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Russian TV Host Slams Media in Award Speech

From The Moscow Times, 29 November 2010:

A daring speech by one of the country's most acclaimed journalists, who publicly blasted federal television stations for their servile attitude and penchant for propaganda, set the media abuzz and even prompted talk of a new perestroika.

Leonid Parfyonov, a former editor-in-chief of Russian Newsweek and television host with a slew of successful projects — most of them nonpolitical — gave the speech Thursday evening while accepting the inaugural Vladislav Listyev Prize, presented to people responsible for “the event of the year” on Russian television.

Over the past decade “national television information services have become part of the government. Journalistic topics, like all life, have been irrevocably divided into those that can be shown on TV and those that cannot. … This isn't information anymore, this is PR or anti-PR by the authorities,” he said in a speech that was not broadcast by state-run Channel One, which gave the award.

“For a federal channel reporter, top authorities aren't newsmakers, they are his boss's bosses. But then … a reporter is not a journalist, but an official,” he said in a prepared speech that he read out after accepting the award.

Vladislav Listyev, the founding father of post-Soviet television and a key force in bringing the voice of democracy to the Russian television, was shot dead by an unidentified assailant in 1995.

“It's as if the authorities were someone who recently died — and you never speak ill of the dead,” Parfyonov said, adding that state-controlled television was resorting to Soviet-style propaganda tricks, such as showing protocol reports instead of real news.

An English translation of the speech is below:

I was given the chance to speak for seven minutes about the topic that seems most relevant to me today. I’m worried, and will not try to speak by memory; for the first time in the studio I’m going to read aloud.

This morning I visited Oleg Kashin in the hospital. He had undergone another routine operation, surgically restoring, in the literal and figurative sense of the term, the face of Russian journalism. The brutal beating of the Kommersant newspaper correspondent evoked a much greater resonance in society and the professional sphere than any other attempt on the life and health of a Russian journalist. The reaction of the federal television channels, it’s true, could be suspected of having been prepared ahead of time; indeed, the tone of the immediate response by the head of state to what happened was different than what was said by the person in charge after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

And another thing. Before his attack, Oleg Kashin did not exist, and could not have existed, for the federal airwaves. In recent times he has written about the radical opposition, protest movements, and street youth ringleaders, and these topics and characters are inconceivable for TV. It seems that the marginal sphere is beginning to change something in the public situation, forming a new trend; but among television journalists, Kashin simply has no colleagues. There was one, Andrei Loshak, and he left altogether. For the internet.

After the real and imaginary sins of the ’90s, there were two points in the 2000s – at the beginning, for the sake of the elimination of the media oligarchs, and then for the sake of the unity of the ranks in the counter-terrorism war – when federal telecommunications were nationalized. Journalistic topics, and with them all of life, was definitively divided into what was allowed on TV and what wasn’t allowed on TV. Each politically significant broadcast is used to guess the government’s goals and problems, its mood, attitude, its friends and enemies. Institutionally, this is not information at all, but government publicity or anti-publicity – what else was the broadcast artillery in the run-up to Luzhkov’s dismissal – and, of course, publicity of the government itself.

For a federal television channel correspondent, the highest official persons are not newsmakers, but the bosses of his boss. Institutionally, a correspondent is then not a journalist at all, but a civil servant, following the logic of service and submission. There’s no possibility, for example, to have an interview in its truest sense with the boss of the boss: it’d be an attempt to expose someone who wouldn’t want to be exposed. Andrei Kolesnikov’s conversation with Vladimir Putin in a yellow Lada Kalina allows one to feel the confidence of the prime minister, his attitude towards 2012, and his ignorance about unpleasant topics. But can we imagine in the mouth of a national television journalist, and then on a national television channel, the question posed by Kolesnikov to Putin: “Why did you corner Mikhail Khodorkovsky?” This is again an example from Kommersant. At times, one gets the impression that the country’s leading social/political newspaper (which is in no way programmed as oppositionist) and the federal television channels talk about different Russias. And the leading business magazine, Vedomosti, was actually likened by [State Duma] Speaker [Boris - ed.] Gryzlov to terrorist supporters, including by their contextualization of the Russian mass media, television most of all.

The rating of the acting president and prime minister is at about 75 percent. On federal television broadcasts, no critical, skeptical or ironic judgments are heard about them, hushing up a quarter of the spectrum of public opinion. The high government comes across as the dearly departed – only good things or nothing is spoken about it. On that point, the audience has clearly demanded other opinions. What a furor was caused by almost the only exception – when the dialogue between Yury Shevchuk and Vladimir Putin was shown on television.

The longstanding techniques are familiar to anyone who caught USSR Central Television, when reporting was substituted with protocol recordings of meetings in the Kremlin; the text has intonational support when there are canons of these displays: the person in charge meets with the minister or head of a region, goes to the people, holds a summit with foreign colleagues. This isn’t news, it’s old; a repetition of what’s customary to broadcast in such situations. The possible shows lack an informational basis altogether – in a thinned-out broadcasting vegetable patch, any vegetable is going to look like a big deal just by having regularly appeared on the screen.

