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Russian Union of Journalists asked to vacate its headquarters


24 May, 2007:

The Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) says it has been asked to leave its headquarters in Moscow in order to make room for Russia Today, a state-run satellite television station.

This move comes as the Russian Union of Journalists is set to host the 2007 World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a gathering of around 1,000 delegates from all over the world, which opens on May 28, 2007.

According to Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the RUJ, the eviction was based on an order from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to accommodate the expansion plans of the English-language news channel, which aims to foster a positive image of Russia abroad.

The Russian Union of Journalists, Russia’s largest public organisation with over 100,000 members, says it does not intend to comply with the eviction order, which is dated April 18, 2007, and gives the union one month’s time to leave.

An official of the RUJ told Ekho Moskvy radio that the union had been offered a new lease in return for surrendering part of the premises.

The Russian Union of Journalists and Russia Today share the building in central Moscow, which also houses the state-run news agency RIA Novosti, which launched Russia Today in 2005.

The RUJ insist that the union uses the building under a decree issued in the early 1990s by former President Boris Yeltsin.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists is scheduled to discuss, at its 2007 World Congress, the safety of journalists in Russia and what it calls “the crisis of impunity” for those who harass, and sometimes kill, media workers. The special session of the congress is to be addressed by Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader.

Media analysts are of the opinion that, as journalists from around the world gather in Moscow for their biggest gathering, the spotlight will be on union rights, media freedom and the safety of journalists. These issues, they say, are bound to make the Russian authorities uneasy.

There has been friction in the Russian media – between the state-owned players and independent players – since the collapse of communism in 1991.

The eviction notice comes close on the heels of several other actions aimed at curbing media independence and the dissemination of alternative views.

Unhappy incidents that occurred recently include the murder in 2006 of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the mysterious death in March 2007 of defence correspondent Ivan Safronov, from the business daily Kommersant, who fell from the window of his flat in Moscow.

In the middle of April 2007, the police had raided the offices of Internews Russia (recently re-registered as the Educated Media Foundation.) The Educated Media Foundation has been a Russian-run, non-governmental organisation since the mid-1990s, specialising in training broadcast journalists, technicians and managers.

It also helps local journalists launch television news programmes and documentaries focusing on their own cities and villages, as an alternative news source to the state-run and Moscow-based channels.




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