Reporter of US information agency “Washington ProFile” Alexander Grigoriev is speaking on his 4 years of experience of living and working in the USA in a PRAVDA.RU interview.
Alexander, how was Washington ProFile information agency created?
Political scientist and historian, Professor Nikolai Zlobin who was working with Michail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, was the founder of Washington Profile. Nikolai Zlobin teaches political science in a number of universities in the USA, he is director of the Center of Programs for Russia and Asia of the Center of Military Information in Washington DC, one of the most recognized experts on Russia. Being in the USA and communicating with people from Russia and the other countries of the former USSR, he realized that many our people have no idea what the USA is about.
Russians and Americans look at the same things from different perspective. There are many prejudices, and most of them are absolutely wrong. For example, nobody in Russia knew anything about George Bush Junior when he was running for the US Presidency in 2000. Nobody could understand the crisis with counting votes – because votes are counted fast in the former USSR countries. Media wrote that, according to calculation, in the camps of Chechen refugees 170% of them voted at the last presidential elections. However, the system in the USA allows 100 votes to influence the country future.
After the implementation of the idea to provide the countries of the former Soviet Union with information from the USA, the project succeeded. The information was in demand.
There are few reporters from the former USSR in the USA, and they frequently pursue ideology, not objectivity, in their reporting. The bulk of information from the USA in Russia is news about celebrities or music. Russians are not aware of some US basic institutions, such as the Congress, and think that the Congress is equivalent to Russian State Duma. In some respect, it is true as both the Congress and Duma are legislatures, but the Congress is much more powerful than Russian Duma.
This lack of information influences the relations between the people of the two countries. To improve the situation, we opened Washington Profile agency 11 days before 9/11…
Washington ProFile is funded by grants of various foundations. We are non-profit organization, and we familiarize our reader with the variety facts and opinions from the USA.
What main issues are you are covering?
In the first place, we highlight the relations between the USA and the countries of former USSR. We are working to ensure better understanding between people. We read Russian language press, see the issues which interest people, and describe how the USA deals with these issues. For example, people of many post-Soviet countries perceive their Presidents as some wise czars and cannot comprehend where the President will go after his term in the office expires. We wrote what the former Presidents of the USA do after resignation to familiarize our readers with American political traditions.
We cover all sides of US life: how graduation parties are held, how prison inmates are treated, the way the US press works, what the relations between the branches of power look like.
We also cover international events from American perspective.
In addition, we are explaining the causes of the US achievements. For example, I can see that Russians do not understand for what reasons the USA is the biggest economy, and explain the US phenomenon in my writing. Also, we publish interviews with experts on issues.
We try to use many sources for thorough analysis of the events. We guarantee objectivity and diversity and correctness of our information. We give facts and do not express our opinions.
How long have you been in the USA?
Four years. But I am the citizen of Russia. I have been in journalism all my life, lived in “cultural capital of Russia” St. Petersburg, knew foreign languages, read English newspapers and thought that I had the idea what the USA is about. The fact that the USA was absolutely different, shocked me. As for the residents of Russian province, they have much vaguer idea of the US than I did.
What is the “real USA” look like?
Frankly speaking, I like the USA very much. Certainly, this country has its problems and difficulties, and newcomers – emigrants or job-seekers are facing them in the first place. They have to solve the problem of the language, communicating with people and others. But I love the way Americans treat newcomers! I love the way of maintaining relations between authorities and media in the USA. The idea of freedom is implemented into practice.
The biggest thing which surprised me in Washington DC is the three radio stations broadcasting classical music. They are popular and successful business projects. In my favorite St. Petersburg, all the attempts to create similar radio station failed. If we say that the USA has no culture, for what reasons do Americans like the music requesting intellect to understand it?
What can you say about the difference between the press freedom in the USA and in Russia?
There is huge difference. I have much experience in journalism, but today I am having the happiest time in my journalistic career. I am doing what I like, write what I want. Nobody controls me. The only criterion for controlling me is whether I write real facts. This is fair.
I remember how hard it is in Russia to receive information from some official, in most cases you will be turned down. The honest reporter has no chance to write what he/she wants because he has no access to the necessary information. Nobody would understand this problem in the USA. All the attempts to conceal information resulted in bad consequences for US officials.
The reporter in the former USSR is intimidated, every junior official thinks he can treat reporter badly. The official does not understand that the reporter serves the society. The society must know how its officials work as people pay taxes to pay the official.
Everybody in the USA understands this. The status of the reporter here is very high, the reporter is the watchdog serving the democracy”. The US press was pursuing this freedom for 200 years, and now any person can start a newspaper or a TV company, no special licenses are required. Nobody will disturb you if you comply with the law. The government cannot own mass media, and has no tool for influencing public opinion which is used by the post-Soviet states governments.
We do not want Russia or Ukraine to become the second USA. This cannot happen, we should be ourselves. However, the USA is a great country and we have much to learn from it. It is not bad to learn. Ignorance is bad. Americans like to learn, and may be for this reason they became superpower.