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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ORT Jaunt Crosses Line in Media Ethics

Since midday Saturday, we have been overwhelmed by terrible television images: an Su-27 fighter jet skidding along the military airfield at Sknyliv near Lviv, a fireball, bodies scattered on the airfield, the injured covered in blood, shocked bystanders. And the rising body count of children and adults at the military airshow in the Ukraine.

On Sunday morning, television viewers were witness to a very different show with the participation of the military and civilians, when ORT aired a 30-minute program about a visit made by the top managers and journalists of ORT to a military base in the Moscow region.

Journalists merrily rode around in armored personnel carriers, shot at targets with pistols, submachine guns and machine guns, and chatted about their shooting prowess with officers. Then they presented soldiers with expensive presents from various sponsors as a reward for excellence demonstrated during military training. What grandeur!

President Vladimir Putin, out of respect for those killed in Lviv, canceled Navy Day celebrations in Sevastopol. A parachutist had been killed in celebrations to mark the same event earlier in Vladivostok. The relatives of the crew who perished on the Kursk submarine are disputing the conclusions of the official report on the causes of the tragedy. There are new outbreaks of fighting in Chechnya.

All the above is taken from the news of just the past few days.

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If one looks more generally at news concerning the armed forces, one finds: Every week in Chechnya, dozens of Russian soldiers are killed; the case of Colonel Yury Budanov, who is charged with killing a Chechen girl, continues; soldiers deserting their bases and going on murderous rampages have become a widespread phenomenon; officers and their families drag out a miserable existence.

The reports in the media about the misery that our military causes itself and those around it have become almost as regular as weather forecasts.

At one level, one can understand ORT's desire to dilute all this misery with idyllic scenes of bonding between star reporters and soldiers and officers at an army base. One could even read into it an attempt by the country's main television channel to satisfy the populace's very real appetite for positive news and information.

In practice, however, you get the modern equivalent of Potemkin villages and an indecent feast at a time of plague. It isn't just the unfortunate coincidence of these shows of happiness and tragedy, but also the fact that fundamental norms of journalistic ethics were forgotten or ignored. The ORT trip to the army base took place over a week ago, with journalists from leading publications being invited to gawk at the goings-on. A photograph of ORT general director Konstantin Ernst aiming into the distance with a submachine gun appeared on the pages of more than one newspaper.

Similar photographs of Russian journalists posing with weapons in their hands can be found on the web site of the human rights organization Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations ( Only they are in a special section titled "Don't Do This."

It reminds us of one of the generally recognized ethical rules of our profession -- when in a professional capacity, a journalist should not take up arms.

Behind this, there is a much more fundamental issue. It is not the business of journalists to be excessively familiar with or to get close to their protagonists if they want to retain independence and objectivity.

And it is extremely unbecoming and inappropriate for the heads of media companies to do joint propaganda events with those who tomorrow could well be the subject of in-depth investigative reports.

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