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‘Russia and the West have reversed the roles. We are a beacon of free speech now’ – Dmitry Kiselyov

April 4, 2014   ·   0 Comments

 

Last month, Russian journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, host of the popular Vesti Nedeli news show and head of the media conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya, became the world’s only journalist to be targeted by political sanctions. The European Union put him on the list of Russians who are banned from traveling to the EU as well as possessing real estate and accounts there. The World Press Freedom Committee, a leading media watchdog, condemned travel restrictions imposed on him. In an interview with the Moscow-based Izvestia newspaper, Kiselyov described the sanctions as an infringement on the freedom of speech of not just an individual journalist, but of the entire journalistic community. In the modern world, Russia and the West have reversed the roles, Russia becoming the chief defender of democracy and free speech, he said. Below is an abridged version of his interview.

You are the only journalist on the sanctions list. Did you expect it?

This concerns all journalists. As far as I can remember, this is the first ever time that international sanctions were brought against a journalist. And the fact that those sanctions had been initiated by Europe shows that EU officials actually disregard the freedom of speech. This is a very unpleasant and dangerous precedent – a virtual betrayal of European values. If this precedent is legalized, if the journalistic community – European, American or of any other country – fails to respond, to come up with its assessment, that would mean that journalists agree that this is legal. It is a cardinal civilizational shift – it means that the freedom of speech is no longer needed, that it’s no longer valued.

The wording is very odd – you are denied entry as a Russian citizen, as an individual, but may travel to EU member states as a journalist.

I don’t know if it’s really so. It hasn’t been officially announced anywhere. Assuming that I may still be allowed to travel to Europe on a working mission, this can only mean that Europe is backpedalling because it realizes that the sanctions are restricting the professional activities of a journalist. Europe is aware that it has put itself in an embarrassing situation and that it will have to explain the motives behind its own decision. If we assume that I may, after all, be allowed to travel to Europe – and they accuse me of doing professional propaganda – then Europe finds itself in an absolutely ridiculous paradoxical situation: want to do professional propaganda? – here you are, come and do it, but you are barred from coming as a tourist… Is this not schizophrenia?

If it runs against logic, than what was the point in bringing the sanctions?

I can’t see the point. It’s ridiculous, it’s just absurd. The sanctions don’t affect me as a personality. Rather, the aim is to force me to change my behavior. My assets, my accounts will be frozen – but I have none of these in the West. Those sanctions are not against my freedom of speech, they are against the freedom of speech in general.

Imposing sanctions has become a trend of sorts. And it’s always the US and the EU that bring them. You are the only journalist to be hit by sanctions so far. Does this embarrass you?

A strange story, indeed. They say I am a chief propagandist. It’s either delirium or ignorance of the realities.

US and the EU may display ignorance, but the list includes the most powerful proponents of a strong state, maybe someone supplied them these names, including yours?

And I even know the people responsible. Sergey Parkhomenko and Alexei Navalny were the ones compiling the lists. They are not even making a secret of it. But if Europe wants to listen to opinions of men whose support in Russia is miniscule, it is hard to expect them to make sound decisions, especially regarding Russia. This behavior of Western countries borders on schizophrenic. This is where we’re getting back to it.

What happens to the freedom of speech in European countries after they hit a journalist with sanctions? Do they seek to implement bans on certain topics and on journalist activity in general? If there are certain measures being applied to a foreign journalist, why not disseminate the principle they’re based on throughout the EU?

Working for a state media agency, a journalist automatically gets labeled as ”propagandist”. Your show’s ratings are soaring and no one remains indifferent towards you. Are you a chief propagandist?

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, by his decree of December 9th, appointed me as the head of the new international news agency Rossiya Segodnya. These sanctions caught me and our agency during a period of reorganization, when Rossiya Segodnya did not even have a chance to demonstrate its “propaganda” to the world. By then we did not even present a single new brand of ours, and our main product, the newswire in English, French and Spanish, was only launched on April 1st, long after the sanctions were implemented.

One could argue that these sanctions are some sort of prevention measure, to hit our “propaganda” before it becomes full-fledged. Then again, all of the Western news agencies, like Reuters or Associated Press, are basically forcing their points of view upon their audience. They are propagandist to the core: declaring the order of the day, telling people how, when and about what they should think.

Most likely your agency will also have a political agenda of some sort.

Of course, though we did not have enough time for it yet. All news agencies do that. In today’s world, information, its selection, evaluation, rendering and processing, whether we’re talking about social networks or movies – it is essentially all about boosting a system of values, creating an opinion on events, if you will. But it would seem that the European countries are allowed to have such agencies while Moscow is strictly forbidden from following suit. Obviously, Russia wants to compete with the West in the field of global information, because info wars today became the new norm of life as well as one of the chief methods of warfare. For example, in Syria Americans lost a war and nothing happened. In Crimea they lost an info war and nothing happened either. Back in the day a major offensive was preceded by an artillery barrage, now it is an info barrage.

So the sanctions against you are not related to the creation of this new agency?

I am certain that the key vexing factor for these people was Vesti Nedeli: a notable info product, a weekly news round-up show with an author perspective on the current events. It is popular, well-known and loved, and according to a recent survey by the Public Opinion Foundation it ranks first in the majority of aspects out of all news shows on all of Russia’s TV channels. Vesti Nedeli has a lot of influence in Russia and promotes, if I do say so myself, healthy values and healthy patriotism. I’m positive that Vesti Nedeli was the real reason for these sanctions.

Other countries also have news round-up shows, yet their authors are not being slammed with sanctions. Maybe it is about something you have said?

