Friday, April 12, 2013
A growing number of Russian journalists is determined to provide their fellow citizens with independent information, no matter what. As a correspondent in Moscow, Olaf Koens sees a strong rise of journalistic initiatives. This emergence is necessary to create an alternative to the Kremlin propaganda machine. 'State media bombard Russians with nonsense. 'Bad guys' such as Russia Today are winning in Russia. This is unacceptable', says RTL journalist Koens to Free Press Unlimited in Moscow. On May 3rd he will be one of the speakers at the Free Press Unlimited event: 'Pointers from Putin'- studying the principles of propaganda.

Independent media on the rise
'There are very interesting TV-stations. Independent on-line journalism is even more advanced than in the Netherlands', says Koens. Russia has the largest Internet market in Europe. The number of web users is growing rapidly. In Russia the Internet has become the main distributor of independent information. Hundreds of journalists work for online media like Lenta.ru, not a mere news- aggregator, but an important, fully-fledged media outlet. Over a hundred journalists grab breaking news by the horns. Also many independent newspapers have been created in Russia. Thus there has been a tremendous emergence of media-initiatives. Koens: 'The circulation of independent news on the Internet has not been blocked by the Kremlin yet.'

Honking against the regime
The time that Russia could be seen as a young democracy is really over, means Koens. The new legislation, which is rapidly being passed through Russian congress, further restricting freedom of journalists, NGO's and the opposition, is illustrative for the situation. Opposition against these new measures is growing. Koens: 'In Moscow and St. Petersburg live many highly-educated young people who have traveled the world. Among them there is a growing awareness that Russia is on the wrong track.' They despise the corruption, repression and arrogance of the Kremlin establishment. Koens says that you can feel the frustration on the streets of Moscow, when Russians have once again ended up in a traffic jam, as their cars have to yield for Kremlin vehicles: 'One of the latest protest trends is to honk when such a motorcade rushes by.'

Even 'independent news' biased because of polarization
Journalists often become activists: 'simply because they love their country. They have a feeling their country is going to waste, that is why they take action'. Journalists get beaten, threatened and killed. Koens admires Russian investigative journalists who risk their lives everyday in their pursuit of the truth. Koens: 'Even independent news is often biased because of the strong polarization: both the Kremlin-story and the alternative. Unfortunately, in Russia it's hard to be totally independent.'

Russia Today likes to emphasize the 'evil other'
The 'Bad Guys' are winning in Russia, means Koens. Those who tell twisted stories. A good example is the Kremlin-backed Russia Today. First, this English-language TV station showed the world the 'brilliance' of Russia'. 'This strategy did not work. So instead, they started telling stories about how evil the rest of the world is, while everything in Russia is 'perfect'. They offer a platform to anyone who is against Europe or the USA', says the 27-year old correspondent.

Kremlin also sees potential of the Internet
The last presidential elections were an absolute thrill, according to Russia Today, to which they referred as 'The Road to the Kremlin'. The state-run channel portrayed the elections as a 'tight race' with 'competing candidates'. Koens: 'that was a bunch of nonsense. The outcome of the elections was already determined.' Not only independent journalists and activists see the potential of the Internet: Russia Today, for example, puts all its stories on Youtube. Using this strategy, the Kremlin-run channel is very influential, even outside of Russia. Koens: 'A while ago I received a phone call from someone in the Netherlands, asking me: 'Olaf, those presidential elections are very sensational, right?'