I found out this week that Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two women that were — and, as a matter of fact, still are — members of Pussy Riot art-band (using this word I imply that PR were neither a proper music band, nor an art-group — but something in between) started a new project. And it’s a media.
Why do I find this information relevant for the purposes of this blog? Well, let’s see. Pussy Riot is indisputably the most famous Russian cultural brand right now — and probably the most famous in a long time. Of course, we have to “thank” Russian judicial system that put these girls in jail for two years for their two-minutes protest performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior (and just to be clear: I think that no performance can be considered a felony, even if it offends a large group of people). Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova paid a tough price for their fame. But still. Now they hang out with Madonna, Henry Rollins and Yoko Ono; they’re deservedly welcome by Western politicians and charity institutions. For their next project they could choose whatever came into their minds: a performance, an art exhibition, a fundraiser. But they went with media, the purpose of which is to inform the public about what’s happening in Russian prisons and penal colonies (it’s also worth noting that MediaZone is officially founded by ‘Zona Prava’, a human rights organization started by Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova several months ago).
That, I think, proves yet again: media are important, because there isn’t a more convenient way to tell the truth to the people. Art can be powerful and influential, it can pose serious questions about our life and the reality we live in. Politics can be instrumental to accomplishing important humanitarian goals (not in contemporary Russia, though). But if you want to find information and to get it to the audience, journalism is still your best choice.
Of course, the credibility of Russian media is seriously compromised by lots of lies and deliberate manipulations. But I still think that the launch of MediaZone is of great significance — if for no other reason than because of the fact than no other Russian media reports about the state of prison system and about the life of prisoners. And their life is unbelievably harsh. In fact, as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova once put it — and, mind it, she spent two years in a penal colony — Russian prison in terms of its power structure and the relationship between those who are in charge and those who take the orders is a sort of miniature of Russian life itself. And by understanding the first better — and by fighting the injustice, — we can know a lot more about the life of our country.
MediaZone seems important also in terms of the diversification of media that we can observe anywhere nowadays. Of course, many Russian news outlets don’t report about prisons not because they deliberately ignore this problem, but because there’s so much going on that they just don’t have resources to address such issues. And that’s when niche media can come into play. Certainly, MediaZone is a non-profit news organization, but, generally speaking, it provides a model for many other media that can probably be even profitable, if properly realized.