Russian press treads new waters

By Laura Ingalls

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Newfound freedom in the Russian press has revolutionized journalism, creating a host of new topics for journalists to print, said Nadezhda Azhgikhina, department editor of the Russian magazine Ogonyok.

Azhgikhina spoke to 20 University of Arizona students and faculty Thursday.

Today, freedom of the press in the unstable government does not yet protect journalists from harm. Within the last two weeks, two attacks on journalists, leaving one young man dead, have put Russian journalists on edge.

"It was a symbol of journalists' fate in this period," she said. One man was killed by a package bomb after he uncovered a government faction selling arms. The other man was beaten up near his home in Armenia.

"It's important to influence journalists," Azhgikhina said, explaining the recent violence.

"Every week we hear new examples of violence on journalists."

During communist rule, Russian journalism was stagnant and the late 1980s saw the rise of weekly magazines like Ogonyok, she said. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 after the first coup, newspapers had new freedoms, yet persisted to censor themselves under the volatile new government.

"It was important that every person in journalism understood what he could publish and what was possible now," Azhgikhina


Journalists are testing their new, undefined freedoms by printing lifestyle, travel, business and pornography publications, which are devoured by both men and women, she said. There are no standards for Russian publications, with tabloid journalism and horoscopes popular in the market.

However, Russian magazines are trying to portray new images of Russian life without mimicking Western magazines, she said.

Journalists under communism developed a prose style that used descriptive metaphor to allude to subjects banned by the government. The future of Russian journalism lies in the ability to fuse the old style with new freedoms, she said.

Seeking to offer Russian women more serious journalism, Azhgikhina created the Association of Women Journalists, an independent union that serves as a support group for female journalists interested in promoting women's issues in the media.

It is common for women to read about how to marry an American businessman, create dresses with little money or view nude pictures which grace the front pages of cheaply-made newspapers.

Azhgikhina's own magazine, Ogonyok, dismisses stereotypes of women as simply workers, mothers or sex symbols. Instead it shows mainly urban women establishing themselves in business and politics.

Freedom of the press is also creating new positions for women in journalistic careers, she said. An increasing number of intelligent women are writing about security, political and military issues, once taboo for female journalists.

Journalists who write about these issues and those affecting Russian women often come under attack from other female journalists who write against feminism.

"Our task is to destroy these foolish stereotypes and discuss serious problems of women through analyzing women's positions," she said.

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