Russian Journalists Step Out to Support Shuttered Newspaper

Local journalists in several Russian regions have taken to the streets to protest what they call the arbitrariness of local authorities in the case of one regional newspaper.  As the online newspaper writes, the reporters want to support the Tambovsky Meridian, a paper in the Tambov oblast some 300 miles (480 km) south of Moscow.  In early January, the paper ran an article questioning a bill that would raise pensions for the Tambov oblast administration and regional Duma.  Shortly thereafter, the Russian postal service refused to deliver and sell the paper.

Pochta Rossii, the federal postal service, holds a local monopoly on delivering newspaper subscriptions, and many residents rely on it to deliver the news.

According to Aleksei Tolmachev, the Tambovsky Meridian’s editor-in-chief, small demonstrations of media workers took place around Russia in cities including Saratov, Smolensk, Vologda, Ivanovo, Orenburg, Kemerovo, and Veliky Novgorod from February 4th to the 8th.  Picketers called for an independent press and insisted that publications must be free to publish without fear of reprisal from authorities.

In Vladimir, north-east of Tambov, representatives of seven leading newspapers and electronic media gathered signatures for an open letter of support.

“The Union of Vladimir Oblast Journalists expresses solidarity with their friends from the Tambovsky Meridian newspaper,” the letter states.  “Today in Tambov, tomorrow in Vladimir?  Then everywhere?  We express our categorical protest, because journalists need to tell the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may seem to authorities.  And our readers and TV viewers have the right to know this truth.”

According to Tolmachev, further demonstrations would take place in 25 regions during the next several days.

In the north-western city of Pskov, one demonstrator carried a sign that summarized what the protestors stood for, and paraphrased a recent quote by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev:  “You don’t have to love the newspaper!  But it must be published and must criticize the government.”