Monday, May 23, 2005
Moscow demonstration for press freedom
Hundreds of liberal and radical party activists rallied in Moscow on Sunday, demanding greater press freedom and more access to the country's state-dominated television networks.
Meanwhile, the leaders of two top Russian political parties appeared in a rare prime time interview on state-run television, apparently underscoring new efforts by the Kremlin to improve media access and improve its image.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Rodina (Homeland) Party leader Dmitry Rogozin appeared on Rossiya television's Vesti Nedeli program for a brief, wide-ranging discussion on their two blocs in the Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-backed United Russia party and minority parties including the Rodina and the communists are routinely shut out of full access to Russia's television networks, which are almost all directly or indirectly controlled by the government, following the takeover of the NTV network in 2001 by the state-connected natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
Critics have accused President Vladimir Putin of cracking down on freedom of speech since he came to power in 2000 and of shutting down television stations whose reporting was critical of the government.
In an apparent effort to counter criticism of a growing centralization of power, Putin promised parliamentary leaders that he would ensure that state media offered access to all political forces.
Research shows as many as 90 percent of Russians get their news from television.
Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky told protesters wearing masks reading “Shut Off” and carrying signs reading “News Is Propaganda” and “Down With Censorship!” that Russia has no freedom of the press. “The freedom of the press is not the freedom of propaganda or pornography. It is the freedom to discuss the hardest questions and to find answers,” Yavlinsky told the rally at the Ostankino broadcasting tower.
Many of those at the protest, which included communists and activists from the radical National Bolshevik Party, wore orange T-shirts in a nod to Ukraine’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution and posters showing jailed Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.