“The world has just marked the fifth anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, but the Russian Caucasus, which she specialized in covering, is nowadays a blind spot in the international media’s coverage,” said Reporters Without Borders, which today releases a report on the state of the media in Chechnya and Dagestan.
“The media freedom situation in the Russian Caucasus, like that of human rights in general, is still very worrying,” the organization added. “Two and a half years after our last visit, journalists continue to be exposed to a climate of violence and corruption that makes their work very difficult.”
Reporters Without Borders representatives visited Chechnya and Dagestan from 9 to 13 September, meeting with journalists, government officials and human rights activists. They presented their initial findings at a news conference in Moscow on 14 September, which was held jointly with the Russian human rights organization Memorial (winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize).
The situation in Chechnya and Dagestan could not be more dissimilar. The first saw the start of the Caucasian civil wars but now the focus of destabilization have moved to the second.
After two civil wars, Chechnya is now largely rebuilt but its citizens and journalists are paying a high price for “stabilization” – a complete lack of pluralism, human rights violations, massive corruption, a personality cult and imposition of a puritan Islam. Self-censorship reigns within the traumatized and intimidated media, reinforced by a climate of complete impunity that makes it increasingly difficult to gather information about a hidden face that the authorities can easily deny.
Neighbouring Dagestan offers a paradoxical picture. The current wave of violence does not spare its journalists, who are physically attacked and murdered with impunity. But it maintains a degree of pluralism that is an intrinsic part of the republic’s heterogeneity. Nonetheless, economic difficulties and attempts to manipulate the media have rendered this pluralism more fragile than ever.
Concrete measures by the local and federal authorities to end impunity for those who attack and kill journalists would represent an important first step in loosening the vice of intimidation and self-censorship in the region. The independent media, where they exist, must stop being criminalized and identified with the armed insurrection.
“Far from being ‘normalized,’ as Moscow claims, the Russian Caucasus continues its uncontrolled downward spiral in which civilians are the first victims,” Reporters Without Borders added.
“The media have a key role to play by offering a platform for dialogue between all points of view, relaying civil society’s concerns to the authorities and reminding them of the urgent need to protect the population from violence and corruption. It is time the authorities realized that media freedom is part of the solution, not the problem.”