Following Sunday's elections to the Russian Duma, news reports abound of the wave of opposition protests that have hit Russia's current and historic capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg. In demonstrations unprecedented in the past decade, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets chanting "Russia without Putin!" and calling for the vote to be annulled, local and international press reported. And for the third day in a row, authorities have sent police and interior military troops to disperse and detain the civilian protesters, as the independent news website Lenta reports. As of Tuesday, at least 500 were in police custody, including several independent journalists detained while reporting on the rallies, the independent business daily Kommersant reported. CPJ protested the detention of journalists, one of them a Kommersant reporter, and demanded their release.
According to the official tally, Vladimir Putin's United Russia party got slightly more than 49% of Sunday's vote, but critics and some observers disagree. Independent media and Russian bloggers have been publishing accounts of how the number was boosted by the heads of local elections commissions. Among the most noted of the alleged violations: ballot stuffing and so-called carousels of groups of people casting votes for United Russia at different polling stations.
But whereas independent media, in print and online, has carried protest coverage (including tweets from the protest sites and police stations), those in Russia without access to the Internet or independent media have hardly heard of the clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The reason is simple: state-owned and state-controlled broadcasters--media with the highest penetration in the country--have chosen to ignore the topic altogether, the BBC reported. As of midday Wednesday in New York, news programs aired by Russia's Channel 1 and Vesti (both state-owned) contained zero reports of the protests, CPJ research showed.
This shocking lack of coverage by the leading broadcasters prompted Stanislav Kucher, a journalist with Kommersant, to cast shame on the news anchors of state media in an article carried by his newspaper, and call on them to toss away their journalistic awards.
Here's CPJ'S translation of Kucher's words:
"When for the first time in a decade in the center of the capitals of our motherland tens of thousands of people come to the streets to express their protest against elections, those that the president discussed on air, [and] you retain silence - this is unprofessional. When military vehicles are brought to the center of the capital and traffic is paralyzed, and you keep silence - this is also unprofessional. When [police] beat and detain your own colleagues from the mainstream media, and you remain silent about it...this is also unprofessional. ... You conceal from the millions of people the information that at a minimum can influence their mood. You can toss away all the 'TEFI' awards that you received for 'best informational programs.' In these days you shame both yourself and the profession."
(The TEFIs are annual awards presented by Russia's Academy of Television.)