Russia’s Unsubtle Censorship

It’s becoming clear that the Russian government is getting very, very paranoid about the financial crisis, and, as usual, their first target of harassment is the media.  Reporters and editors have been given strict instructions from the procuracy not to report on anything negative relating to the economy, or face ambiguous penalties.  I don’t think this is too surprising, but rather disappointing that the authorities don’t bother to work harder to carry out their censorship and violations of free press in a more subtle way … this just looks bad.  So what in the world is left for government mouthpiece Russia Today to report?  With little irony, today they are carrying a story on Turkey’s shortcomings in freedom of speech.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Prime Minister Putin was speaking a day after the Prosecutor General’s office warned media outlets to be careful about how they cover the financial crisis. If news organizations can’t report that there’s a problem, they’ll be hard-pressed to report that things are improving.

The point here is all too serious. A spokeswoman for the prosecutortold Interfax news agency that the office was not engaging incensorship but merely reminding media of their obligation to “publishcredible information” and refrain from “information attacks” onfinancial institutions. To this end, she said, “permanent monitoring ofthe mass media materials” was necessary. That’s another blow to a localpress that already avoids topics that might anger the Kremlin.

There’s little doubt that Mr. Putin’s predictions of an economicresurgence will be reported by the mostly state-owned media. So, too,will his tirades about how Russia’s problems owe mostly to “cheapmoney-doping and mortgage troubles in the United States” — with onlyminimal blame for his country’s underdeveloped financial markets, heavyforeign-currency borrowing by its private sector and overdependence onenergy resources.

The Kremlin doesn’t want Russians to think they’ve gone back to thewoes of the Yeltsin era. With the meltdown around them kept off thefront pages, Russians might instead recall an earlier era — onecovered dutifully, by Pravda.