Independent media in retreat?
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Independent media in retreat?

The war in Ukraine and Russian authorities’ move to close independent media and censor news and social media information in the country has been spotlighted in Western countries.

In a letter to subscribers, the Guardian shared how it has joined other news agencies in Europe in publishing articles by Novaya Gazeta, the Russian independent daily, whose editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year along with Maria Ressa in the Philippines. Novaya Gazeta has suspended publication in Russia because of the censorship.

As the Guardian reported, Novaya Gazeta Europe’s editor-in-chief Kirill Martynov said, “We can’t publish a newspaper in Russia anymore, so we called for solidarity with our European colleagues to print a ‘decentralised newspaper’ across Europe. The idea of the Russian free press has to be alive.”

So, “along with the likes of Liberation and Le Monde in France and die Tageszeitung in Germany, the Guardian published two articles – a subtle piece about Russian public disquiet by pollster Alexei Levinson and an Op-Ed by Martynov himself on how Vladimir Putin seized on the idea of a war for a ‘Greater Russia’ to inject some sense of heroic glory into his cynical leadership.”

Martynov’s long-term hope is to “recreate Novaya Gazeta Europe as the voice of pro-European Russians on both sides of the border of the newly divided Europe, and to deliver information about the war to the Russian public inside the country,”. But as the Guardian points out, freedom of the press is not only a casualty in Russia or in situations of war:

“Independent media is in retreat. Autocrats are using a mix of force and financial pressure to silence dissenting voices. In democracies, independent titles face existential threats in the form of libel laws, cost-cutting owners, and competition from social media. Six in seven people globally live in countries where press freedoms are in decline. A record 28 countries  are now ranked ‘very bad’ for press freedom. From Hong Kong to Hungary, Myanmar to Mexico, the job of the journalist is becoming ever harder.”

Financial support for independent media is critical – but even more vital now is activism to support freedom of the press. If independent media disappear, so do the democratic systems that hold power to account and allow informed citizens to participate effectively in the decisions that – as we have seen in Ukraine – are a matter of life and death.

Photo: Warsaw, Poland. 24 February 2022. Anti-war protest outside Russian embassy in Warsaw. Demonstrators call for peace and condemn Putin. Credit: Grand Warszawski/Shutterstock

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