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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press attacks checkbook journalism

Moscow's Foreign Correspondent's Association made headlines in the Russian press Thursday for its scathing report on the government practice of charging for interviews and access to public information.


The press association on Wednesday released a list of more than 30 such cases involving Russian officials - from the chief prosecutor to the commander of the Black Sea Fleet to a former KGB deputy director.


The association's report, called the White Book, is the result of a six-month effort to document cases of checkbook journalism. The report spans a period from August to the present.


On Wednesday the association - "mprised of some 300 members of Moscow's foreign press corps - also sent the report to Boris Yeltsin's press secretary, as well as to deputy prime ministers including Yegor Gaidar and Mikhail Poltoranin, the Minister of Information.


While the White Book made Wednesday night's Russian news program, "Vesti", and page one of Thursday's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it is still too early for official reaction, press association members say.


"There is a distorted view of institutions and officials who are convinced that paying for iniormation is a normal practice in capitalism", said Marco Politi, president of the association and a correspondent for the Italian newspaper II Messaggero.


Sometimes correspondents who refused to pay are denied interviews; sometimes they aren't, according to the association.


"It's just the luck of the draw", said Stephen Handelman, an executive member of the association and a correspondent for The Toronto Star.


Handelman noted that this type of checkbook journalism only serves to widen a division between the rich media - whether Russian or foreign - and the poor.


Other agencies also listed in the White Book include the Interior and Defense Ministries, the Atomic Energy Ministry, the Moscow city government and cultural institutions like the Bolshoi Theater.


"Requesting money from journalists is unacceptable, even when officials attempt to justify it by saying they need hard currency to buy imported equipment", stated the association's news release. "We believe this practice contradicts the spirit and traditions of a free press in any country of the world".


According to the report, Valentin Stepankov, Russia's chief prosecutor, earned $1, 350 for interviews last fall.


In the report, U. S. News and World Report said that the Defense Ministry tried to charge them $700 a day to interview soldiers at a base, while a Black Sea Fleet spokesman told The Associated Press that, because his office needed to buy a fax machine, he would only provide information for hard currency.


Tours of the KGB headquarters have cost reporters $300 and the former head of the foreign intelligence service charged $600 for an interview, the report stated.