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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Normal' Journalists Need a War to Fight

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

Here's a joke: A sadist and a masochist were chatting. "Torture me, torment me!" begged the masochist. "Nope!" replied the sadist with a devilish grin.

You are probably expecting a commentary about last week's two major sensations in the world of Russian media. The first was a Kommersant interview with TV6 chairman Badri Patarkatsishvili, Boris Berezovsky's right-hand man, in which he spoke about his negotiations with the Kremlin before the former NTV team led by Yevgeny Kiselyov moved to TV6. The second was the circumstances surrounding the bargaining for stakes in Ekho Moskvy radio.

I am warning you right away: Nope!

I consider it simply under my dignity to comment seriously about the remarks of such a trivial and hollow — although deep-pocketed — man as Berezovsky, as well as those at his "right hand" and ever-growing new limbs. Also, in the lengthy war between the powers that be and former President Boris Yeltsin's allies — Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky — everybody has gotten so carried away that they can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction.

We should instead talk about how we managed to reach such a low point in our lives.

Last week, a nonprofit organization, Internews, presented to media writers a documentary titled "The Heavy Burden of Freedom."

"How did we deal with the freedom that fell upon us in Gorbachev's time?" is the question that the documentary's author, noted journalist Maria Slonim, asks herself, the film's heroes and its viewers.

As for me, I found an answer in the film.

"Until 1993, journalists, normal journalists I mean, equated themselves with the authorities. This was our government — the Kremlin, Yeltsin. What they were doing, we were doing. We built the new Russia together," journalist Veronika Kutsyllo says in the film.

"How could the Russian press side with Yeltsin? Where else could it go? [Gennady] Zyuganov coming into power would have been the end of the world. Beyond him was absolute darkness," says Sergei Parkhomenko, until recently the editor of the Itogi weekly magazine.

That's true. Since 1985, the "democratic" press always fought for somebody by going against somebody else. The press supported Mikhail Gorbachev against Yegor Ligachev. Yeltsin and Ruslan Khasbulatov against Gorbachev. Yeltsin against Khasbulatov. Yeltsin against Zyuganov. When Yeltsin won the election in 1996, an information war of "all against all" began. Prior to 1991, they fought for free, but after that for money.

The struggle between good and evil is a struggle of extremes that disregards shades of gray. However, public life is made up of shades of gray. Journalism is the ability to explain them to the audience, i.e. to help readers sort out public life. In our situation, those who wanted to report and knew how to report and those who did not equate themselves with the authorities and did not think that a replacement of one president with another through democratic elections would lead to the end of the world were seen as "abnormal" journalists. They were not in demand; they were marginalized.

As a result, today, with the press finally getting on a professional track, we have a situation that every editor defines in simple terms: "There are plenty of journalists but no one to do the work."

There are plenty of perfectly "normal" journalists. So far, they have plenty of sponsors, too. The state is still intimidated by them. The fight goes on!

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