THE ARMY IN THE MEDIA

Mother's Right Foundation's experience of cooperation with the Media

by Veronika Marchenko[1]

(From "Human Rights and the Media" book, Moscow, 2008 (С))

The  Mother's Right Foundation's[2]  work experience with the media is, undoubtedly, uncharacteristic for an NGO. This postulate is not disputed by anyone from within the community of public and human rights organizations and has been repeatedly voiced by our colleagues at conferences, seminars and so forth. So it is that the  Mother's Right Foundation's history starts in the editorial corridors of the journal "Youth", and that a professional journalist is the foundation's director.

By working with the media, we provide information about our existence in Russia to those who (alas!) need our assistance, demonstrating the triumph of the human rights organization in the judicial field (we hope we inspire people in principle not to fear defending their rights) and, in the end, creating a brand - "our stamp".

The key method in drawing the attention of journalists and having them write material about the foundation is to create a "newsbreak/newsflash", i.e. it is interesting to describe to a person events that they are interested in, so that they will want to write about it.

 The  Mother's Right Foundation's successfully selected media-strategy systematically works on increasing the yearly quantity of publications about the foundation. We operated and continue to operate in accordance with Yuri Oleshi's slogan for writers "Not a day without words!" which has already brought us visible benefits:

  • - For example, in 2003, 99 communications (notes, articles, interviews, radio and television stories) were published in domestic and foreign media about the foundation's activity;
  • - In 2004, 135 communications;
  • - In 2005, 185 communications;
  • - In 2006, 272 communications;
  • - In 2007, more than 400 communications in the media (thus our plan with respect to working with the media was completed and surpassed, for a year, as we know, has 365 days).

Of these 400 communications, most press releases from the Foundation in 2007 found a response in the following media:

  • Radio station "Echo Moskvy" (taking into account regional stations - 24 stories);
  • Information agency "REGNUM" (18 communications);
  • The newspaper "Komsomolskaya Pravda" (12 publications about or activity and everything in difference regions of the Russian Federation);
  • Radio station "Freedom" (10 stories throughout the year);
  • The newspaper "Moskovskii Komsomolets" (9 articles throughout the year);
  • The newspaper "Novaya Gazetta" (9 publications throughout the year).

We must also note the correspondents of the regional departments of the television network "Vesti" (VGTRK) for informational support in 2007 of our court trials in the different subjects of the Russian Federation.

Of the regional publications (many of which the Mother's Rights Foundation has also established business contacts) we are pleased to note:

  • The newspaper "Permskie Novesti";
  • The newspaper "Respublika" (Republic of Komi);
  • Television network "Iuzhnyi Region" (from the city of Rostov-on-Don);
  • Television network "OREN-TV" (from the city of Orenburg).

In referring to the Foundation with the media, it is important to understand our priority - the real aid of every family of the deceased, who turned to us for support; at the center of our work stands the person whose rights have been violated, for whom we participate in court trials throughout Russia, conduct correspondence with official government authorities...etc. Information activities - the constant coverage of the Foundation - merely supplement the work, but cannot be a substitute for it themselves.

In 2007, we prepared nine dozen press releases, which we distributed among 200 editorial media.

Диаграмма тематики пресс-релизов фонда в 2007 г.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before continuing on the topic of the originality of our foundation's cooperation with the media, it would be nice to analyze existing topics on the ‘army' in the media. Topics such as style, genre, and methods of coverage (which, of course, relate to the challenges that decide, in making that particular edition, the editorial policy), are very remarkable and should be taken into account in any networking cooperation.

To begin with, I would like to talk about nuances such as the availability of specialized "military" media. The newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda - Red Star" from Soviet times (from the Central Organ of the Ministry of Defence, first published in 1924) is well known to everyone, as is the journal "Na Boevom Posty - At Battle Stations" (from 1954). In the ‘new' times the newspaper "Veteran" (from 1988), "Shchit I Mech - Shield and Sword" (the Ministry of Internal Affairs newspaper, from 1989), "Granitsa Roccii - The Border of Russia" (the FSB Border Guard service's newspaper, from 1994), the journal "Vestnik Granitsi Roccii - The Herald of the Border of Russia" (from 1993), and many others came into publication. According to information published in the newspaper "Nasha Versia - Our Version" in October 2006[3], "...the printed mouthpiece of the Ministry of Defence includes 9 central newspapers and journals, 11 district and naval newspapers, 7 newspaper associations and 22 joint. The total number of those working the for the army's pen, according to rough estimates, exceeds 5 thousand people,...the cumulative circulation of all these editions today does not exceed 150 thousand copies." However, "Nasha Versia" continues, "this number absolutely does not reflect the interest of military to military media - the lions share of the circulation is distributed by a mandatory subscription."

