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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OSCE's Tele-Killer Awards

One of the leitmotifs of this column is my battle with the battle for freedom of speech in this country.

I don't have any problem with freedom of speech per se. And I am even quite tolerant toward one of its manifestations: the information racketeering that pays the bills of a significant portion of the country's journalistic community.

If journalists are smart enough to be able to convince people who have money that for generous remuneration they will resolve any problem for them (rid them of competitors, get them elected to parliament etc.) and if the people with the money are stupid enough to believe the journalists and stump up the cash, then one can only feel happy for the journalists and wish them good luck.

However, what gets my goat is when Russian and international campaigners for freedom of speech start to behave as though the racketeers are victims of political repression or paragons worthy only of emulation.

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In fact, for me it conjures up the following association: If a pimp beats up a prostitute who conceals part of her earnings, one naturally feels sorry for the woman upon whom injuries have been inflicted (although she is guilty of having violated the accepted rules of the business). But it would be absurd to represent her as a victim of "male domination" and to award her a prize as a heroine in the fight for equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace.

Last week, it was announced that the head of special programming at ORT, Pavel Sheremet, had been awarded the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's prize for journalism and democracy (given to reporters or organizations that have helped develop principles of human rights and democracy). The prize was conferred on him for a film he made about the regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Sheremet is an odious figure. In the summer and autumn of 1999, at the height of the State Duma election campaign -- one of the dirtiest and darkest periods in Russian journalism -- he was one of the main "guns-for-hire" of Boris Berezovsky, who at the time controlled ORT. It was precisely from his lips that Berezovsky's campaign to destroy Vladimir Gusinsky's NTV was launched.

One of the August reports on the activities of the Pravoye Delo coalition (precursor to the Union of Right Forces), involving Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, was so outrageous that it even earned a reprimand from the Press Ministry.

At the time I conducted my own action, which was written up in Obshchaya Gazeta: "In May 1999, the heads of all the main national and Moscow television channels and networks, professional associations and also several dozen regional stations signed a Charter of Television and Radio Broadcasters -- a code of ethical principles to which they pledged 'voluntarily and rigorously to adhere.'"

Sreda took the liberty of organizing something of a court of journalistic honor in absentia for ORT, addressing the following question to a number of authoritative figures in the television industry: Do you consider that the content of the Vremya analytical program [anchored by Pavel Sheremet] on Aug. 28 1999 about Pravoye Delo's public event in St. Petersburg is in keeping with the stated principles of the charter?

And this was the result. VGTRK chairman Mikhail Shvydkoi (whose signature came first on the charter) did not see fit to comment on his colleagues' actions. Igor Shabdurasulov, second to sign the charter in his capacity as general director of ORT, also declined to answer the question. Oleg Dobrodeyev, general director of NTV (third signee): "The report was totally beyond the pale professionally, and the charter is after all a professional code of conduct." Alexander Ponomaryov, general director of TV6 (fourth): "No doubt about it -- it contradicts the charter. It is a great shame that television professionals consider it permissible to play without rules." Anatoly Lysenko, chairman of the Moscow city committee for telecommunications and mass media: "Yes, this is a violation." And Alexei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation: "Without doubt, the principles of the charter have been violated."

This is by no means the first time that those leading the fight for freedom of speech have chosen such exemplary heroes with such unimpeachable records.

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