Having worked only in Ostankino and for Ostankino for twenty four years, I speak about it with bitterness. I don’t have the right to blame any of my colleagues, I myself am no fighter and don’t expect any heroics from others. But things at least need to be called what they are.

Television journalism is doubly shamed given the obvious achievements of large-scale television shows and domestically-created serials. Our television thrills, captivates, entertains and makes you laugh with all the more sophistication, but you would unlikely call it a civic socio-political institution. I am convinced: it is one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in television viewing among the most active part of the population, when people from our circle say: “Why turn the box on, they don’t make it for me.”

What’s more frightening is that a large part of the population already feels no need for journalism. When they’re perplexed: “So they beat someone – do you think there so few among us who are beaten, and what’s this fuss over some reporter?” Millions of people don’t understand that a journalist takes a professional risk for the sake of his audience. A journalist isn’t beaten because of something he wrote, said or filmed, but because this thing was read, heard, or seen. Thank you.

Translation by

The New Times magazine has published a series of photographs of significant media personalities below a video and transcript of the speech.



...but you said i could have the S-300  :(

"If Tehran obtained the S-300 [surface to air missile], it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran." says long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure. (Pictured: Not the S-300).

Little attention has been focused on the situation in Yemen where internal fighting between Shia Houthis and the Sunni central government has been escalating since August.  Amir Taheri explains the situation in his article Tehran’s Tricks for Squeezing Saudis:

"Iran has been trying to create a branch of the pan-Shiite Hezbollah movement [in Yemen]. The aim is to control a chunk of territory along the Saudi border and use it to destabilize the kingdom while exerting pressure on the Yemeni government."

However, the world took notice on November 4 when Houthi insurgents, with Hezbollah support, attacked the border areas of Jebel al-Dukhan and Al-Khubah on the Saudi side, killing a border guard and injuring 11 others.  The Saudis responded with air and expeditionary forces, pushing the Houthi insurgents back across the border into Yemen. 

On November 10, Al Jazeera reported that Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened Saudi’s interference in the conflict, stating that regional nations should "seriously hold back from intervening in Yemen's internal affairs."  Adding that, "those who pour oil on the fire must know that they will not be spared from the smoke that billows."

The following day Mottaki reversed course:  "Iran is prepared to co-operate with the government of Yemen and other nations in order to restore security."

Yemen's response, Thanks but no thanks.

It is interesting to note the growing chorus of critics of the Iranian regime...

"What business does Iran have stating what it has stated?” asked Hossein Shobokshi, a columnist with the Arabic Asharq Alawsat newspaper.  "But it also falls in sync with what Iran has been doing. Interfering in other countries' affairs - we have seen it in Jordan, Sudan, Palestine, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq - creating pockets of influence and trying to control its puppets in every part of the Arab world." 

In an audio recording posted on an Islamist website, Mohamed bin Abdul Rahman al-Rashid, one of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted terrorists and head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said:

"Shiite Iran poses an extreme danger to Sunnis of Yemen and Saudi Arabia [more so] than [the] Jews or Christians."  Al-Rashid continued, "driven by a greed to take over Muslim countries, Shiite Iran has long been plotting to install a Hezbollah-like group to occupy areas at the joint-border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia," inciting the Saudi-Yemeni Sunni Muslims to "fight Iran-backed Shiite rebels."

Jameel Theyabi writing in Dar al Hayat on November 9 explains:

"Iran is attempting to sow discord and to destabilize the security of the countries in the region, especially in the Arab Gulf States, after having had their way in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine."  

The Kuwait government also condemned the Yemeni rebels' attack on Saudi Arabia, saying Gulf countries' national security was one and could not be divided. 

And in early October, prior to the Houthis cross border attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri lambasted Hezbollah in his eulogy to Baitullah Mehsud as representing a model of “turning jihad into a national cause.”  A model which “must be rejected by the umma, because it is a model which makes jihad subject to the market of political compromises and distracts the umma from the liberation of Islamic lands and the establishment of the Caliphate.”

Sunni v. Shia.  Al Qaeda v. Hezbollah.  Arabs v. Persians.  P5 + 1 v. Iran.

In an effort to enhance its dismal Cold War reputation as a weapons supplier to the Middle East, Russia has pursued a marketing campaign to brand itself as a reliable manufacturer of quality arms and technologies. “Russia is trying to restore some of its power in the Middle East, but its capability is limited because of the doubts about Russian technology,” Mustafa Alani, the director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre, recently said.

