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Free Press award goes to Russian newspaper

The International Press Institute presented its annual Free Media Pioneer Award to Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that has withstood government efforts to control the media and has paid dearly for its intrepid reporting over the last decade. Four of the paper’s correspondents and its lawyer have been killed in the past decade, one of them Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the lift of her Moscow apartment on 7 October 2006.

The award was presented to Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov as IPI opened its World Congress and 58th General Assembly in Helsinki in June.

After accepting the award, Muratov described withering government crackdown on press freedom in recent years and said “they want to rule as Stalin did and live as Abramovich does.” Roman Abramovich is one of Russia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs.

The IPI congress, held in Finland in June, is an event marked by repeated calls to defend media freedom and journalists at a time of major economic challenges for the news industry. The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) attended as part of a growing relationship with IPI.

IPI’s board chairman Janne Virkkunen, chief editor of Helsingin Sanomat –newspaper, mentioned that among the countries of the world, around 36% have free press, 31% are partly free, and 33% are countries that do not have free press. This means that only 17% of the world’s population, or 1.1 billion people, live in countries with free press.

“That number is shamefully low. For all organisations defending freedom of speech including the International Press Institute, there is still very much work to be done,” Virkkunen said.

“Given the possibilities, we must take care that the media have sufficient power to carry out their basic tasks, for stable democracy is possible only in conditions in which there is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. And the same holds true the other way round: Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are possible only in democratic conditions”, Virkkunen said.

“In the current economic crisis we need more information than ever and an ability to analyze and deepen reporting. It is ironic that in these very circumstances media’s resources are threatened with cutbacks.”

Financial crisis Affects media too
The IPI congress had several panel discussions about hot topics like The international financial crisis and media, The bear on the doorstep, Climate change and media, Nordic Democracy – A Lesson for the World?

In the panel discussing the international financial crisis and media Mikael Pentikäinen, President of Sanoma News Ltd asked whether the future of media was GM – i.e., Government Media. He referred to the situation where the resources of the national news services are strengthened while the private agencies have lost their power.

Pentikäinen said also that he was concerned about the growing imbalance between PR and news media. He said: “People are pushing messages through editorial content and newsrooms. We have more to do in the newsrooms. Fewer resources to analyze all the lobbying messages we are getting.”

Pentikäinen said that media is in a double storm: the internet and electrical media is as big change as happened 500 years ago when Gutenberg invented  printing and in the same time there is the global depression.

The International Press Institute is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists. It is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

IFAJ embraces the freedom of press. Through IPI IFAJ can get information of the global situation of journalists. IFAJ’s constitution says that our organisation is “contacting and collaborating with international agricultural, and journalism, organizations,” which IPI certainly is. It is mainly an organisation of journalism and what is going on in media.

In Helsinki there were over 230 participants from 50 countries.

You can read more of what was said in the panel discussion in these links:

By Riitta Mustonen, IFAJ Executive Committee representative, Finland

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