Aleksei Simonov: "The methods of combatting journalism have improved, the need to kill individual journalists has lessened"

posted 11 Jun 2018, 01:43 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jun 2018, 01:52 ]
29 May 2018 

Extract from an interview with Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: 7х7]

At a seminar held by the Glasnost Defence Foundation near Kostroma on 25-27 May, Aleksei Simonov, President of the Foundation and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, invited Kostroma journalists and bloggers to interview him […]. The internet magazine “7x7” published the most interesting questions from the general interview.

Why is the Glasnost Defence Foundation funded from abroad?

We have not succeeded in replacing foreign money with presidential grants: they do not want to finance what we offer, but what they are ready to finance, we will not do. We’re not interested in it.

Is the Foundation you head prepared to defend the journalist and TV presenter Vladimir Solovev?

There is no such journalist.

If regional journalists don’t ask the Foundation for help, does that mean that everything is ok with journalism there?

If journalists in some regions don’t conflict with authorities, it means that there are no journalists there. Unfortunately, journalism has become more ready to be subject to discipline, more obedient, less penetrating.

How do honest journalists in Russia today fit into the political system and not suffer from it?

A journalist that wants to do his job well, but not suffer, cannot exist in the Russian Federation. He must be prepared to give up some part of the truth or suffer for the truth.

What, for you, is the press?

Firstly, it is a body that is arrogant, secondly, curious, and thirdly, aggressive. Without these things, we are talking about something that is very far from being "the press."

What role does journalism play today?

In this country, there is so much that is in a state of turbulence, on the one hand, and on the other hand so much that has been put into a state of order. But this turbulence on the one hand and order on the other are very difficult to bring together. And at their intersection there is journalism, which must try to translate the turbulence into order. That’s why journalism is a very unprofitable profession today.

Won’t journalism disappear with the development of the blogosphere?

I don’t think that will happen. The blogosphere is a very good source of information for the media. But there is a serious boundary between journalists and bloggers: the journalist is responsible for his own words, and the blogger is only just starting to learn this.

What is the relationship between journalism and public relations – PR?

If a journalist wants to remain a journalist, he should not engage in PR. But in this country, there is a tendency to entangle these two professions. In dozens of universities, journalists and PR experts are trained at the same time in one faculty. It is believed that these are two sides of the same coin, but that is a savage mockery of the meaning of journalism.

What problems do smaller regional media have?

There are successful projects among small regional media. For example, in Severodvinsk, the Severnaya Nedelya holding publishes some newspapers of interest. Some quite interesting journalists work for them. Although, being friends with their editor, I can say that the crazy journalists nonetheless leave are leaving. And it is the crazy ones who write the best journalism.

What are the prospects for investigative journalists in Russia?

Investigative journalism as a genre today is dying. After all, the very minute the authorities stop reading and listening to the press, investigative journalism becomes meaningless.

What accounts for the reduction in the numbers of murders of journalists in contemporary Russia compared with the 2000s?

The methods of combatting journalism have improved, so the need to kill individual journalists has lessened. Deaths are, thank God, fewer. But this doesn’t mean that journalism has won, rather the opposite. The lack of freedom of speech in journalism is becoming more and more habitual. And the fact that journalists themselves get used to it is the most dangerous of all symptoms.

What sort of relationship do you have with the current Russian authorities?

I have a single photograph with Vladimir Putin, which I love. It was taken during his first meeting with the members of the Human Rights Council. Putin is looking at me as if we’re at the start of a judo competition, and I’m looking at him like we’re at the start of a boxing match. I have a very tense, not very friendly facial expression.

Do you consider yourself to be a member of the opposition?

I have always been a member of the opposition, I was born into the opposition – it took my mother four days to give birth to me. When I started defending journalists, I joined the open opposition. It was clear to me that they could be defended, and had to be defended - in the first place from the authorities.

How would you characterize the current state of Russian society?

In a sociological sense, I would call it not really thought through, in a sociological sense. Here’s an evocative example. To the question “do you like how you live?”, 47 percent of Russian citizens give a positive answer. But 75 percent vote for Putin. My question: how is it possible not to connect these things?

Do you support Russia’s buildup of military power that’s taken place over the last few years?

I don’t see any build-up of military power. All these fake replicas they drive on Red Square don’t convince me personally. It all seems like a large bubble that will burst sooner or later. And that will be incredibly unpleasant for both the standing of the country and, even more so, for the standing of its leadership.

What do you think of the idea that Russia has a “special path”?

Since we lacked the spirit to do as well as all the others, we are trying to explain our lack of authentic spirit by a certain special characteristics. Therefore, we’re aggressive when most people are more or less tolerant, and inclined to benevolence when people are waiting for some sort of decisive action.

Do you want it to be in Russia like it is in Ukraine?

In Ukraine today, people feel themselves to be freer than they do in Russia. On the other hand, in Ukraine there is an enormous number of people who are ready to beat up on journalists. I don’t want the situation to be the same for us. For me, Ukraine isn’t an exotic enough example. I want things to be here like they are, let’s say, in England.

Is it possible for Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian director who announced a hunger strike, to achieve what he is demanding – the release of all Ukrainians jailed in Russia?

Unfortunately, no. His goal is absurd. The paradoxical nature of his courageous and humanly understandable action is, in fact, absolutely obvious.

To whom does Crimea belong?

The Tatars. The Tatars traditionally owned Crimea. We took it from them in our time, then we ruled together. Then Crimea supposedly became a part of Ukraine; now, it’s supposedly a part of Russia. In reality, Crimea is Tatar. […]
Aleksei Kirillovich Simonov is the son of the writer Konstantin (Kirill) Simonov and literary editor Evgeniya Laskina. A film director by profession, he is also an author, translator and journalist. 

Aleksei Simonov is a member of the Union of Journalists of Russia, the Union of Filmmakers of Russia, the Nika Academy of Cinematographic Arts, the Public Council for Press Complaints, and the Moscow Helsinki Group. He is founder and president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation and chair of the jury of the Andrei Sakharov prize for courageous journalism.

The nonprofit Glasnost Defence Foundation was registered on 27 September 1999. The main goal of the Foundation is furthering the preservation and development of the legal framework in which the domestic print and electronic mass media operate, and through this, advancing the democratization of the realms of media, research, politics, and education in contemporary Russia. After an unplanned inspection by the Ministry of Justice on the basis of a statement by an individual who “forbid the dissemination of their personal information,” the Foundation was designated a “nonprofit organization fulfilling the function of a foreign agent.” On 19 November 2015 the organization was added to the list of foreign agents. The Foundation has been unable to successfully challenge this decision in Russian courts, and has therefore appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

Translated by Julie Hersh and Nathalie Corbett