28 April 2020
An open appeal by the “Syndicate 100” association of journalists concerning the inadmissibility of censorship in the era of a pandemic
Source: Novaya gazeta
Dear readers, viewers, listeners!
The present situation forces us journalists to make this appeal. Now is a difficult time for everyone. The epidemic and the economic crisis are a challenge for us all. This demands from society and from every individual responsible actions that are possible only in a situation of mutual trust, even if that trust is only minimal. But trust can and must be based on maximum awareness of what is happening.
The role of the press is to report what is really happening. This function is now more critically important than ever for every one of you reading this letter. That is because each of you and your loved ones may become a patient in a hospital bed without proper care, or a doctor without the necessary medical equipment, or an employee left without means of survival, or… You can easily continue this list yourself.
Reporting problems is the first step toward resolving them. Keeping silent about problems will only make them worse. By reporting on problems, the press – voluntarily or involuntarily– identifies those who are to blame. And this is not always a virus – something meaningless and lacking responsibility. Rather, it is often specific individuals with first and last names, endowed with powers with which they cannot cope either because of incompetence or for other reasons.
Sooner or later, the virus will disappear, but these people will remain. Independent and truthful information angers those who, while they have the authority to deal with a crisis situation, cope badly with their work.
The epidemic is already being actively used to put pressure on journalists.
The authorities are communicating with the press using militaristic, directly threatening language. Their tools of pressure include the hastily adopted law on criminal liability for the distribution of fake new about the coronavirus.
The law was adopted only recently. But the flywheel is quickly gaining momentum. We feel it is important to voice support for all our colleagues who are, in today’s difficult conditions, performing their work honestly and professionally, but who are being subjected to pressure by the authorities.
- On the basis of this law, the independent Krasnoyarsk television channel TVK and the ProUfu portal are already being threatened with massive fines.
- St Petersburg journalist Tatyana Voltskaya has been threatened with criminal prosecution for her interview on the subject of the coronavirus.
It is important to understand that, in the current circumstances, journalists are often forced to resort to anonymous sources of information: for example, doctors who are prepared heroically to fight the epidemic are not always ready to communicate openly with the press, because they are afraid of losing their jobs. A journalist is obliged to report on what is happening, even if their source does not want to identify themself. But then the journalist and their publication run the risk of prosecution under the “anti-fake news” legislation.
You who read this letter must understand that in this instance the legislation and enforcement measures are not directed against false information. They are directed against information as such. And they are directed against each one of you.
We are addressing this letter to you because today, more than ever, an independent press needs public support. People’s lives will be the price that is paid for every independent publication that is stifled today. This is not a metaphor. This is the reality.
Syndicate 100 is an association of federal and regional Russian mass media. Its main aim is independent coverage of the country’s problems and timely publication of materials on pressing issues of social significance.
Translated by Elizabeth Teague
Background information: The legislation referred to above was approved on 31 March 2020 and entered into force on 1 April 2020. Here are some relevant reports:
“Russians Face up to 5 Years in Jail for Spreading False Coronavirus News,” AFP, published in The Moscow Times, 31 March 2020
“Russian Activist Says She’s Hit By First Investigation Under ‘Fake’ Coronavirus News Law,” RFE/RL, 5 April 2020
“Russia Bans ‘Discussions’ of Fake Coronavirus News,” The Moscow Times, 23 April 2020
On St Petersburg journalist Tatyana Voltskaya see Wikipedia.