Report Sees Less Media Freedom

Media freedom in Russia "saw continued and substantial declines" in 2007, the U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House said in a report to be released Tuesday.

Russia has the same level of press freedom as Sudan and Yemen, the watchdog said in its annual survey of media freedom around the world, a copy of which was obtained in advance by The Moscow Times.

"Media freedom continued to decline in Russia as the Kremlin further restricted independent news reporting and public dissent while preparing for a stage-managed parliamentary election," the report said, referring to the Dec. 2 State Duma elections.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said she could not comment on the report without having seen it first. Previously, officials have accused Freedom House of being biased against Russia.

The media environment became worse because of a range of developments, Freedom House said, including the toughening of anti-extremism laws, the suspicious death of Kommersant defense correspondent Ivan Safronov and police raids on regional offices of Novaya Gazeta in search of pirated software. In a numerical ranking of countries by their degree of media freedom, Russia got the same score as Sudan, Yemen and Kazakhstan and was dubbed "Not Free" by the democracy watchdog.

"Lively but cautious political debate was increasingly limited to glossy weekly magazines and news web sites only available to urban, educated and affluent audiences," the report said.

Freedom House criticized many of Russia's neighbors too, saying the former Soviet Union was home to the largest regionwide decline in media freedom in 2007. The press in Georgia became less free last year, the report said, citing the shutdown of the pro-opposition Imedi television station during the country's political crisis in November.

The report noted declines in media freedom in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. Turkmenistan remains the worst place for journalists in the former Soviet Union, even after the death of longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov, it said.