Independent voices in the Russian media are becoming targets again. Yet their journalistic conscience leads them into increasingly hazardous situations. How can they be protected? And can the authorities be persuaded to investigate the perpetrators of violence on Russian correspondents?
One of my freshmen students wrote that a journalist’s professional competence should include knowing how to use a weapon, and the code of ethics should be changed with the addition of a paragraph that a journalist is allowed to use it to save her life. She went on, “If Tatiana Felgengauer had a stun gun or even a gas spray, she could have neutralized the man who attacked her and avoided injury.” She totally supported the decision of Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, to hand out weapons to correspondents who get regular threats. The seminar participants—26 people aged 18–22, from Moscow and other regions of the country as well as from Ukraine and Kazakhstan—supported her. This was the student reaction to the latest events—the attack on Tatiana Felgengauer, deputy editor-in-chief and news host on Ekho Mosvky, and Muratov’s decision to arm journalists.
That made me very uncomfortable. I had been a college student in Soviet times, and I remember well the lectures of our best teachers, who, despite state propaganda and the Cold War, told us about the honest and principled work of correspondents all over the world, the tradition of defending human rights, the abused and forgotten, and of the struggle for freedom that Russian literature sustained across the centuries of despotism. We knew that journalists were killed—but it happened far away, in wars and conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. My generation was lucky—perestroika commenced just as we were starting out professionally. Ogonyok magazine, where I had the good fortune to work, was in the avant-garde of changes, wrote the truth about the past and present, called for civil rights and freedom of speech, and was supported by millions of grateful readers. We believed, as do my students, that the truth would change the world, making it cleaner and better. We pushed for change. We were prepared to do whatever was needed to make it happen. We could not have imagined that attaining freedom of speech in a Russia free of an ideological yoke would cost so dearly. Or that independent journalists would be threatened, intimidated, obstructed, beaten, and even murdered not somewhere far away but here at home. Or that those crimes would go unpunished.
According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, more than 350 journalists were killed, were disappeared, or died in mysterious circumstances since 1991. Most of the tragedies were not investigated adequately. Most of the names are not known well, not only in the West but also in Russia.