Russia has become a mafia state under Vladimir Putin:Ian Birrell 

Russia has become a mafia state under Vladimir Putin:Ian Birrell

Ian Birrell is the former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, Co-Founder of Africa Express, and a contributing editor of The Mail on Sunday. He also writes regularly for The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer, The London Evening Standard, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Prospect, New Statesman and The Spectator.

This award-winning journalist who was also David Cameron’s speechwriter in the run-up to the 2010 general elections, spoke about the problems faced by the media,the condition in Hungary and his views on extremism, during a brief interview with the Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor-in-Chief, Hatef Mokhtar.

The excerpts below give us a clear insight into his views in regards to media freedom:

Organizers of The Oslo Freedom Forum consider it as a connection hub for people who are engaged in non-violent struggles for the protection of human rights, free speech and democracy. What does it actually mean to you as an individual and how has it helped you in your cause?

The OFF is a fine way to bring together people engaged in human rights so they can learn from each other, be inspired by astonishing stories from around the world and remember that however lonely their individual battles might be, there are many others out there engaged in similar struggles.

As a journalist who has campaigned extensively to protect the freedom of expression, what do you think is leading to a marked deterioration of media freedom in many parts of the world today, including the Americas?

I don’t believe that media freedom is deteriorating. Despite setbacks in too many places, whether in terms of electronic espionage or jailing and killing journalists, the overall direction of travel remains positive and technology remains a positive and democratising force.

UK has slipped five places down in Global Press Freedom Ranking report by Freedom House. The reason for this has been cited as the UK Government’s draconian response to Guardian’s reporting. As a former deputy Editor for The Independent, was this action by the UK government actually necessary and what challenges do you think free press faces in the UK?
As I travel around the world and some of its hottest spots, I remains more and more grateful to work in one of the most free and rumbustious media nations on the planet. For all our navel-gazing in the UK, the issues we confront are minor compared with the challenges faced by many of my global colleagues.

You are also the co-founder of Africa Express, can you tell us a little about the organization and what it does?
Africa Express is an organisation dedicated to promoting African music and artistic collaboration. We have made three records and put on a range of celebrated events that are famously spontaneous, featuring up to 130 artists from different genres, generations and continents. Those who have joined us include some of the biggest names in the industry such as Paul McCartney and Salif Keita through to exciting new artists such as Charli XCX and Songhoy Blues.

How would you describe the condition of media freedom in Russia?

Clearly Russia is one of the places where media freedom is being restrained to an alarming degree. It has become a mafia state under Vladimir Putin and its hostile treatment of the media reflects this sad fact. Clearly every country is evolving and history plays a role in how it shapes the present. Russia is no exception to this – but it is sad to see how this magnificent nation is regressing under its current leadership.

There is a rise of right-wing groups in France, Sweden, Greece and other parts of Europe. What would you say is the reason behind this?

There is a challenge for Western democracies, as we can see in many European countries. People have lost faith in many institutions, especially political institutions and the ability of politicians to resolve problems in society. And for a variety of reasons, mostly revolving around globalisation, some groups of people – often older and less well-educated – feel threatened and lashing out at minorities while looking for simplistic solutions from a mythical past.

Hungary has been cited as inclining towards becoming an Anti-Semitic state. What reasons, do you think, are behind this? And, how do you think the European Union should react in order to change the course Hungarian Politics is taking?
The situation in Hungary is escaping the notice of many people elsewhere in Europe but should be provoking some alarm. The EU should be monitoring issues such as the treatment of minorities, media freedom and suchlike very closely.

What are your views on extremism and do you think modern media has played a role in promoting radical thoughts and views?Especially amongst teenagers who harbor extreme thoughts due to various frustrations they go through at school or at home.

Obviously I am extremely wary of extremism, having seen the chaos and carnage it has inflicted on too many societies around the world. The media’s job, however, is not to censor but to analyse, discuss, educate, reflect and report on what is happening.

hatef mokhtarDo you have a special message for our global readership?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Lao Tzu.

All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times

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  • The views and opinions published in this interview belong solely to the interviewee do not represent any view or opinion held by The Oslo Times International News Network. The Oslo Times practices, defends and promotes freedom of expression. The published interview is in accordance with Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.