All of these publications, being departmental in their essence, have completely specific propagandistic-official tasks (which they themselves do not hide) and implement them with varying degrees of grace or straightness. The extent to how differently a departmental publication and a socio-political publication see the world (which is the accepted form of naming the remaining non-departmental, non-glossy and inartistic media) has become especially noticeable over a decade ago, based on the example of how the awful topic of the First Chechen War was covered. While Anna Politkovskaya (still at "Obshchaya Gazetta") wrote about the tragedy of thousands of mothers who were forced to go to Chechnya in search of their sons, I received the loathsome text of a war correspondent for a large military newspaper, who lowered himself to dirty insinuations about the "light behavior" of mothers who rescued their sons from Chechen captivity and painfully relished this topic.  It goes without saying that for me this is the most odious example (fortunately such examples are rare) but it lets one feel the gulf between how the army sometimes realizes itself, its structure, and how and what the public, conscientious journalist sees in the army. 

A publication in the №06 (10087) / 2006-02-14 issue of "Uchitelskaya Gazetta - Teachers Newspaper" on the topic "Does Russia Need a Military Press" [4] truly and instructively demonstrates well the higher emphasis of the difference. Let us focus attention on the fact that the author openly recognizes departmental military press as a tool in "informational-ideological opposition". Further, the author voices the opinion, that "(...)In view of their specific character, private media is not capable of carrying out a focused and competent line of information input on the national security of Russia, and cover the entire circle of these problems. A strong state military press can only perform such a task. They are often abandoned in unnecessary criticism of a "semi-official character". Nevertheless, the publication of official documents and material informing soldiers and society on the position of the political and military leadership of the country - which is their duty (...), requires highly professional journalist-officers with military education and experience of service, which converts them into professionals capable of understanding military problems".

In so doing, "Nasha Versia", in October 2006, cited for comparison data on the American military press: "The American Army does not have one officer-journalist. All army periodicals are issued via private entities."

Thus, regarding the specific character of "army" journalism and the problems of "cooperation" for all participants in the process, in addition to NGOs, the media and society, the state power ministries have begun to operate, having their own PR-service or press-service. Back in 2004, the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations said, in speaking of material titled, "Politkommissars from the Ministry of Defense go to the Central Media" (On the Press Centre of the Ministry of Defense): "...the primary task if this organ of pubic information consists not in the propagation of information, but in fencing off journalists from it (...) being covered by the need for the propagation of the "patriotic upbringing of the population", the power ministry performs the application, in this case, and for the performance of the functions of the state ministry of propaganda" [5].   

As such, reading any material in the departmental Russian military press can cause us to question whether we are reading the material of an officer who has journalistic skills or the material of a journalist who has pursuits... Because of this and other specifics, cooperation between the Mother's Right Foundation and the departmental military press is extremely insignificant.

All of the other forms of media are the subject of our study and the subject of our closest, most constant cooperation. Socio-political publications that do not discuss the army do not exist.

In many newspapers, for example "Izvestia", the heading "Army" constantly appears, some newspapers, like "Moskovskii Komsomolets" have a "Military Department"; in others, journalists from the "Society" or "Incidents" departments prepare similar material.

What the media-leaders would not say about the organizational function of the press, described as far back as 1902[6], is still alive today, and from Soviet times, when the form of address in newspaper editorials and journals took the place of citizens in addressing the courts and procurators, during the Russian period - the media not only informs society about something, it can also directly help, insofar as reporting on some scandalous case or problem is one way to help. Is this (in essence - the influence and the organization of this influence) the true task of the media - the question is debatable, but this is the current situation in Russia - this is, undoubtedly, the real tool for defending the rights of ordinary people. The main issue is the maximum competent and appropriate use of this instrument. 

