April 21, 2024

Press Freedom

Russian Federation

Russia October 19, 2005

Mr. Dmitri Peskov
First Deputy Spokesman of the President
of the Russian Federation
c/o Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20007
Fax: (202) 298-5735

Dear Mr. Peskov:

Thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive letter in reply to our protest of your government’s response to the ABC-TV interview with Shamil Basayev. The Overseas Press Club of America is gratified to have your assurance that ABC employees will not be stripped of press accreditation and will continue working in your country. We appreciate your statement that “maintaining freedom of mass media and developing it as pre-requisite for creating a democratic state is among top priorities for the leadership of our country.” And while we understand that you disagree with our interpretation of press freedom, we welcome your assertion that “We are open to dialogue and count on a useful exchange of views with our Western partners. We are prepared to take into consideration their constructive criticism.” It is in that spirit that we respond to specific points in your letter.

You say that your premise is that “ensuring freedom of speech is possible only if the law, as well as moral and ethical norms, are respected both by the state and the media, and journalists are not used as a means of promoting political interests.”

First, we should note that in this country, journalists expect to be used to promote political interests. Every interview with a candidate for office, and every speech or press conference given by a politician or office holder, aims to promote his or her political interests. We can not believe that conditions are much different in Russia . As journalists, our responsibility is to make clear what interests are being promoted, and to do our best to seek out opposing views and include them in the story. If we fail to bring informed intelligence to what we are reporting, we are not journalists; we are simply stenographers. If you do not agree with this view of the matter, we have a fundamental disagreement that needs much more discussion.

Second, we agree that laws should be obeyed, and that journalists are not above the law. However, we will continue to protest laws that seem designed primarily to prevent journalists from reporting controversial stories. We would put in this category the law you cite that required Andrei Babitsky, who conducted the interview broadcast on ABC-TV, to report to the authorities that he had contacted “a person who is currently on the international wanted list and charged with terrorist activity.” In plain terms, the law prevents Babitsky from finding out and reporting what is going on. In this country, we would challenge such a law as unconstitutional on the ground that it hampers freedom of speech and of the press, and we would expect the courts to support that challenge and invalidate the law. We urge your government to work for the repeal of this law.

We repeat that our government has no power to prevent any broadcast or publication. It is incorrect that the government finances ABC-TV, apart from licensing it to use the public airwaves, and our courts have ruled against prior restraint of publications or broadcasts even when national security was invoked as a justification. This may seem to you extreme or even absurd, but it is so, and we believe it is for the public good. Censorship may serve the short-term interests of the state, but in the long run, it leaves the people uninformed or misinformed and stifles debate. We believe it is better to trust the informed discretion of journalists and their organizations, even though it may be flawed, than to give censorship power to government officials — whose interests generally favor secrecy, and whose judgment may also be less than perfect.

We do not hold that freedom of the press is absolute. In every case, it must be weighed against competing freedoms, and sometimes it may have to yield. A journalist may not shield a source who is on the point of murdering someone, or broadcast a call for mayhem or genocide, as Radio Collines did in Rwanda . But you strain the point in arguing that Basayev’s abstract statement that “there is no alternative to terrorism as a means of struggle” was an actual incitement to violence. While there is always a danger in giving voice to evil views, it is more important that people should understand the enemy and be equipped to refute his arguments. We continue to believe that the interview was a legitimate exercise of journalism.

Finally, you maintain that Basayev should not be given a platform because “no civilized state or society can allow itself to get involved in debate with terrorists.” But like it or not, you and we, your government and ours, are enmeshed in precisely that debate, now being waged mainly with guns and improvised explosive devices on the terrorists’ side and with mechanized armies on ours. In the end, the debate will be won or lost in the minds of the people, where ideas are more important than bullets. To the extent that we can replace weapons with words, the world will be better off. We will win by letting the Basayevs have their say, and then showing how and why they are wrong.

Thank you again for your letter. We look forward to a continuing dialogue.
Larry Martz
Norman Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee



President Vladimir Putin

The Kremlin


Russian Federation

Fax: (011.7.095) 206-6277 or 5173


Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov

Prime Minister

Government Offices

2 Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya


Russian Federation

Fax: (011.7.095) 206-4622


Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov

Foreign Minister

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Moscow 121200

Russian Federation


Yuriy Viktorovich Ushakov

Ambassador of Russia to the U.S.A.

Embassy of the Russian Federation

2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

Washington , DC 20007

Fax: (202) 298-5735


Ambassador Andrey Ivanovich Denisov

Permanent Représentative

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

136 East 67 th Street

New York , NY 10021

Fax: (212) 628-0252
Alexander R. Vershbow

U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Embassy of the United States of America

8 Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok

Moscow 121099


Fax: (011.7.095) 728-5090


Aleksey Kirillovich Simonov


Glasnost Defense Foundation

4 Zubovskiy Blvd., # 432

Moscow 119021


Fax: (011.7.095) 201-4947

E-mail: simonov@gdf.ru


Lynn Berry


The Moscow Times

16 Vyborgskaya Street , building 4

Moscow 125212

Fax: (011.7. 095) 937-3393

E-mail: l.berry@imedia.ru


Aleksander Vitalyevich Stukalin


Kommersant Daily

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Fax: (011.7.095) 943-9728

E-mail: kommersant@kommersant.ru


Tatyana Petrovna Koshkaryova


Nezavisimaya Gazeta

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Fax: (011.7. 095) 981-5434

E-mail: office@ng.ru


Vladimir Alekseyevich Borodin



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Moscow 127994


Fax: (011.7.095) 514-0223

E-mail: alekseeva@izvestia.ru


Pavel Nikolayevich Gusev


Moskovskiy Komsomolets

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Moscow 123995


Fax: (011.7.095) 259-4639

E-mail: berestovenko@mk.ru


Robert Munro


The St.Petersburg Times

4 Isakiyevskaya square

St.Petersburg 190000


Tel/fax: (011.7.812) 325-6080

E-mail: munro@sptimes.ru


Tatyana Gennadyevna Lysova



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Moscow 125212


Tel: (011.7.095) 232-3200, 956-3458

Fax : (011.7.095) 956-0716

E-mail: vedomosti@imedia.ru


Dmitriy Andreyevich Muratov


Novaya Gazeta

3 Potapovskiy pereulok

Moscow 101990


Fax: (011.7.095) 923-6888

E-mail: gazeta@novayagazeta.ru