This week another outrageous media scandal happened in Russian, which made me think about something we talked about in class earlier this semester.
Global Voices has the story. In short, Aleksandr Plushev, a radio host for Echo of Moscow, one of the leading — and most objective, albeit controversial — Russian news radio stations, was fired for posting an inappropriate tweet about the death of the son of Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff.
(Of course, there’s much more context to it, such as: a) Ivanov’s son had a notorious reputation and allegedly get away with a hit-and-run that resulted in the death of a woman; b) Echo of Moscow’s editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov personally knows Vladimir Putin, and many people think that the Russian president guaranteed a certain degree of freedom to the station.)
Was this tweet really inappropriate? In my opinion, yes. How evil Ivanov and his son might be, it’s irresponsible for a journalist to imply that a person’s death was a “proof of God’s existence or cosmic justice”.
Could a journalist be fired for that in the U.S.? Yes, as it seems, and there are a lot of examples.
But here comes the difference between Russia and America. The journalist wasn’t fired by his editor-in-chief. In fact, it was Mikhail Lesin, head of Gazprom-Media, the main shareholder of Echo of Moscow, who made the decision without even noticing the editor-in-chief. Which, of course, is completely outrageous and also illegal. And many people believe that this situation is just a pretext to get Venediktov, who refused to agree with Lesin’s decision, fired, too.
This is a good example of the importance of editorial independence, I guess. Yes, it is obvious that, when it comes to journalists being on Twitter, the border between a private opinion and a professional one is blurred, and pretty much anything that a reporter tweets publicly can be inflammatory for his organization. But it’s up to this organization, and not its owners or government officials, to decide whether a reporter crossed the line and whether he should be punished for that.