A typical example in the duality of the example is the thesis, made public in February 2006 by the Information Agency "Novyi Region - New Region" [7], (correspondent Daria Travkina) "after the tragedy of private Andrei Sychev came into the public domain and caused a colossal reaction, general publicity from the media on cases of the violation of soldiers' rights in the Russian army became a very efficient method for dealing with the problem of hazing. Fearing punitive measures from the leaders of the Ministry of Defense and the General Military Procurator, servicemen now prefer not to hide crimes occurring in their units and, on the contrary, react to them with lightning speed and set up significant investigations".

It is possible to be glad that this is so. But one cannot help to ask the question, why is "general publicity" the only method that works in this situation, why is it stronger than the law, why do the leaders of the Ministry of Defense, without the publicity of a specific case, react "without lightning speed", and does this have to always be the case, in reality...

Nevertheless, the fact is that glasnost-openness (a word that has been partially forgotten in recent years) is a very strong argument in solving clearly extreme and dangerous incidents in the army, without which many cases would not be solved successfully. Daria Travkina's story from "Novyi Region" concludes with the words from the mother of the soldiers  Dmitri Smirnov, who was tortured in the elite Kantemirov Division and forced to sign a contract for military service. "I have just received a phone call from the Major-General, commander of the Kantemirov Guards Division, who said that at this moment my son was being transferred to Voronezh, to the motorized rifle division. He also said the contract that he (my son) was forced to sign, had been annulled, and that four people will be tried in court for his beating. They have already been detained, said the soldier's mother Roza Semeykina. Please, pass on my great appreciation to all the journalists who played a part in my son's fate and helped him!"

What genre (form for supplying information) do the media use most often?

In connection with army themes, and even more narrow, the topic of human rights violations in the Russian army, the media willing gives many briefing notes of an "extraordinary" nature (...a soldier has disappeared from his unit; the body of a soldier has been found; a criminal case has been initiated; the mother of a conscript asks for help in the investigation of the circumstances of her son and the like). Enough media regularly inform their readers in the genre of reporting (not always true, without going into details of processes with some sort of degree of detail) on court sessions dealing with servicemen; and publish articles on the problems of social protection of servicemen and their families. Three times a year (the Spring and Autumn draft, and also on the eve of Defenders of the Fatherland Day) the media becomes completely "Danish" (timed to coincide with the date), being full of interviews and articles on the soldier theme.

However, in spite of the apparent fullness of the coverage of the question, we perceive the sharp shortage of large analyses. Moreover, it is not important if the discussion does not deal with an analysis of HOW formal military justice is sometimes delivered[8], or WHAT scheme is a "legal" removal of the pensions of families of deceased soldiers from the Pension Fund or, finally, simply about WHAT type of army we need. The task itself - gathering a large array of facts, analyzing them objectively and drawing logical conclusions - proves to be either unsustainable or not demanded.

 There is another problem, which we have encountered - a distinct ethical appraisal is happening in the army, a symbol of conflict between morality and the law, lawfulness and justice, to what in journalism has always been devoted to this genre as an essay (which unfortunately has virtually disappeared). And it is not possible, here, to forget one of Russia's best journalists (in which ever genre she wrote in) - Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, who was capable of not only honestly and faithfully collecting colossal and heavy material emotionally, of not only writing but "opening" the publication on the strip, but give everything you see a moral estimation on the side of the "humbled and insulted". In her final material, prepared for our court case, Politkovskaya wrote, "the attempts to complete this metamorphosis in the history of the anguished soldier Andrei Sychev has been made many times - all so that the Minister of Defense would have the full right to blame the crimes in the army exclusively on the "bad people" - the poor health, mind and education soldier contingent, which is necessary, in part, exclusively, in order to drink and fight. Now, it is only a matter of time for the case of the death of Dmitri Panteelev to be turned into a legend: Dmitri in his grave and his family in shock..." (Article "A Soldier is Stolen from the Military Procurator's Office" Novaya Gazetta № 69 (1191), September 2006). Compare this with different publications from different journalists, occupying a different moral position (the newspaper "Gazetta" № for 16 April 2008)... "Meanwhile the officers of this unit.... do not believe, that Melnikov is involved Zhaharov's death. According to them, the condemned captain could not have caused heart failure in the healthy 20 year-old, with a single blow. "Melnikov isn't the issue. No doubt on that night the soldiers arranged their dismantling, and then blamed everything on the officer-of-the-day", said one of the unit's officers, on condition of anonymity. According to him, conscripts blackmail their teachers with complaints to the various Committees of Soldiers Mothers and directly threaten to condemn officers..."

