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“Conversion of Russia” Update:

The Lights Go Out on Russia’s “Free” Press

by Christopher A. Ferrara

Over the past few weeks this column has been relaying various news reports on Vladimir Putin’s slow squeeze on what remains of the “free” press in Russia. Under the pretext of “tax evasion” or recall of “debts” Russia’s largest private television network, NTV and its largest private TV station, ORT, have been placed under effective control by the Kremlin.

On April 14, 2001, The New York Times reported that TV workers at NTV were finally forced to end their standoff against a takeover by the Moscow-controlled Gazprom, the state gas monopoly. After 11 days of occupying the station, the station’s employees, including 10 journalists and five anchors, submitted their “resignations”. NTV is now a Moscow puppet, along with the other two national television networks. Not surprisingly, the first broadcast under state control said nothing of the takeover. The lead story was the approaching Easter holiday.

And now the lights are going out for other independent media outlets as well. The New York Times of April 18, 2001, reports that “this week the Moscow daily newspaper Sevodnya and the staff of the political weekly Itogi, a joint venture with Newsweek, was dismissed.” As for the ex-employees of NTV, they attempted to start up a new network through a local cable station, but the Times notes that “the government is now pressuring the cable station with charges of tax evasion.”

The Times notes that the “crucial factor” for “democracy” is the emergence of “independent newspapers, magazines and television stations. Now, one by one, these voices are being stilled.” The Times further observes that “President Putin has disingenuously tried to portray the takeover [of NTV] as a mere business dispute. But with forces friendly to the Kremlin now running NTV and Itogi, and Sevodnya shut down, he is the obvious beneficiary … Mr. Putin’s commitment to democratic freedoms appears to be a lot less firm than that of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.”

Well, when Boris Yeltsin is held up as the standard of Russian “democracy”, things must be very bad indeed in “converted” Russia. This is not to suggest that NTV or the other Russian media outlets represented the forces of goodness and light. As one keen observer from Australia reminded this columnist, the Russian media were and are pumping moral sewage into the decaying hulk of Russian society. But if the amoral characters in the press lose their right to criticize the amoral characters in the Kremlin, then not even the pretense of Russia’s “miraculous” transformation into a democracy can be maintained.

What a sad page in history this will be for the Fatima revisionists. Here at Fatima.org we will continue to note the growing historical record of shame for those who told the Catholic faithful that what we are witnessing today is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For heaven’s sake it is not even the triumph of the independent press.