Self-Censorship About Putin at Condé Nast GQ Magazine, Limited Coverage by U.S.-Taxpayer Funded Broadcasters
The popular New York blog site Gawker is reporting that “in an act of publishing cowardice, Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a “GQ” article criticizing Vladimir Putin.” Condé Nast publishes such widely read magazines as “Vanity Fair,” “The New Yorker,” and “Vogue.” In Russia, it publishes “GQ,” “Glamour,” “Tatler,” and “Vogue.” The Manhattan media news website is making the Russian translation of the article, which is being done by volunteers, available online. Gawker: “Hey, you can read the forbidden GQ article about Putin here” Вы можете прочитать запрещенную статью GQ про Путина здесь>>
“Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise To Power” by veteran investigative reporter Scott Anderson appears in the current U.S. issue of “GQ.” U.S. public broadcaster National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Condé Nast prohibited republishing of the article in any of its magazines in Russia and in other countries. According to NPR, Condé Nast also prevented the article from being posted on the “GQ” website in the U.S. The article deals with a series of bombings at apartment buildings that killed hundreds of people in Russia in 1999.
Scott Anderson relied on information from Mikhail Trepashkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who investigated the bombings. Trepashkin suggests a possible link between the bombings and Russian officials who were interested in increasing Mr. Putin’s powers in running the country. Russian officials have always denied these charges as a complete fabrication.
According to media freedom advocates, Condé Nast executives may have been afraid what would hapen to their business interests and their employees in Russia if they had allowed the article to be published in Russian.
Ted Lipien, president of FreeMediaOnline.org, a San Francisco-based media freedom nonprofit, said that unsolved killings of many Russian journalists and a climate of fear among media professionals have resulted in self-censorship in Russia on a mass scale. “It is unfortunate but not surprising,” Lipien said, “that faced with intimidation by the secret police and killings of journalists by unknown assailants, even Western-owned and funded publications and institutions are practicing self-censorship in Mr. Putin’s Russia.” Ted Lipien was formerly acting associate director at the Voice of America (VOA). FreeMediaOnline.org publishes Russian-language news analysis website, ГоворитАмерика.us GovoritAmerika.us.
In past years, U.S.-government-funded radio stations Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) would have provided quick translations of newsworthy articles which were censored in Russia. Their funding, however, has been greatly reduced in recent years by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a Federal agency managed by a group of bipartisan political appointees, who used the savings to pay for controversial radio and television projects in the Middle East ordered by the Bush Administration.
Independent studies and surveys found these projects, such as Alhurra Television, to be both ineffective in attracting a wider audience and journalistically substandard. One such study conducted by The University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School determined that Alhurra TV has been a failure. The BBG tried to keep the Center on Public Diplomacy report secret but was eventually forced by Congressional and media criticism to make it available on its website.(http://www.bbg.gov/reports/others/uscreport.pdf)
In one of its most controversial moves, the BBG had terminated VOA radio programs to Russia in July 2008, just 12 days before the Russian military attack on Georgia over a territorial dispute. Some of the BBG members and their consultants have been involved in private business deals in Russia.
The Voice of America Russian and VOA English websites did not report on the “GQ” censorship story as of Saturday evening, Sept. 05, Washington D.C. time. After a series of BBG-ordered budget and personnel cuts, the VOA Russian Service operates with only a skeleton staff, especially on weekends.
Another U.S. taxpayer-funded and BBG-managed international broadcasting station, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), had a comprehensive homepage article on this story on its English-language website, Controversial Decision By U.S. Publisher Sparks Debate On Free Speech, Censorship. But RFE/RL’s Радио Свобода (Radio Liberty) Russian-language website – svobodanews.ru – which attracts most of the Internet traffic for RFE/RL in Russia, did not report on the “GQ” controversy as of Saturday. Radio Liberty receives more funding from the BBG than the VOA Russian Service and keeps news bureaus in Russia with a large staff of local reporters. FreeMediaOnline.org reported that BBG-hired private consultants were putting pressure on Radio Liberty editors to make their radio and web content less politically controversial and more appealing to pro-Putin and anti-Western Russians. VOA website had stories on the 2009 US Open tennis matches and Labor Day celebrations but nothing on censorship at the Russian edition of “GQ.”
According to FreeMediaOnline.org media analysts, the BBG’s concern for the safety of their employees in Russia may have also contributed to self-censorship at Radio Liberty. Ted Lipien of FreeMediaOnline.org said that he’s encouraged by private Internet journalists trying to publicize this story but sees limited coverage by U.S.-taxpayer funded international broadcasters managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors as an inadequate response to the serious threats to media freedom in Russia.