Rice Says Independent Journalism Vital to Democracy

By Lea Terhune
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya “stood for what is best in independent journalism, a willingness to try to get to the truth at whatever cost,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the son and colleagues of the slain journalist.

“The role of the independent press is extremely important in society, particularly for democratic development,” Rice said.

She said a free press is a primary value in a well-functioning democratic government, adding, “People need information in order to hold their government accountable.” An independent press provides this service, she said.

Rice met with the group to express condolences for Politkovskaya’s death and answer questions from Novaya Gazeta’s editor in chief Dmitriy Muratov in Moscow October 21.

Politkovskaya, one of Novaya Gazeta’s most respected writers, was gunned down at her Moscow apartment building October 7 in what is believed to be a contract killing. She frequently wrote stories critical of the Kremlin, particularly on its policy in Chechnya, where she documented torture, killings and other human rights abuses. (See related article.)

Novaya Gazeta has been among the Russian national newspapers that have taken a stand critical of the government. Rice said it “represents a very good independent voice here in Russia.”

“[I]nvestigative journalists are very often in danger because by their very nature they expose the truth.  Very often they run afoul of those who have a lot at stake and a lot to lose if the truth comes out.  I recognize that it’s a very dangerous profession, but without investigative journalists who are willing to seek the truth, it’s very hard for a democracy to function,” Rice said.

She said the United States government has asked the Russian government to investigate thoroughly the murders of Politkovskaya and several other journalists. “[P]eople must begin to understand that those who have done this will pay the price,” Rice said.

According to the independent Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more than a dozen journalists reporting on crime, government corruption or human rights abuses have been assassinated in contract-type killings in the past six years. Among those murdered are Paul Klebnikov, Russian-American editor of Forbes magazine, two successive editors in chief of Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye, Aleksei Sidorov and Valery Ivanov, and independent television journalist Dmitriy Shvets. The CPJ ranks Russia as the third-deadliest place for journalists. (See related article.)

Rice cited the important role played by the American press in the United States. “[O]ur reporters in Iraq are very tough on the U.S. government.  It was the American press that exposed the very bad events at Abu Ghraib. That came out first in the American press,” she said.

She encouraged the Russian journalists to “keep on working,” despite the difficulties, because their work is a vital constituent of a strong democracy. The murders of journalists in Russia have drawn worldwide attention and demands for action against the criminals.  “You are not alone in your struggle,” she said.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Freedom of the Press.