by Janne Suutarinen
Photo: Grigori Vorobjov
Kerstin Kronvall is a journalist of Yle, Finland’s national public broadcasting company. Kronvall has worked as a foreign correspondent in Kiev, Ukraine and in Moscow, Russia. She has also worked as a Culture Councillor in Finland’s embassy in Moscow.
Currently Kronvall is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she writes news stories for Yle in Finnish and in Swedish. The journalist’s views on Russia’s press freedom and freedom of speech are bleak.
In your work, how do you encounter the problems relating to Russia’s freedom of press and freedom of speech?
A concrete example of this is the politicians’ and officials’ reluctance to give interviews. Getting an interview might also take a very long time, and often there is no possibility for follow-up questions.
In the work of my local colleagues, the problems manifest in the form of pressuring and fear. Particularly in the local context it is very difficult to write about even slightly negative things relating to the local men in power, or the local companies. Individual journalists encounter pressuring, and for example in a media’s office building there might be a sudden fire inspection or a tax audit. The journalists’ activities are interrupted or at least a warning of interruption is given.
In my circle of acquaintances, there are journalists that have had to move to another place after they had revealed a problem in their home town. Afterwards some have been threatened and even assaulted.
Regarding this subject, there is also a Mass Media Defence Centre (Tsentr zashchity prav SMI) in Russia, that helps journalists to check their news stories in advance, so that they could avoid possible charges. Based on these kinds of examinations, many stories have been left unpublished or changed significantly. The center is organized in a way of NGO, and the state has nothing to do with it – otherwise than adding it in the list of “foreign agents”.
How do you see the current state of Russia’s freedom of press and freedom of speech?
The situation is very difficult, and there are no signs of improvement in sight right now.
What are the main challenges here?
The main challenge are the journalists’ chances to practice their profession in a society, where the people in power are in control of everything. The funding of media is often dependent on big companies or the biggest company of a locality. This makes media vulnerable. The journalists’ security is threatened, and there is just too much self-censorship arising from this uncertainty and fear.
What does the future look like?
That I don’t dare to guess. Somewhere between 2004–2008 it felt like the press freedom was being expanded. But then the restricting tendency re-emerged. The same kind of fluctuation might happen in the future as well.
In Russia, there are lots of brave, precise and professional journalists, who are doing their best for quality journalism. On the other hand there are also many of those, who constantly need to write their stories by their superior’s instructions – and even publish lies.