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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How I Took Part in the Peace Process

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Last week's remarkable event was the cancellation — on 2 1/2 days' notice — of the international conference "Freedom of the Press 2001." I happened to be in the thick of it and am eager to share my impressions.

I found out about the conference by accident and was immediately fascinated by the list of organizers — the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, Gazprom-Media, the Ekho Moskvy radio station and the Media Union — and the program: media and government; the NTV case; Chechnya war coverage; media and business; and press in the regions. The event appeared to be an attempt to start the peace process in our divided media community.

I was surprised, however, by the layout of the program. The organizers were listed in one column. Skip a line and there were the Union of Journalists and Glasnost Defense Foundation, or GDF. During my first conversation with the organizers about a month ago, they explained to me that such a layout reflects the unwillingness of the Union of Journalists and GDF to be in the same group as the Media Union. But they don't mind taking part. "And why don't you refuse to let them participate?" I asked. "There is rarely any use but often trouble from people who want to sit on the fence."

"No way," I was decisively told.

I did not want to argue. Representatives of Gazprom-Media and SPS sincerely wanted to let everyone willing to pillory Gazprom-led reactionary forces do so. Not to mention that those representatives were charming young women full of goodwill.

That fact allowed me some time later to pay tribute to the imagination of Union of Journalists general secretary Igor Yakovenko, who compared, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Gazprom-Media's help in organizing the conference with serial killer Andrei Chikatilo applying for a job as a kindergarten teacher. I began to appreciate the imagination of leaders from the Union of Journalists and GDF even more when they started to call for a boycott of the event, citing as a pretext the leading role of the Media Union in it. The point is that the second question I had asked during the first meeting with the organizers was: "What exactly is the Media Union's role?" "God knows," they answered.

It turned out that the Media Union allowed the organizers to use its logo and disappeared. The Union of Journalists was much more involved throughout the preparation.

I honestly forwarded the boycott call to people who were invited by my Sreda magazine — 20 captains of successful media business from around Russia — pointing in my cover letter to factual errors in the Union of Journalists' appeal. Eighteen people confirmed their participation and said they had bought tickets to Moscow. Two men — the smartest, as I understand now — said: "You guys in Moscow first sort things out among yourselves and then disturb serious people out here."

Less than a week before the conference was supposed to open, Ekho Moskvy withdrew from the organizing committee. It is not clear what frightened off the radio station. SPS also canceled. Left alone, Gazprom-Media also retreated. The so-called "democrats" won another victory over common sense. Provincial media, which are ready for a serious dialogue, were once again fooled.

Who is the clear-cut winner? The Media Union. Last week, several editors from the regions asked me: "How can we get in touch with Media Union? The organization so scolded by the Union of Journalists must be interesting …"

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