The Echo of Moscow, Twitter and who controls media in Russia

A tacky tweet is behind the threatened dismissal of a journalist of the most important independent Russian radio, Ekho Moskvy. Media freedom in Russia, increasingly at risk, has been promptly mentioned, but the case of the Echo of Moscow could have happened in any Western country, and the reactions would not have been less strong.  

Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty ImagesPhoto: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Let's start with a fact. Russia is listed 148th by Reporters without borders for media freedom. Italy does not score much better (49th, after Nigeria), when you consider the European and the Western democracies context. With no claim of lecture anybody, then, we can write without fear of contradiction that Russia is not a country that stands out in the media freedom panorama.
That said, the episode of Radio Ekho Moskvy has something that does not convince me to the end. But first let's see what happened.
In early November Aleksandr Plyushchev, a long-time presenter of the radio, wrote a tweet about the death of the son of Putin’s chief of staff, Alexander Ivanov. The man died in road accidents in the UAE the day before. "The death of Ivanov is the proof of existence of divine justice?", Plyushchev wrote. The tweet referred to a case in 2005 in which Ivanov hit and killed a 68 years old pensioner while he was walking on zebra crossing in Moscow. Ivanov has never been punished for the murder.

Divine Justice
Plyushchev was handed a notice of dismissal due to serious ethical violatio. The notice was signed by the director general of the radio, Yekaterina Pavlova, appointed less than a year. The main shareholder of the radio is the state giant Gazprom, and this led Western media referring to Plyushchev’s dismissal as yet another act of intimidation of the press critical of Kremlin.
A few days ago, however, the board of directors of Gazprom Media met and decided to withdraw the dismissal of Plyushchev, which will only be suspended until January. In return, Ekho Moskvy should draft a code of conduct for its journalists in the use of social media. The draft is said to be already being examined by the editor in chief. Meanwhile Plyushchev has deleted his tweet and apologized.

A self-fulfilling prophecy
What's wrong so far? Plyushchev tweet was tacky and not suitable for a professional journalist. We should see the guidelines to tell whether they will result in a limitation of press freedom. For as we have seen so far, though, the story could have happened in any of the top-of-the-list countries of Reporters without borders.
The fact that Ekho Moskvy is partly owned by a publisher with many interests beyond communications, like Gazprom, comes as a standard here in Italy. While the BBC and the Associated Press, just to mention two giants of accountability and authority, have since long issued codes of conduct for journalists who tweet or write on Facebook.
The episode of Ekho Mosvy is not a case of censorship of the media, and mentioning the disappearance of press freedom in Russia every time a journalist is dismissed or suspended, will turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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