Press freedom in Russia is notoriously poor, but in the run-up to the Olympics, censorship has become widespread and blatant, especially when it comes to Sochi, according to a recent report by the Committee To Protect Journalists.
In one striking anecdote, CPJ tells what happened when a Sochi correspondent for a major Russian news agency filed three big stories.
The first dealt with the arrest of Sochi journalist Nikolai Yarst, in which it appears law enforcement may have planted drugs on him to secure an arrest. The second was about the malfunction of waterworks at a hastily built residential complex, where Sochi’s evicted residents were being housed. The third was about the possibility of a major storm in Sochi. The journalist’s Moscow editor nixed all three stories.
The editor allegedly told the correspondent: “You may have a storm, a twister, and even a 9-Richter-scale earthquake; still, we have to write that all skies are clear over Sochi.”
That isn’t even the most egregious example of press censorship in Russia right now. Anna Gritsevich, a former correspondent for the Sochi branch of All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, told CPJ that her work amounted to advertisement passed for as news.
“Once I was assigned to report on the building of a parking lot next to a kindergarten. Parents were indignant and against the parking lot. However, I was forced to interview only specially prepared people, who all said it was ‘so great that there will be a parking lot here,'” Gritsevich said.
The government isn’t limiting its censorship to Russian journalists either. According to the report, Norway’s TV2 sent a two-person crew to report on the Olympics’ impact on local residents at the end of October. In three days of reporting, they were stopped by officers six times and detained three times. Officers repeatedly questioned the team about their work and personal lives and refused to allow them to contact their embassy. The police tried to coerce the team into taking a drug test and threatened to jail them.
The Norwegian journalists say they believe the detentions were a pretext to extract information on their sources from their personal devices. One of the reporters, Øystein Bogen, said he was positive that the SIM card for his iPhone had been copied, compromising his sources.
“Some of my contacts have reported that they have been interrogated and have had their houses searched after we left,” Øystein Bogen told CPJ.
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