Media freedom in Russian speaking areas

Chairwoman of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Heidi Hautala held on 17th March 2010 an event at the Parliament to discuss the freedom of Russian speaking media in Europe.  [:]She felt it  necessary to discuss the extent of state control of the media outlets in  Russia after, seemingly, under pressure from Kremlin, Eutelsat, the leading European satellite operator, refused to transmit the new Russian-language television channel Perviy Kavkazskiy (1K). This in effect leaves satellite tranmission monopoly over Russian-language  audience in the hands of the Russian state. Moreover, discussion relating to Eutelsat, which if funded by the French government, was felt necessary after it appeared that this instance of censorship by Eutelsat is only the most recent of a series of such cases, independent media outlets having been closed with variable  technical explanations before also in equally oppressive China and Iran.

Discussion was opened by Ekaterina Kotrikadze, editor in chief of Perviy Kavkazskiy. Perviy Kavkazskiy is a new channel which reports from and throughout the post-soviet space, especially the Caucasian region, namely in Georgia, Ossetia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. It is already acknowledged as broadcasting wider range of views in comparison to other Russian-speaking media outlets in the region.

Ms. Kotrikadze underlined that no valid reason has been expressed by the satellite operator to keep the channel still off air and assured the audience that the channel intends to continue broadcasting diverse views and pressing Eutelsat and other services for transmission of their programs over wider Russian speaking audience. Unfortunately, the channel is at the moment only available in the internet. Olivier Basille from Reporters sans Frontieres emphasized that it is of utmost importance to support Perviy Kavkazskiy since freedom of speech and human rights in Russia should not be only possible to  the diaspora of activists and journalists. Not only should the EU pay more critical attention to the evasive practices of Eutelsat, but so should the European press, he added.

Andrei Nekrasov, an internationally commended independent film maker, underlined that Eutelsat inevitably carries responsibilities in its business when it operates in countries like Russia and they should act accordingly. His latest film “Russian Lessons” on the Georgia war of August 2008 was shown at the event and its key message on the importance of media freedom in situations of instability only underlined the detrimental significance of refusal to broadcast Perviy Kavkazskiy in the Caucasian region. – One of the last broadcasts of 1K had been the interview of Andrei Nekrasov who had expressed his determination to have his film shown to the Russian speaking audience.

Journalist Rosa Malsagova, editor-in-chief of the oppositional website “Ingushetia.Ru”, underlined that curtailing the freedom of speech covers the wider and pervasive problem of impunity in Russia and especially in the Caucasian region. She noted that grave violations that go unpunished only escalate the circle of radicalisation and instability.

MEP Kristiina Ojuland noted that the EU should face the truth that they are dealing with Russia that is dangerous both to its citizens and to its neighbours and think hard how they want to deal with such partner.

Chairwoman Hautala stressed that it is not possible to overstate the importance of any channel openly transmitting diverse range of views when discussing the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights in the wider Caucasian region. As Perviy Kavkazskiy was the only such channel, getting it back on air in Russia and the Caucasus region is of crucial importance. “We call the European Union to ensure that broadcasting of diverse views is guaranteed in Europe and beyond”, she said.

The refusal by Eutelsat to broadcast the 1K channel will go through a judicial review in the Commercial Court of Paris.