Introductory remarks by Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Maria Zakharova at the panel discussion “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation in Euro-Atlantic Region”
Thank you so much. I would like to thank the distinguished representatives of the UN family. I do not like this “UN body” thing. I like the word “UN family”. Thank you all for participation. Of course, it is not a formal meeting. It is a possibility for us to talk and have an honest conversation about the things which do not only stand on our common agenda, but which are very serious nowadays for each and every country and person.
In the run-up to the World Press Freedom Day, I regret to say that the number of violations both in the area of Freedom of Media and Safety of Journalists remains high. According to the data of specialized organizations, in 2019, over the several months since the beginning of the year, several journalists have died. Besides, in terms of journalists’ safety, the group of risk includes not only countries with unstable military or political situation, but also the countries that have always been “at the forefront” of democracy and stability.
However, the profession of journalist has historically entailed risks, whereas Media in general is living through an unprecedented crisis nowadays. Almost all that the international community has achieved in the information sphere over the recent decades is either ruined or seriously changed now. Everything that is connected to the Media area is under transformation and very contradictive. In my speech, I will be very concrete. I would like to provide examples and pose questions. It is not meant to be a lecture, just a possibility to gather different opinions on very serious things.
Let’s talk about freedom to disseminate information and recall the famous “Watergate”, when deputy director of the FBI Mark Felt leaked the information to the journalists and in doing so made this case public. This story turned the domestic political agenda of the U.S., which hosts all of our family, upside down. More than that, it influenced information processes on a global scale. In 2017, two years ago, a movie came out under the title “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”. This movie depicts what this high-ranking official did as a heroic action. Entire generations believe that in this story Media defied lies and defeated hypocrisy. All right, but what do we see today? We are watching prosecution of the founders of Wikileaks, who in fact did something similar, as one of the FBI chiefs. But for some reason Mark Felt is perceived as a hero, a person who changed the information world and the world in general. But the Wikileaks activists are proclaimed criminals.
We all know that William Shakespeare was the author of these outstanding words: “To be or not to be?” Vladimir Mayakovski, a great Soviet poet, proclaimed “What is good and what is bad?” I think this paradigm of the two statements, or rather big questions, is a good framework for talking about Media and information in our days.
Let’s take a look on the role of NGOs in protection of journalists. Once non-governmental organizations and professional community of journalists used to stand up to protect all who advocated freedom of speech, even if those activists might have breached the law. That was actually alpha and omega of the information sphere and journalism.
Today we see that NGOs and some representatives of the civil society get picky when it comes to protecting journalists. Sometimes it has to do with political motifs.
One example: Recently London has founded an organization to protect journalists. A great idea! The initiators were a famous human rights activist Amal Clooney and the Head of some British governmental bodies. They called upon journalists who feel oppressed or persecuted to share with them any relevant information, so that they could help and assist them, protect their rights. In a couple of days, and ironically in the same place – in London, Julian Assange was arrested and the newly-minted organization never stood up for him. So, what is good and what is bad? To be or not to be?
Now let’s move to another topic: Antagonism inside the journalist community. For decades on end, the world has known the rule of all journalists: always speak out to protect each other no matter the race, religion, or nationality of journalists. Today it is journalists themselves who stand on the opposite sides and “shoot” at one another. I mean with words, articles, reports.
Ironically, this is the President of the German Federation of Journalists Frank Überall who acts as a driver of the crusade versus Russian media outlets in Germany. A few days back he plainly called for restrictions against RT Deutsch and Sputnik in Germany. He gave several interviews where he called for sanctions against the Media.
My next topic is contradictory initiatives coming from one and the same core. World Media experts, including Russian ones, recently have become part of many initiatives to develop priorities for protection of freedom of speech and countering fake news. For example, the Paris Peace Forum to have taken place in late 2018. The official Paris did all it could to demonstrate readiness to protect media and freedom of speech and to provide a very nice platform for all of us to talk and work out some principles, stress the need to protect journalism, freedom of speech and combat fake news. However, it is exactly in France that the government consistently and systematically imposes restrictions on the Russian media.
Here are a few pieces of statistics to make it clear. Not a single Sputnik news agency journalist out of nine working in France has received a press card from the French Foreign Ministry. The card confirms that its holder is an “accredited foreign media correspondent”, this is the document that gives one the right to work.
By the way, this matter has dragged on for more than a year now. The accreditation is not formally denied. There are endless appeals by Russian journalists for which they receive standard answers: “the work in progress”. All this is insulting for the journalists, who are not given any facts regarding their alleged inappropriate behavior or improper way of conducting professional activities. No facts are provided to them!
I would like stress here that this situation actually leaves Sputnik journalists beyond legal status and does not allow them to engage in their professional activities, and work effectively.
One more contradiction of today’s Media world: the set goals contradicting the real steps. Yesterday in a statement by the EU delegation we heard brilliant words that the European Union was “committed to freedom democracy, freedom of speech…” We can only applaud to such words. Ukraine traditionally joins all statements pronounced by the EU. However, it is exactly in Ukraine that the situation with the media freedom raises the most concern on the European continent.
For example, Ukrainian authorities have long embarked on the path of systematic repressions against unwanted journalists.
The arrest of Kirill Vyshinsky, the editor-in-chief of the «RIA Novosti Ukraine» news portal, who was seized under ridiculous accusations in a fabricated criminal case, has become an apotheosis of this genuinely totalitarian struggle against media. I would like to stress that the Kiev authorities continue to hold him almost a year – I stress that – in prison without a court verdict, constantly extending the term of his imprisonment.
In conclusion let me point out the following. The entire world tries to prevent the spread of fake news, however its amount is only growing. Day-by-day we come to hear someone blaming someone for propaganda without providing any facts to prove the allegations, which makes the accusers real propagandists.
It was not long ago that we lived through the era of globalization, including in the media space. But now we see the advent of the era of confrontation and antagonism in the information sphere. That leads us to such negative aftereffects as lost trust, increase in aggressive rhetoric, getting back to a world with deep dividing lines. The appeals and calls to combat fake news obviously sometimes bring the world to censorship. New technologies that you mentioned today do not focus on progress, but become political hostages.
Surely, this picture is far not reassuring. However, it would be unjust to say that war for professional and responsible journalism is lost. There is still much Media in the world that courageously carries on and fulfils its task, despite any political and financial limitations and difficulties. They broadcast from “hotspots”, carry out socially relevant investigations, offer deep analytics, while remaining honest and principal.
Today in this room, there are journalists, representatives of international organizations and specialized NGOs, of course there are members of the Committee on Information. I hope the discussion, the speeches, the statements will contribute to overcoming the dividing lines in the global information space. We all have a shared goal – to add to emerging of such a Mass Media order where ethical norms would not again turn into an empty phrase, where journalists would not be arrested for their professional activity, where pluralism of opinions would exist not only on paper, but in reality.
I thank you for the attention and I think that we should not lose the common ground and the great achievements that Media accomplished in the recent decades.