All the notable commentators are usually older people, like me (I’m almost 60 years old), experienced, with a significant background and a long history of journalism. Hence these professionals have a right to voice their opinion in shows like these and they do just that. And the society takes heed of their words, because people like these have their reputation, because for many years they themselves and the way they evolved were subjects to public scrutiny. People trust such commentators. And in such a case trust could actually be measured. The more trusted a commentator is, the more powerful he is, though such power implies an equal level of responsibility as well. In any case, there are only a few scores of such people in the world, citizens of the world powers who host such shows. They are unique. And while some of them are better at what they do than others, they are all essentially doing the same thing – they narrate and interpret information, always taking the national interests of their country into account. So some are allowed to play this game while others are not? Is this what they think in the EU?

That means that their own can do it while the outsiders cannot. Maybe they reacted to that saying about gays – you know, about “burning and burying the hearts” of gays killed in traffic accidents?

This is a complete and utter betrayal of the freedom of speech. I have a clear stance regarding gays. Gay culture can exist in Russia; de facto it already exists here. But it is a minority culture, and its status will remain unchanged, because a minority culture should not be forced upon the majority, especially by propaganda. I don’t believe that a non-traditional sexual orientation is a disease. I don’t even think that it defies the physiological standard, but it most definitely violates the social standard. Every country has a right to have its own social standard, and ours is called “family”. Russia has to maintain its social standard because it is vital to its continued existence, because Family means childbirth, and we have got a demographic crisis on our hands. In this situation, promoting gay culture equals self-destruction. We are not obliged to agree to such proposals, are we?

Which side is drawing the new iron curtain?

We have reversed the roles. Russia stands for the freedom of speech, while the West does not. In Russia, you can say whatever you want, we have a variety of TV channels, the Internet is not blocked, there is a whole range of radio stations and newspapers. There are no bans on books. Everything can be printed. Unacceptable is only what is directly forbidden by the Constitution.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was not going to deny Western journalists entry to Russia. We do not mirror them in this sense.

Of course, because Russia has a moral high ground. In Russia, we have experienced times when the freedom of speech was violated, like during Stalin’s period. The Iron Curtain era is over. Strange as it may seem, we are now reversing the roles. In fact Russia is a beacon of free speech today. We can use and even abuse the freedom of speech here. So the EU sanctions are not aimed at me or someone in Russia, they are aimed at European values in Europe itself. Thus the European Union proclaims that it does not regard the freedom of speech as a top priority. That is the problem.

Incidentally, the United States did not impose any sanctions on you. What does it mean?

No, they did not impose any sanctions, they delegated this to the Europeans, thus framing them. This is another step toward the destruction of Europe. Just like eavesdropping on Angela Merkel and industrial espionage. For America, Europe is a competitor. It is an open secret.

Do you regard journalism as propaganda? Some people say jounarlism as such is dead.

Journalism is more than just a profession. It is a environment within society. It is an environment that enables the circulation of information, ideas, values, visions of good and evil, and it just cannot die. Especially professional journalism. Please don’t confuse irresponsible bloggers and professional journalists. A professional journalist follows the accepted ethical norms, never lies, checks facts. Mistakes? They are possible. What matters is your attitude to them. For instance, in my Vesti Nedeli show on December 8 I mistook the building of the Ukrainian presidential administration for the building of the Ukrainian government. So it looked like the first instances of violence on the militants’ part, with broken helmets and blood, was during the assault on the administration, while it took place on November 26, when the government building was attacked. With a hindsight, we realize that this was done by Right Sector (saying this, Kiselyov shows a broken Berkut helmet found on the spot). In my next show, on December 15, I apologized – without any coercion – for the confusion and, reconstructing the timeline of events, added that it did change the fact that violence was not started by Berkut.

Anyone can mistake. For instance, Barack Obama said during last week’s EU-US summit in Brussels that Kosovo cut off from Serbia after a referendum. In reality, no referendum ever took place in Kosovo. I haven’t heard Obama apologize…. So it all depends on your attitude to your mistakes, your either recognize them or not. This is why professional media are more trusted. After the 20th century’s traumas, repressions, breakup of the country, destruction of the church, decimation of our nation, we found ourselves in an atmosphere or disbelief – lack of value. They need to be revived. Vacuum of values is called anomia. In a human’s case, this condition is considered pre-suicidal. And we have societal anomia we are only beginning to overcome, but we are told: “Stay there!”

The Kremlin is known to have cooperated with Ketchum, a US-based PR company. Do you think it is acceptable when western spin doctors are responsible for Russia’s propaganda?

I do not know if this contract is still valid. Let’s presume it is. First, I cannot evaluate how efficient it is, but let’s presume it is efficient. The world is global and Russia should not isolate itself. We do not want autarky, do we? Many foreign journalists work on Russian TV channels. They realize that the domination of the so-called Anglo-Saxon viewpoint in the information world is detrimental for their countries. Without Russia representing an alternative viewpoint, we’ll see emergence of openly totalitarian states.

Some of my colleagues have worked for 25 years on the BBC and now ask us to hire them, because they cannot stand these anti-Russian invectives, hatred, censorship. Western journalists often tell me quite frankly: they have real censorship. So it is normal that people want to work with Russia – they see it as an alternative and counterbalance. Russia provides for both nuclear and informational parity. And by working with Russia, they defend their freedom.

Full reliance on the country’s own potential, autarky, is not very efficient. And Russia even does not aspire to that. We are an open country. Russia, for instance, says it is ready for reciprocal visa-free travel with the EU, but the EU is not ready for that. We have reversed the roles. In Soviet Union, you needed a visa to leave the country – the USSR had closed itself for the world – and today we realize that we live in the best country of the world.

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