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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

I've Become A Patriot 3 Times Over

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Last week I participated in an international journalism conference in Kiev that included journalists from Russia, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and other countries, in addition to our Ukrainian hosts. During this event, I was transformed into a patriot three times over — of Russia, of the nonstate press of Ukraine and Belarus and of foreign investment in the Russian print media.

In contrast to what my Ukrainian and, in particular, Belarussian colleagues told us about their countries, I actually began to feel like a citizen of a free society in Russia. I think that the Ukrainians began to feel the same while listening to the Belarussians.

I also developed a great respect for nonstate media in these two countries. One can't help but be impressed hearing the tales of these genuinely independent (and not necessarily in open opposition) newspapers — companies that neither accept "favors" from the state nor support from oligarchs. Even in Belarus — a desperately poor country where a score of private newspapers with a combined circulation of less than 100,000 must compete against 300 state-controlled newspapers and struggle with state monopolies on printing and distribution and deal with state pressure on their advertisers — even in Belarus, one finds papers that have carved out a niche in the market and have grown up on a sound business basis.

Ukraine, unlike Belarus, was at least treated at the conference like a potential media market, although one with pretty dim prospects. One offended Ukrainian cornered a Western analyst and said: "To listen to you, one would think that there is no newspaper business here at all. How do you think we exist?"

Finally, my support for Western investment was bolstered by the stories of my colleagues from Central Europe. The difference between Eastern Europe, where to one degree or another the media are almost all political projects and media problems are by and large political, and Central Europe was captured by a Polish journalist who said: "The reader is our editor."

From the very beginning of reform, Central Europe treated the press like any other business — an object of buying and selling and a means of creating profit. The press market was quickly dominated by Western corporations, which brought with them money and, more importantly, know-how. As the press became financially independent, it escaped from the sphere of government influence.

It is not that Central European politicians are any better than Eastern European ones. Just take a look at the scandals in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic over state television. "Today," in the words of the same Polish journalist, "our politicians would never do for the press what they did in 1989. But now it is too late — they no longer have the possibility of influencing the press or journalists."

Why do I mention this? Last week I wrote in this column about the Norwegian company A-pressen and its investments in the Russian regional press. I distributed this information by electronic mail to hundreds of newspapers throughout Russia with a request that they send me their impressions. To be honest, I received almost no detailed comments. Instead, editors from across the country sent me the basic information about their newspapers with a request that I pass it along to the Norwegians. This, more than anything else could have, convinced me that supporting foreign investment is extremely patriotic.

Alexei Pankin is editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.internews.ru/sreda).