Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Secret Plan to Save Press Freedom in U.S.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Those who follow my writings often seem to get the impression that I am a kind of unofficial mouthpiece for the Kremlin.

Now, I don't get upset when Russians think this. No normal Russian could really imagine that any journalist could sincerely sympathize with the authorities. Or that I would do so without taking any money for this and politely decline the little favors that delicately present themselves from time to time.

But it is worse when foreigners take me for a mouthpiece. That can really harm my reputation.

Here's an example for you. Toward the end of February, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin announced that his ministry was preparing a report on violations of freedom of speech in the United States. As soon as he did this, my American colleagues began sending me all manner of articles and documents on this theme. I got the impression that they thought I would gather up their evidence, head off to the ministry, walk straight into Lesin's office without knocking, and together we would go down into the bunker where his analysts are working day and night to pound out their expos?.

Unfortunately, I don't have the honor of being personally acquainted with Minister Lesin. Worse, I have only had two occasions — in December 1993 and in May 2001 — to even enter the ministry building on Strastnoi Bulvar. So I didn't reply to my colleagues' messages. Although I did carefully read their documents, I concluded that I really don't want to live in democratic America after having tasted Russian anarchy, and filed them away.

The most determined of these correspondents, though, did not take my silence to be an admission of helplessness, but interpreted it as the typical stonewalling of the Russian bureaucracy. They started writing me things like: "If you can't write the report yourselves, find some American civic activist to do it. Noam Chomsky would be happy to write such a report for you."

That is when I decided that I couldn't disappoint the hopes that these citizens of the world's greatest democracy had pinned on me. I started trying to find a way to contact Lesin.

When I learned that he would address an international conference on press freedom scheduled for July 12-13, I wormed my way onto the event's organizing committee. My secret plan was to nail the minister to the wall by saying that by not fulfilling his public promise to issue the report, he was harming Russia's image in the eyes of American press-freedom advocates.

Apparently, those darlings of the American establishment, the Ekho Moskvy radio station, somehow learned of my designs and, in the nick of time, canceled the conference. The intricate details of the conference's downfall were described in my previous column.

At this point I was desperate to save my reputation. I decided to resort to extreme measures: I wrote to Lesin directly. "Dear Mr. Minister. The American readers of Sreda and of my column in The Moscow Times would like to know when you will release the report you promised on violations of freedom of speech in the United States. What should I tell them?" I have so far received no instructions.

However, in the five months since Lesin made his announcement, I have accumulated plenty of material to write the report myself. And I would be happy to do so, if the minister is ready to pay for it.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (