedom and democracy whereas Russia is oppressive of any dissent, the West is carrying on a war on terror whereas Russia is murdering poor Chechen civilians--this "us versus them" distinction is becoming old and is reminiscent of Cold War rhetoric; it is also a result of double standards prevalent in the minds of people living in the West, and those standards are being systematically instilled in them by their own media, which, by the way, is far from being free.

Should one consider CNN the epitome of freedom? Would CNN report the number of American casualties based on its enemy's information or portray American soldiers as cruel invaders? (Admittance of one or two stray bombs is a very weak attempt to qualify the real truth.) I'm not trying to demean the cause of the United States, in fact I believe its cause is very just in today's circumstances, I'm just trying to say that freedom of speech is not absolute even according to the American constitution.

What if 20 years ago a British TV channel was presenting the Argentinean perspective on the Falklands incident for the entire United Kingdom? I think that Russia deserves a break; after all, the Cold War is over...or is it?
Vladimir, Ukraine

Freedom of speech? Anyone following "Fair and balanced" Fox News? Americans must be kidding themselves if they believe in independent and free news.
Aleksandar Adzic, Sydney, Australia

The closure of TV6 is a media hyped story just like the anthrax story was, and it will end as the anthrax scare did, very important to the decease's familys, but of relatively minor importance to the rest of the population. A small Russian history lesson follows. Pre 1890 Feudal serfdom {No free speech} 1890's to 1917 Feudal empire (No free speech) 1917 to 1980s Communist empire (No free speech). Since the fall of communism, most Russians' concern has been food and clothing, not some abstract concept that has never existed in their country. If you want to help Russia and its people, a better coat, more food, less meaningless hype is what is needed.
Vincent, Liverpool England

What television channel in Europe is free from government influence?

Dan A, Sweden, EU
Freedom of Speech? Come on, let's not be hypocritical here. What television channel in Europe is free from government influence? Here in Sweden, the biggest "national" channels are SVT 1 and 2, whose budget is paid by the government. And when the war against terrorism in America began, I surely didn't see any "Let us have a free speech about this" from either the US government or the media. Were those acts of patriotism or government control?
Dan A, Sweden, EU

Of course it is. Putin is an ex-KGB officer. He was a senior leader of an organization directly comparable with Nazi Germany's Gestapo and the CIA all rolled into one. He spent most of his life working for the Soviet Union, which preached that enemies of the State included those who would question the government's actions. Rather than being surprised that he's closing down the only independent news channel in the country, we should be thankful that he's not executing the journalists!
Rich, USA

Freedom of speech and press is very much threatened in Russia. Nor is it hypocritical to voice our concern (as suggested by another writer). Even at the height of emotion regarding the war against terrorism in the US, dissident voices were heard in Congress, on broadcast media, and in the press. I am sure the same is true in Britain. What we are witnessing in Russia is a structural elimination of all voices which might compete with the government. After the turmoil Russia has endured over the past decade, I understand this impulse, but it is a false solution, which will cost dearly in the future.
Otis, USA

Threat? Free speech is almost dead in Russia. Free speech does not exist any more on Russian TV. Next for shutting are independent newspapers and broadcasting stations. The trust was the clue. Our trust in the media is lost now. Such things like total corruption, controversial legislation, wide use of tortures, sentences for convictions, decaying army, controlled courts, acute environmental problems, and the Chechen massacre will never be shown as they are. A lie is now the media's password.
Ivan, Russia

Without criticism there will be no demand for improvement and, eventually, no dissent

James, Russia & UK
There is now no independent mass media in Russia and so, with surprising ease; one of the few achievements of the Yeltsin era has been dismantled. President Putin, and particularly Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, should be ashamed of this fact. While it could be argued that neither NTV nor TV6 made money, it could be equally argued that other, state controlled, stations which also make a loss but receive government funding, should also be closed. Those without access to the internet or international TV channels (the vast majority of Russia's population) will no longer be informed of the truth about the state of their country or its leadership.

Without criticism there will be no demand for improvement and, eventually, no dissent. Remember the Soviet media's silence during the Chernobyl accident, when even local residents didn't find out what had happened for several days, compared to the mass media reaction to the Kursk disaster, when the government was forced to take action and answer to its electorate, thanks to a free press.

The international community and its leaders must use all possible influence to ensure that the current situation does not continue. This may be the only way to change the attitude of the Russian leadership, especially as President Putin appears to want Russia to be taken seriously and accepted as part of the international mainstream. Otherwise how long will it be before a state media campaign against opposition groups begins? It is surely the natural progression.
James, Russia & UK

At least the Russians are honest about their state controlled media, unlike Europe and USA who like to continue with the illusion of "Freedom".
Pete D, UK

I agree totally with Dan from Sweden. The Afghan bombings showed how even the most respected of news channel in Britain help to propel propaganda in the government's favour. Any claims of civilian lives from the Afghan side was reported quite clearly as 'independently unconfirmed' or 'alleged'. And of course the most famous example is that of the current situation in Palestine and Israel; so much more is made of Israeli deaths than Palestinian, and no voice condemns the atrocities being committed before the very eyes of the world. Free speech indeed!
Yasmin, UK

They were critical of the elected government, were they? Then they must have been terrorists, and terrorists don't deserve free speech. (This is sarcasm - nobody would truly believe this, would they?)
Martin, England, UK

Realpolitik means that Putin can basically do what he wants at home without coming in for criticism from foreign governments. He can silence the media and he can carry on Russia's private war in Chechnya. The West wants someone they can do business with, and in Putin they have their man, as Russia's approval of "allied" intervention in Afghanistan showed.
Joe Ryan, France

You can't mix a little bit of capitalism with a big dose of socialist-communism

Thomas, Chicago, USA
Yes. Free speech is being reduced in Russia. Putin is making the same fundamental error as did Gorbachev. You can't mix a little bit of capitalism with a big dose of socialist-communism. Only a much wider policy of freedom of expression, fair treatment in courts according to law based upon the Anglo-American principles and open markets with the resultant economic freedom to succeed (and fail) will allow Russia to become up to speed with her western competitors. Without these concepts and more, Russia will continue to be a third-world entity with a nuclear arsenal. Dangerous, but internally weak.
Thomas, Chicago, USA

Free speech is definitely being threatened now in Russia. Those who are members of the world press knew this was a trend in the mid to late 1990's. The repression of the 'Press' seemed to be linked to the economic problems of the country. The very thing that would stimulate economic growth was improved communications. It is puzzling why any Russian leader would have stood for such a development.
Dave Adams, USA

Russia should learn from history, including its own. If it wants to be a serious country, it will need a serious media. A strong president and a strong media will do more for Russia's growth and potential than this charade.
John, Spain

No, free speech is not under threat in Russia. Anarchism is, though. Unfortunatelly, many of our citizens poorly associate their freedoms with inherent civil responsibility. Accordingly, some factions of newly born independent mass media used their freedom to serve big private capital. Eventually tycoons' control of these media became just as strong as the control of mass media by the state during Soviet times.

There is a big difference between filtering and fabricating the news in strict accordance with contributing big private interest. In the case of TV6 and NTV, their administration got irresponsible fiscally because they figured they could fool everybody. This is where the state rightfully stepped in. I only regret that so many talented journalists lost their jobs.
Yevgeni, Russia

See also:

22 Jan 02 | Europe
Putin blamed for TV shutdown
11 Jan 02 | Europe
Independent Russian TV shut down
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