Western papers are on sale in the Moscow streets freely. Their catchy heads are biting. "90s' Instability Revisits Moscow," says the Christian Science Monitor. "Russian Market Stays Wild West," The Wall Street Journal joins in. "Not All Equal before the Law," warns Der Tagesspiegel of Germany, while Spain's El Pais highlights "Moscow Godfathers". "After the Wreck," comments The Financial Times. [All headings back-translated from the Russian-Tr.]
Event coverage is biased. President Vladimir Putin is never mentioned without the tag, "once KGB agent". Chechen terrorists are upgraded to "freedom fighters" and "resistance militants". Every instance a newsman is fired comes up as proof of freedom of speech attacked. There are no end of similar instances.
Western-based media outlets usually picture Russia as a drab, sinister place. The television gives an idea of it as big money-launderer, and thieves' and prostitutes' bonanza. Some cities have no water, other do without heating.
We Russians don't think it just. It is oppressive, anyway-all the more so as the Russian TV has also developed a muckraking penchant. Footages follow one another about crime and poverty. Beggars and street arabs are the most frequent characters to appear in the screen. Apart from news, many companies find it trendy to repeat crime footages several times a day. Gangsters, rapists and series murderers have become household figures-more so than the romantic heroes of universally loved Brazilian serials. The roar of shots, bodies sprawled on the bloodstained asphalt come as manifestation of information freedom. Crime news send a channel's public rating skyrocketing. Same about corporate orders for commercials. That is how financial interests merge with a thirst for tough sights, taboo in the fairly recent Soviet years.
This country is coming through a change of its socio-economic system. Naturally, it gives amplegrounds for criticisms. These are not always objective, however. Some can be tracked down to a Russophobia reviving in the West. The national top cannot but protest.
President Putin recently addressed a conference of Russian ambassadors as they gathered in Moscow. "Your host countries all too often have the wrong ideas of Russia. Planned campaigns to discredit this country also come up, on occasion. They are evidently pernicious to the state and Russian business alike," he said.
The President voiced what many people-in-the-street had in their mind. Strategic partnership and a shared necessity to repulse new threats are all right, yet they have not put an end to biased propaganda. A global race for political and economic influence is on, and the West retains its desire to dampen the rival's public image.
Russia has emerged out of its chaos, and is busy strengthening the structure of state power. The federal centre reinstates regional subordination to that end. "Russia is getting back on its authoritarian ways!" the West immediately warns.
A billionaire landed in the dock with taxes underpaid to $3.4 billion, and after engaging in swindles eventually to convert his wealth into political influence. "Big Biz is given short shrift," sighs the compassionate West.
Russia's and several Western countries' Foreign Ministers gather in Mideastern settlement conference-and many Western-based television companies show the US State Secretary alone.
Those are just three of a great many instances. That is what President Putin had in mind as he referred to "planned campaigns to discredit this country". One such campaign has unfolded after the Paul Klebnikov murder. Western-based media outlets proceed from the tragedy to prove that "instability is coming back to Russia". To put it differently, they are out to discredit one of President Putin's principal achievements as at least a semblance of order has come back.
Some hated the late Klebnikov for his work in Moscow but a majority liked and respected him for what he was writing about Russia. "Russia is entering another phase of capitalism. It is receding from the 'grey' economy and from the black-market mentality to take up a more open, transparent and civilised form of capitalism, and similar new arrangements in every aspect of its life," he wrote. We can only regret that not all are so profound in their understanding of Russia as was the martyred journalist.