As they say, you can feel the difference.

In general, the professional and ethical absence of Politkovskaya is as noticeable, as if they were to remove suddenly Pushkin's statue or the Bolshoi Theatre from the Moscow landscape. Most people have walked past them, but without them Moscow would not be Moscow...So it is, contemporary Russian journalism without Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya often looks like an invalid, limited in their capabilities...

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that we know and deeply respect those Russian journalists who are not scared to fulfill their professional role, in this sense, as a continuation of the work of Dmitri Kholodov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Polikovskaya...

We consider the best correspondents covering our activity in 2007 to be:

  • - Elena Pavlova, from the newspaper "Mosckovskii Komsomolets" - for bravery, persistence, a sharp pen and the desire to help other people;
  • - Aleksander Kolesnichenko, from the newspaper "Novye Izvestia" - for bravery, professionalism and belief in our sad topic.

We believe the best publication for 2007 on "our" topic (the same pravamaternoi - rights of the mother) to be the article "Spasti Riadovogo Feniksova - Saving Private Feniksov" published in the newspaper "Respublika" on 28 April 2007 by Elena Tontseva (Republic of Komi).

Returning to the topic of this collection, the principles of cooperation between our Mother's Right  Foundation and the media can be briefly formulated as follows:

  • 1.            We always speak with journalists in the same professional language, with a complete understanding of the tasks that lie ahead of us, in which we are always happy to help solve.
  • 2.            We never pay for publications about the Foundation and never take money for our expert interviews and commentaries (in some publications, such payment is sometimes provided), requesting to give "our" money to needy families of deceased soldiers.
  • 3.            We always insist on a reference in the texts of publications to the Foundation as a source of information (in accordance with item 3 article 49 of the law "On Media") or as a participant in the court case.
  • 4.            We never disclose the personal information of those people who turn us for help, without their personal approval.
  • 5.    We always track publications (as much as this is possible) on the Foundation, its work and its Trust, and generally on the topic, we try to keep abreast of emerging torrents of information.

In autumn 2007, we conducted a mini-survey of journalists.

A survey of journalists by the Mother's Rights Foundation

Dear Friends!

You regularly receive press releases from the "Mother's Right Foundation" on deceased soldiers in the army, which means that this topic worries you, and is, possibly, your "working" theme. We are now conducting a survey of the media and decided to ask you to participate in it. This will not take a lot of your time. Answer, if you please, our questions and submit them via our e-mail: mright@rosmail.ru:

•1.            How, in your opinion, is the topic of the DEATH of soldiers in the army covered in the media (as a whole)? Is it covered sufficient in detail, or is it given little attention?

•2.            If you are a journalist: in your publication (media) is this topic a rare guest, or does it have a special heading under it, that the topic raises regularly? Is this topic considered sharp, dangerous, or "black"?

•3.            If you are a journalist, which of your publications on the topic of the DEATH of a soldier in the army do you consider to be the most successful, received, or noted? Why?

•4.            Have you ever had to "open" material on "our" topic, or do you always prepare it "systematically", previously matched with the editorial form?

•5.            What for you is, most frequently, insufficient in the preparation (or proof reading) of material on the death of servicemen?

•6.            What publication/material from a different author (publication, media) on the topic of the DEATH of a soldier in the army could you quote as an example of a successful, noticeable, or important publication? Why?

•7.            Does our Foundation's press release help you in your work; do you have any wishes for us in our cooperation with you?

