For unvarnished Sochi news, don’t count on Russian journalists: Report

CPJ | The Hollywood Reporter | The Huffington Post

On Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a special report on press freedoms and treatment in Sochi, Russia. In “Media suffer winter chill in coverage of Sochi Olympics,” Elena Milashina and Nina Ognianova write about self-censorship among Russian journalists, with one telling example.

While reporting, a CPJ correspondent watched as a journalist with a major Russian news agency submitted three stories to the bureau in Moscow, Milashina and Ognianova report. One was about the arrest of a Sochi journalist, the second was about troubles with the water system at a complex where people evicted from their homes were housed, and the third was about bad weather in Sochi.

None of the three stories made it to the news wires. The Sochi correspondent told CPJ that her Moscow editor explained, “You may have a storm, a twister, and even a 9-Richter-scale earthquake; still, we have to write that all skies are clear over Sochi.”

Preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Hicks)


In their report, Milashina and Ognianova wrote that international press have the opportunity to draw attention to stories that state and local press don’t (or won’t) cover. One environmental activist and blogger told CPJ that coverage by Western journalists has an impact.

“We have figured out that the most effective way of applying pressure to the government is through telling our stories to the Western media and to international organizations.” He continued, “We send our press releases to all leading international news agencies and media outlets, from Reuters to Al-Jazeera.”

But Western and international journalists face challenges reporting in Sochi, too. On Monday, Debbie Emery wrote for The Hollywood Reporter on the ways this Olympics was different from the eight others covered by ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp.

“There are stories surrounding the new anti-gay propaganda laws, there are security issues there that we don’t typically confront with the Olympics…so these are a very interesting games at a lot of levels,” Schaap tells THR.
“So much is a mystery for us right now in terms of how we are going to get around,” he reveals. “The logistics are always an issue, particularly at the Winter Games because you have a town venue and a mountain venue and navigating that can be difficult.”

On Tuesday, The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone wrote about CPJ’s report and how some Western journalists plan to cover the games. New Yorker Editor David Remnick told The Huffington Post that journalists “should not pull punches out of concern that their perspective may conflict with Putin’s vision for the Sochi Olympics.”

“What’s happening at the Olympics is that Russia is self-presenting, in the contemporary terminology,” said Remnick, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the fall of the Soviet Union, “Lenin’s Tomb.”

“They’re going to put forward some notion of what Russianness is and Russian history and what Russia is in the 21st century,” Remnick continued. “For the many millions of people listening and watching, they want someone to give some perspective on that, whether that has to do with commenting on the horrendous laws on gays and lesbians or what’s the nature of Putin’s government — all these things.”

To conclude their report, CPJ offers several recommendations, including some for international journalists covering the Olympics.

Insist that Russian authorities honor their press freedom commitments to the IOC, both for visiting and Russian journalists.

Report violations of press freedom, including harassment and intimidation of journalistic sources. After the Games, follow up with your Russian colleagues and journalistic sources and report any instances of harassment stemming from their previous communication with you or other foreign media representatives.

Related: Rights group notes harassment of journalists covering Sochi (Poynter) | AP’s Winter Games style guide (AP)

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