Russian TV Host Slams Media in Award Speech

Leonid Parfyonov. Source: Moscow TimesLast Thursday, acclaimed television host Leonid Parfyonov was awarded the first ever Vladislav Listyev prize for television journalism. His acceptance speech was a merciless condemnation of the plight of Russian journalists – the risk to one’s life and well-being inherent to all, and for those who work on federal television, having the Kremlin as your boss.

Channel One, one of Russia’s state-run television channels, broadcast the award ceremony, but not Parfyonov’s speech, which was only posted online. Expert opinions differ as to whether the usually non-political host’s remarks were given the go-ahead by the authorities or if they were a complete surprise. The New Times magazine has published a series of photographs of significant media personalities below a video and transcript of the speech. An English translation of the speech is below:

I was given the chance to speak for seven minutes about the topic that seems most relevant to me today. I’m worried, and will not try to speak by memory; for the first time in the studio I’m going to read aloud.

This morning I visited Oleg Kashin in the hospital. He had undergone another routine operation, surgically restoring, in the literal and figurative sense of the term, the face of Russian journalism. The brutal beating of the Kommersant newspaper correspondent evoked a much greater resonance in society and the professional sphere than any other attempt on the life and health of a Russian journalist. The reaction of the federal television channels, it’s true, could be suspected of having been prepared ahead of time; indeed, the tone of the immediate response by the head of state to what happened was different than what was said by the person in charge after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

And another thing. Before his attack, Oleg Kashin did not exist, and could not have existed, for the federal airwaves. In recent times he has written about the radical opposition, protest movements, and street youth ringleaders, and these topics and characters are inconceivable for TV. It seems that the marginal sphere is beginning to change something in the public situation, forming a new trend; but among television journalists, Kashin simply has no colleagues. There was one, Andrei Loshak, and he left altogether. For the internet.

After the real and imaginary sins of the ’90s, there were two points in the 2000s – at the beginning, for the sake of the elimination of the media oligarchs, and then for the sake of the unity of the ranks in the counter-terrorism war – when federal telecommunications were nationalized. Journalistic topics, and with them all of life, was definitively divided into what was allowed on TV and what wasn’t allowed on TV. Each politically significant broadcast is used to guess the government’s goals and problems, its mood, attitude, its friends and enemies. Institutionally, this is not information at all, but government publicity or anti-publicity – what else was the broadcast artillery in the run-up to Luzhkov’s dismissal – and, of course, publicity of the government itself.

For a federal television channel correspondent, the highest official persons are not newsmakers, but the bosses of his boss. Institutionally, a correspondent is then not a journalist at all, but a civil servant, following the logic of service and submission. There’s no possibility, for example, to have an interview in its truest sense with the boss of the boss: it’d be an attempt to expose someone who wouldn’t want to be exposed. Andrei Kolesnikov’s conversation with Vladimir Putin in a yellow Lada Kalina allows one to feel the confidence of the prime minister, his attitude towards 2012, and his ignorance about unpleasant topics. But can we imagine in the mouth of a national television journalist, and then on a national television channel, the question posed by Kolesnikov to Putin: “Why did you corner Mikhail Khodorkovsky?” This is again an example from Kommersant. At times, one gets the impression that the country’s leading social/political newspaper (which is in no way programmed as oppositionist) and the federal television channels talk about different Russias. And the leading business magazine, Vedomosti, was actually likened by [State Duma] Speaker [Boris – ed.] Gryzlov to terrorist supporters, including by their contextualization of the Russian mass media, television most of all.

The rating of the acting president and prime minister is at about 75 percent. On federal television broadcasts, no critical, skeptical or ironic judgments are heard about them, hushing up a quarter of the spectrum of public opinion. The high government comes across as the dearly departed – only good things or nothing is spoken about it. On that point, the audience has clearly demanded other opinions. What a furor was caused by almost the only exception – when the dialogue between Yury Shevchuk and Vladimir Putin was shown on television.

The longstanding techniques are familiar to anyone who caught USSR Central Television, when reporting was substituted with protocol recordings of meetings in the Kremlin; the text has intonational support when there are canons of these displays: the person in charge meets with the minister or head of a region, goes to the people, holds a summit with foreign colleagues. This isn’t news, it’s old; a repetition of what’s customary to broadcast in such situations. The possible shows lack an informational basis altogether – in a thinned-out broadcasting vegetable patch, any vegetable is going to look like a big deal just by having regularly appeared on the screen.

Having worked only in Ostankino and for Ostankino for twenty four years, I speak about it with bitterness. I don’t have the right to blame any of my colleagues, I myself am no fighter and don’t expect any heroics from others. But things at least need to be called what they are.

Television journalism is doubly shamed given the obvious achievements of large-scale television shows and domestically-created serials. Our television thrills, captivates, entertains and makes you laugh with all the more sophistication, but you would unlikely call it a civic socio-political institution. I am convinced: it is one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in television viewing among the most active part of the population, when people from our circle say: “Why turn the box on, they don’t make it for me.”

What’s more frightening is that a large part of the population already feels no need for journalism. When they’re perplexed: “So they beat someone – do you think there so few among us who are beaten, and what’s this fuss over some reporter?” Millions of people don’t understand that a journalist takes a professional risk for the sake of his audience. A journalist isn’t beaten because of something he wrote, said or filmed, but because this thing was read, heard, or seen. Thank you.

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