There is no Press Freedom in Russia: Larry Kilman
A New Yorker in Paris, Larry Kilman is the Deputy CEO, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which represents over 18,000 publications and 15,000 online sites worldwide in over 120 countries.
Kilman who firmly believes that there is a dire need to establish independent journalism in many parts of the world, has worked intensively in the media sector and with renowned Newswires like, Associated Press and Agency France-Presse before joining WAN-IFRA in 1998. In a short rendezvous with the General Secretary for Universal Human Rights Research Association and Editor-in-Chief of The Oslo Times International News Network, Hatef Mokhtar, Kilman spoke about the freedom of expression in various countries , the role the media can play to curb extremism and a whole lot more. Here are the excerpts of the interesting conversation that followed:
Can you tell us a little about World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers?
Our organization is relatively small in terms of the number of people working for it but it is enormous in terms of its membership, because it is a representative organization for newspapers all over the world, with 18,000 newspapers,15,000 online sites ad 3,000 companies in 120 countries.
How do you view freedom of expression and speech in France?
In France and in developed countries its good. there are challenges of course, and I would say that problems related to the regulation of media is growing in developed countries. But, overall the problems remain the same as a vast majority of the world’s population cannot express themselves freely and have no freedom of expression. Though things are changing somewhat in Europe and North America, there are still challenges that need to be overcome, even though the state of media freedom in these places is better than in the developing world and in oppressive regimes.
How did World Newspaper Association come into existence, and apart from French newspapers do you have members from other countries?
Well, we are based in France but that does not make us a French Association. We are a global organization with members from across the world. And the reason we are based in France is quite simply because the organization was formed after World War II to help rebuild the independent press in Europe, which, had been destroyed by the war and there was no independent press, at that time. It had been corrupted and co-opted by fascism. So, a few visionary publishers led by members of the front resistance- France, The Netherlands, The UK, US got together and created the association to rebuild the businesses. And their point in doing this was because they felt that he independent press needed to be strengthened in order to carry out its assigned role, so that’s why we are based in Paris. I myself am from New York originally and I am very happy to be based here.
How do you see Media Freedom in USA?
Again if we are comparing, the Unites States relatively has got a very free and very diverse press, but there are challenges primarily related to the pressure on journalists and media organizations to reveal sources. So there are challenges in practicing free press openly in the fight against terrorism. There was a case a couple of years ago where the US justice department tapped the telephones of the Associated press and similarly of its reporters, in search of government leaks and that has a chilling effect on free press, people can’t talk freely or they think that their conversations are being overheard by the government, This is going to reduce their willingness to talk, about a very disturbing incident.
There are also economic issues that come from the transition to digital news media. Nobody has really found an adequate business model for digital news and that causes problems because the question is, can news organizations continue to find the vast reporting teams that are necessary, to cover what needs to be covered in communities/ So in the States that is a challenge as well. People are looking for business models that will fund independent journalism. There are different models, but none of them are comparable to the former model of advertising and circulation sales. That has been disruptive and it is an issue for press freedom, the cutbacks on staff can have an impact on them too.
What do you think about media freedom in Russia?
There is none, It has been corrupted by the government. This is a relatively recent phenomenon after the Berlin wall fell there was a good deal of freedom, but under Putin there have been severe step-backs from that and it is very difficult to practise independent journalism in Russia.
What do you think about press freedom in Asian countries especially Central and South Asian countries, like Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for example?
Yeah, in Central Asia, there is hope but there is not much progress. In Bangladesh, you would say the question is financial more than anything else and everything else. Central Asian countries have many of the same issues as Russia has right now i.e, repressive regimes and crackdown on free press and it needs world attention, this is what it really needs. People really aren’t focused on Central Asia right now.
We are hoping to do a program in Ukraine soon to bring together Russian speaking journalists from the region, Central Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe, for an ethical seminar, because there is a great need of that and there is also a great need for business development in those countries for the press to flourish, because the markets are at war with who wants to pay for coverage and all , this needs to be be dealt with. There is no viable media market so it would be nice to see people buying advertisement based on market forces and not based on, who they are trying to support and who they are not trying to support.
What kind of support does your organization provide to the international media?
We do a variety of projects, we are a trade association so we do the classical trade association work like conferences, seminars, consultant and advocacy.
But we are a trade association with a Human Rights mandate, which is rather unusual. So we also, do the classic press freedom campaigning. We support journalists and media companies in markets where there is no freedom, by advocating for freedom, and we back that up with a good deal of media development training programs as well.
We work mostly on the business side. There are some organizations doing media training and though we too run a few journalist training programs most of our media development trainings are on the business side like–advertising department, marketing departments, overall management that kind of thing. And, we are working all over the world with that, we also have several key programs in that area. While, our journalist programs are funded by media companies that are strong enough to send their staff to conferences or to take consultant services.So our
Our journalist programs are funded by media companies that are strong enough to send their staff to conferences or to take consultant services.So our media development work is mainly funded by external sources, like foundations. government, non-governmental organizations.
Does the French Government support your work?
Not directly, nope, but we are a federation of national newspaper associations so we have 79 newspaper associations with us, including the two french associations–Regional Press and the National Press Association.
What role do you think the media can play in curbing extremism? Especially at times like these when there are several extremist groups like ISIS posing a serious threat to global citizens
Well, I think the classic role of the media is to shed light on society, to report and cover issues that are important to communities. Terrorism and extremism thrive in the darkness, where there is no transparency and lack of information flourishes. I think the media’s role is to freely and fairly shed light on what is happening in countries and that is their role.
What Message do you have for our readers around the world?
Just support free press. and to the readers I would also like to say that it is very important to be literate about what is credible and what is not, this is very important in the digital age. Readers should be able to differentiate between credible sources of news and phony news sources on the web. And, so is really important to seek out independent and credible news.
Note from The Editor-in-Chief: The Oslo Times International News Network supports World Association of Newspapers and News publishers in their stance to defend and promote media freedom across the world.
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