For instance, when Mikhail Kalashnikov turned 90 years old on November 10, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev used the occasion as an opportunity to promote its image as global arms supplier, awarding him the Hero of the Russian Federation medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin. "The Kalashnikov is today one of the best-known Russian words... Such shining creative achievements move our country forward," Medvedev said during the ceremony. 

Another Russian shining achievement is the S-300 surface to air missile (SAM).  The S-300 is comparable to the American Patriot system and has been aggressively sought by the Iranian regime to protect its nuclear sites. 

During negotiations over the past two years, Russia and Iran came close to signing a deal for the S-300 (depending on the source, “close” could mean "a done deal" or just "close"). In an effort to counter Russia’s public diplomacy campaign and motivate a deal in Tehran's favor, Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Russia had a ‘contractual obligation’ to provide Iran with the system. “We have made a deal with the Kremlin to buy S-300 defense missiles,” he said, referring to a contract signed between Tehran and Moscow in 2007.  “We don’t think Russian officials would want to be seen in the world as contract violators.”

According to CBS News, two days prior to Obama’s decision to scrap the US missile shield in Europe, Medvedev indicated that Russia’s stance on Iran may be changing and cited the concerns on the part of the League of Arab countries about too close a rapport between Russia and Iran. 

"If Tehran obtained the S-300, it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran." says long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure

Russia has since decided to instead sell its more advanced S400 to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival, in a deal that could be worth as much as $7 billion. “We are working in this direction, we can confirm this,” said a government spokesman in Moscow where local media are reporting that an agreement could be signed before the end of the year.

All this brings us back to Yemen. 

Russia is Yemen’s largest creditor and closely allied with the Saudis.  Clearly Russia would not benefit from a destabilized Yemen unable to repay its debt.  But much more significant is that Russia, currently the world’s largest oil producer, would be in a position to work with the Saudis to maximize oil profits in the midst of a concerted economic squeeze on Tehran.

Roger Stern and Bernard Hayke in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National, have some creative suggestions for the Saudis:

“The kingdom should reprise its greatest peacemaking performance: the 1986 oil price collapse. Saudi Arabia has been given little credit for this effort, which secured western victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Here’s the story: while some other Opec members cheated on their quotas by overproducing in the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia cut its production to defend the price of oil. In 1985, after years of sacrifice, the Saudis reversed course and opened the taps to regain market share. The consequent price collapse bankrupted the Soviet Union, which relied on oil for its only hard-currency earnings.

Iran’s situation now is like the Soviet Union’s then. If it does not comply immediately with international demands for transparency on weapons development, Saudi Arabia could force a drastic reduction of Iran’s revenue by producing some or all of its four million barrels a day of spare capacity. Iran’s Opec production quota violations have approached historic highs, so there is a strong precedent for such a Saudi production increase.

Of course, Saudi Arabia relies on oil earnings just as Iran does, but it has nearly half a trillion dollars of currency reserves, more than enough to defend its budget even if revenues decline for a while. Most Gulf states enjoy comparable finances. Iran, by contrast, spends almost all its revenue trying to buy off dissent. Any revenue decline is a threat to the emerging Iranian police state.”

Sanctions and pressure come in different colors.  But this time they’re green and white.



a BRAND new Georgia

In an effort to reassert its value and enhance its image after a bruising military confrontation with Russia in August 2008, Georgia has turned its attention to the exploits of soft power.  In particular, the silver screen.  According to EurasiaNet, Georgia “has been trying to pique the interest of foreign producers by offering Georgia as a low-cost location for big-budget movies.”  Currently filming in the capitol Tbilisi is a movie about the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.  The film stars Academy Award nominee Andy Garcia as President Saakashvili, Jonathan Schaech as Captain Rezo Avaliani, Val Kilmer in a yet undisclosed role, and is directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight).  The film is a counterpunch to the Russian production of a “state-financed action movie about the war that featured an American entomologist struggling to escape from the Georgian military’s onslaught.”[1]  The American production should give Georgia some needed notoriety.

Continuing in its pursuit of soft power, Georgia should also invest in its natural talent – WINE. Unbeknownst to many, Georgia is believed to be the birthplace of wine -- some 7000 years ago.  The fertile valleys of the southern Caucasus make wine cultivation ideal.  By developing its natural viticultural prowess, Georgia could win the sympathetic hearts of wine lovers around the world.  No longer would Georgia be confused with the American state that has as its capitol, Atlanta.  Georgia would brand itself, becoming synonymous with good wine.  The name of the Georgian wine valley would need to be tweaked of course for marketing purposes (the Georgian language is a bit consonant heavy) and the wine as said would have to be good.  But who then would pick a fight with such a _______ (insert wine description of choice, i.e. elegant, balanced, Audrey Hepburnish) country? Who would dare invade Napa Valley?  Or Champagne?  Or Tuscany?  Not since Bela Karolyi joined American gymnastics would Russia find itself so tongue-tied. Baia Valley, Georgia. The Cradle of Wine.