Independent boss calls on Putin to ease Russian press freedom

Independent News and Media chief operating officer Gavin O’Reilly
has personally urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to boost press
freedom.

Speaking as World Association of Newspapers president,
O’Reilly told Putin that his legacy would be judged “as much by the
fate of the media – perhaps more – than by any other measure.” O’Reilly
addressed Putin at the opening of the World Newspaper Congress in
Moscow.

O’Reilly said: “All available evidence demonstrates that
a strong, free and independent press is a fundamental precondition for
truly sustainable economic, social and political prosperity.

“Whilst
once only the mantra of groups like WAN, this argument has now been
accepted, embraced and adopted by governments and inter-governmental
organisations world-wide. The World Bank President put it succinctly in
a recent speech, when he said ‘You really can’t talk about economic
development without talking about freedom of the press.'”

O’Reilly
told Putin there was “widespread scepticism, both inside and outside
your country, about whether there exists any real willingness to see
the media become a financially-strong, influential and independent
participant in Russian society today.”

Defending WAN’s decision
to hold its conference in Moscow, he said this was “precisely because
of the concerns of our community about the press freedom situation here
and the apparent lack of progress towards the establishment of strong,
independent media that can fulfil their proper role in democratic
debate.

“One of our several arguments to these opponents was that
we might finally have an opportunity, in coming here to Moscow, to
appeal to you personally to take vital new measures, to personally
create the tone, if you like, to help your great and fine country
develop the strong press that it merits and which can only add to the
prestige and influence of Russia on the world stage.”

Putin responded by saying: “The number of state assets in the Russian press market is steadily decreasing.

“Fifty-three
thousand periodicals exist in Russia today. It would be absolutely
impossible to control them even if the state had an interest in doing
so.”

He added that the fact that he and O’Reilly were speaking on
the issue insidethe Kremlin reflected the changes that have occurred in
Russia.

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