Here are some of the more interesting answers:

"I believe that the topic of the death of a soldier in the army receives little attention. The reason is either internal or external censorship on material of this kind.  There is no special section for the death of a soldier in the army in our publication, but we try to cover all events connected with "hazing". I believe that this is a sharp topic, and for that reason, in our publication, the "Incidents" department thoroughly follows the emergence of information of this type.

  I consider that a number of my publications, published in our publication, connected with the investigation of one of the scandalous cases in the Russian army (bringing to suicide and then the death of former soldier Radik Khabirov) have not been published in vain. Aside from the thousands of responses from readers on this topic, it was possible for me to organize a collection of funds for the soldier, not only in Russia, but also in the far and near abroad. Unfortunately, in my view, because of the insufficient coverage of this case in the central media (as it was with the case of private Sychev), there was no radical help and Radik died.

Material does not necessarily have to open. If information appears, the material arises in the network regardless of the plans for the week.  More often than not, there is a lack of patience to "uncover" soldiers and their habit of immediately blaming the whole incident on the conscript. In general, I would like there to be more contact between the employees of the Committee of Soldiers Mothers and different organizations, with whom it would be possible to be connected on the telephone in order to fully maximize and quickly get information on a particular occasion.

Unfortunately, I now no longer remember, insofar as status has changed, and, respectively, in the head with the mass of information on-line. I only remember that I read a lot of interesting articles in the newspaper "Izvestia"".

(The editor-in-chief of the information service from a well known internet-publication.)

 *  *  *

"...The topic of a dead and mutilated soldier in the army is voiced quite often in the media. However, as a rule, the discussion deals with the "resonance" of the crime (as in the case of Sychev, Rydakov, Sikkonen and others). If the case was just like these, the media coverage would be long and precise.

The topic comes up regularly in our publication. You can often hear people define it as "Nonsense"

The most noted publication for me was, perhaps, the case on the death of Evgeni Fomovski - there was a lot of feedback. It is difficult to remember everything as there was a lot of written material.

Material always needs to "open". Once the editor gives "permission to proceed", the article is prepared in the planned order. In general, everything depends on the personality of the editor: so long as we had females, the subjects were always "happy". A man has different priorities - scandals, games behind the scenes, weapons.

During preparation, there is usually a lack of commentaries from the command, which is interesting to listen to as they present their version. The logic of the serviceman is unique.

It is difficult to say. It seems that Irina Kyksenkova at Moskovskii Komsomolets wrote how in Saint Petersburg a guy worked as a farm laborer (actually, his commander order him into slavery) for someone else's uncle, the one called general, who taunted him, beat him, starved him, and held him by a chain. Nevertheless, he still escaped. He was extremely exhausted.

  • •6.            Do the Foundation's press releases help you in your work?
  •  - Yes, it would otherwise be complicated to learn about similar crimes. The military procurator's office will never propose something similar."

 (Chief correspondent for a large federal newspaper)

*  *  *

In conclusion, I note that the topic of the army objectively leaves no such newspaper - journal entry as "Incidents" or "incident" until the army ceases to be in peacetime the producer of "cargo-200" and "cargo-300" on its own territory. In this particular case, journalists are in the situation of being the people on which depends how long this will continue. The task of the public organizations parents of deceased soldiers and Soldiers' Mothers, is to be persistent in their search among journalists of like-minded adherents, and actively work to ensure that abstract information on the topic turns to serious analysis and extensive public discussion on whether or not we need THAT KIND of army, and indeed, what kind of army we do need.


[1] The chairwoman of the Board of the Mother's  Right Foundation

[2] The Interregional Charitable Public Foundation (Their website: http://mright.hro.org/) has been defending the rights of parents of dead soldiers since 1990. The general direction of the Foundation's activity focuses on providing such families with free legal aid, and judicial protection of their rights in criminal and civil cases.

[3] http://www.press-attache.ru/Article.aspx/mediapr/2949

[4] http://www.ug.ru/issues/?action=topic&toid=461

[5] http://www.2001.smi-nn.ru/?id=26734

[6] "The newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitator; it is also a collective organizer..."  V.I.Lenin "What to Do?" 1902.

[7] http://www.nr2.ru/ekb/55788.html

[8] For example, "Novyi Izvestia - New Izvestia" from 31 March 2008, "For killing a soldier an Ensign received..."

 
 

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