Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), sent the following letter to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, raising serious concerns about state efforts to limit media freedom in Russia. The letter sites professional and legal dangers associated with Russia’s media industry and the failure of the Putin government to allow the news to be reported accurately. According to independent news reports, 13 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 and only three individuals have faced charges in connection with these killings, where no convictions have been made:
June 22, 2007
His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin
Dear President Putin:
We write you to convey our serious concerns about state efforts to limit media freedom in Russia, including reprisals against selected editors and reporters, while those responsible for the murder of other journalists have yet to be brought to justice.
It would be incorrect to suggest that power structures in Russia fully control the large and growing network of media outlets throughout your country. However, the fact remains that the three largest television channels in Russia are either owned entirely or otherwise dominated by the state.
Sources indicate that Russian authorities at all levels frequently exert pressure on journalists, editors, and publishers in an effort to shape the news to their liking. This was recently demonstrated when the management of the Russian News Service informed its employees that, in future, reporting on Russia would have to be “at least fifty percent positive.” Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of such official coercion in your country.
In addition to the professional and legal dangers associated with the media industry in Russia, journalism can also be a physically dangerous profession. According to independent reports, 13 journalists were killed in Russia since 2000 and only three people have faced charges in connection with these killings and there have been no convictions.
As you have publicly stated, the existence of democratic society is impossible where freedom of the media does not exist. An independent and pluralistic media is a fundamental pillar of any healthy society and the Russian people suffer when constraints on media freedom are imposed.
Mr. President, we urge you to ensure that restraints on journalists in your nation are lifted and that the appropriate law enforcement officials redouble their efforts to bring the killers of journalists to justice.
We look forward to your response.
ALCEE L. HASTINGS, M.C. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, U.S.S.