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Alejandro Navas García, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Natalia Sindejewa, champion of freedom

The author presents the example of the Russian journalist in defense of freedom of the press in a context where lies reign, the truth becomes civil service examination to the government.

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 10:08:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The M 100 average Award, created by a group of European editors and communicators, honors journalists who have excelled in defending democracy and freedom of expression. This year's award has just been awarded to the Russian Natalia Sindejewa (the 2016 award went to Roberto Saviano).

Sindejewa's testimony, backed by her professional career, is impressive for its simplicity and poignancy. Together with her husband, Alexander Winokourow, a former banker, she founded the Doschd (Rain) TV channel in 2010. It describes itself as an "optimistic channel". At first, it broadcast on the Internet and stood out for its B interaction with its audience. Gradually it began to cover various Russian regions via satellite and cable. It rose to fame when it became the only one to report on the protests following the 2011 legislative elections. The audience grew with spectacular force. Because it gave room to voices critical of the government, something unusual in the Russian media, it earned - unintentionally - the label of "opposition channel". Predictably, the government took matters into its own hands and began to harass Doschd: advertising cuts by local companies, pressure on foreign advertisers, censorship, cancellation of the studio's rental contract. Putin himself had to intervene, with one of his typical exercises in double-speak: while stressing that "no member of official bodies participates in operations to persecute the media", he denounced "enemies operating inside the country, manipulated from abroad".

The vicissitudes the channel had to cope with aroused interest and support, also outside Russia. For example, the Committee to Protect Journalists gave the editor-in-chief, Michail Sygar, the 2014 freedom of expression award award . But the recognition of international public opinion was not enough: the channel had to retreat and return to its origins; it now broadcasts only on the Internet and lives mainly from the subscriptions of its sixty thousand subscribers (a quarter of them foreigners). Live broadcasts make up two-thirds of its programming, with particular emphasis on politics: news, round tables, debates. In addition, concerts, documentaries, visual arts, experimental programs. High-quality television, despite the precariousness of resources.

The channel's motto is as simple as it is demanding: "We talk about important issues to important people". Sindejewa explains that he considers "people who still think, who still care about things, to be important. We've been working for them for seven years and we don't want to leave them in the lurch.... We attach great importance to dialogue with our viewers, because we could not exist without them. The advantage of the Internet is that we get their feedback on the spot".

Sindejewa's statements have an unmistakable twilight tone: "We are fighting to keep alive a profession that is slowly dying out: journalism. We contrast information, we give voice to opposing opinions, we are not subject to a certain line publishing house, as happens with the governmental media. I repeat over and over again that, when lies reign in a country, the truth becomes civil service examination to the Government. But that does not make us partisan, although we defend liberal values".

We admire the positive, almost cheerful mood of the people who make Doschd: "The fact that we are still alive is reason enough not to despair. It is very important to believe in oneself, and also to trust that things can change. That's why, despite everything, we remain optimistic. Sindejewa has no plans to leave his country, despite the repeated offers he has received: "This is our homeland! I see Russia as a sick friend whom I would not want to leave alone".

As is characteristic of true heroes, Natalia Sindejewa has become famous unintentionally, almost against her will: "I live and work in fear. It was not our intention to become a channel of civil service examination: we just wanted to offer a good program and earn some money. I live in the present, minute by minute. I breathe, I do yoga, I have a glass of wine with my husband from time to time, I try to be with my children. At final, I move forward. I feel an inner freedom that no one can take away from me".

"Dictatorship is a power that rests directly on violence and is not restrained by any law". Thus Lenin justified his program after the November revolution. The first measure adopted by the new government was to introduce press censorship. One hundred years later, without communism, circumstances have not changed much. In the latest ranking of press freedom in the world, drawn up by Reporters Without Borders, Russia ranks 148th out of 180 countries. The statues of Lenin and Stalin have fallen from their pedestals, but their convictions are kept alive in the ideologies of many politicians. For example, in the Podemos deputies, who have presented in the congress a gag law that would endanger freedom of expression. We also need Natalias Sindejewas.