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Last year, according to the respected Reporters Without Borders index on press freedom in 180 countries, Russia ranked in 148th place. That put it well behind not just the nations of Europe, but also countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Afghanistan. Recently, Russian Life sat down with the founder and director of Russia’s only media rights center, Galina Arapova, to discuss the state of the press in Russia today.
The Mass Media Defense Center is located in Voronezh, not Moscow. And there are no analogous nonprofits elsewhere in the country. What makes you different and what have you achieved?
In the majority of cases we provide free legal help to journalists. And only if the editorial board of a media outlet is willing and able do we accept payment as humanitarian support for our work more generally.
What, in the larger sense, have we achieved? A small, regional organization has grown into a Russia-wide one. It is very unfortunate, I must say, that we are truly the only one remaining on the scene and offering legal assistance to journalists, photographers and bloggers on a daily basis. The entire network of similarly configured regional organizations – created in 1996 on the initiative of the Glasnost Defense Foundation to monitor violations of journalists’ rights in our country – have all closed; they have not been working for several years. It is difficult to say what caused this, aside from the eternal problem with financing, which poisons the existence of any nonprofit organization. Perhaps for us, since it was our only workplace, we devoted all our time to developing the organization, and for our colleagues in other regions they combined this work with other things. Nonetheless, to this day they are all still journalists or attorneys, and we keep in touch.
Is there really no other organization, besides yours, that offers legal aid to journalists in Russia?
Recently, general practice attorneys have started to express interest in defending journalists in our country. They take on the high profile cases, those with more media resonance, because this gives them a chance to develop professionally. Yet those occupied exclusively with aid to journalists are indeed few...
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