“Russian regional media need institutional reform”

According to influential stakeholders within the Russian media industry there is need for a significant change when it comes to balancing state funded media and commercial media. In an interview with Venera Yakupova for the Russian magazine ”Journalist”, Yuri Purgin, the Director General of Altapress, calls for institutional change in the funding model for Russian media and the introduction of a new system for economic support to governmentally owned media.
The following is a translated expert from the interview published in the September issue magazine ”Journalist”.

 

Venera Yakupova: What is your view on the Russian media landscape?
Yuri Purgin: There is a need for an institutional reform within Russian regional media industry, which today is greatly deformed. The local authorities control the majority of the regional media when the two should be kept separately. Media must be independent, carry out the responsibility towards its consumers and make the audience grow.

There are good conditions for such a reform. If the funds that flow from regional government authorities to regional media where made available should it be enough to make the necessary changes within the media industry.

There should be a balance between public media and private commercial media. Public media should not be financed with funds affiliated with governing structures, but by all means from an all-Russian foundation, that does not have anything to do with local or regional policymakers. As soon as the media gets too close to the ones in power, the competition between political candidates is affected, as well as the democratic development.

It is even worse that citizens does not get the unbiased coverage of the events in their region or city, but instead have to consume news that barely has anything to do with the real world and that the readers does not believe in.

Venera Yakupova: How should the ideal relations between media and those in power look like?
Yuri Purgin: If you analyze how the relations look in other countries you can conclude that there are many good examples. The media should not be totally dependent on the government, but instead be an important institution to point out important social issues that the rulers should solve. When I say the rulers I mean the structures of power.

Once again I want to emphasize that the media should not be affiliated with authorities. If this happens, we get a publication which sole purpose is to serve individuals that work with single local governments to achieve their own personal goals. Instead of journalism we get PR. The government should focus on establish regional public service media. These media should not the part in the commercial market, but be financed from a particular foundation, with the objective of serving a public audience.

This is routine in many parts of the world, for example with BBC in England. But when Russia started public service the BBC model was forgotten and something else was created that did not look like the real public service TV in neither shape nor scope.

Venera Yakupova: How would you describe the status of journalists in today’s Russia?
Yuri Purgin: The journalist does not have any status in today’s Russia. Mostly you can describe the journalists as the servant of a master. The fact that journalists serve the power structure is harmful for both the audience and the ones in power, since the authorities are not able to see themselves in the mirror of objective media.

This also hurts our audience since the journalism is replaced with PR, and the problems of society are silenced. I would even say that the journalism profession is about to die in Russia, despite the urgent need of independent journalists.

Venera Yakupova: What have Altapress achieved in the media landscape of Russia?
Yuri Purgin: We succeeded against all odds. We believed in the changes of the 1990s, and realized that freedom comes at a high price. Likewise we were aware of that freedom must be nurtured and protected on a daily basis.

We tried to design a model to help us become politically and economically independent. Today Altapress publish eight newspapers and magazines, broadcast radio and manage a news portal and a webpage for ads. The news portal is the leading regional Internet news source and as a matter of fact it is running with profit. This year our flagship – the newspaper ”The Free Course” – turns 25 years. We have launched a school of practical journalism, where we teach basic journalism skills to students from different collages. We own the printing works that not only print newspapers and magazines, but also packaging for medicine and groceries, which gives us extra revenue and a relation to the advertisers. We have our own distribution system called ”Rospechat-Altay” that provides alternative ways of distribution and has the widest network of kiosks in the region.

Venera Yakupova: What’s it like to work at ”Altapress”?
Yuri Purgin: It is good, but fast-paced.

Venera Yakupova: Without arm-twisting?
Yuri Purgin: There is a lot of pressure. We live in a time when every media organization and every publisher is put to the test. The question is who will remain and not perish.

Yuri Purgin is Executive Director of Altapress, one of the biggest independent regional media houses in Russia. Altrapress publish eight newspapers and magazines with a joint circulation of 200,000. Yuri Purginis one of the founders as well as Board Member of Alliance for Independent Regional Publishers (AIRP), that unites publishers from non-governmental media from different regions in Russia.

Apart from implementing journalist training programs in Russia since 1995 Fojo have also been collaborating with AIRP since 2010 to 2012 and with their sub-organization “AIRP-Media” since several years. Yuri Purgin has at numerous occasions lectured as part of Fojo courses. He has won a number of prestigious awards, for instance “Best Media manager in Russia”.