Crimean journalists have Luzhkov to thank for a taste of “freedom of speech in Russian”


In Simferopol on Wednesday 21 February, there was a verbal wrangle between the press service of Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov who is visiting the Crimea and Ukrainian journalists. The disagreement was sparked off by the fact that the press service tried to stop media representatives asking Luzhkov uncomfortable questions.

Before Luzhkov’s short briefing, his press service asking the journalists what kind of questions they were going to put to him and which media outlets they represented, to which the journalists responded that they were going to ask about what was of interest to them.

A number of journalists, for example, told the press service that they hoped to hear the Mayor of Moscow’s opinion regarding the statement made yesterday by State Deputy from “Nasha Ukraina”, Liliya Hryhorovych in which she called Luzhkov a “dinosaur” and “pterodactyl”  The press service responded by saying that the briefing would be short, maximum 2 – 3 questions, and questions about Ms Hryhorovych’s statement should not be put. The Crimean journalists expressed outrage and decided that they would, on principle, ask a question about “dinosaurs” and “pterodactyls”. In their turn the representatives of the Government of Moscow’s press service advised the Ukrainian journalists to “learn a little political culture”.

Moreover some of the journalists heard how members of the press service telephoned the management of the TV channel NTV, whose Crimean correspondent was actively wishing to find out the Mayor’s opinion about Ms Hryhorovych’s  comments. As a result the question was never actually put, and instead of which there was a question about Luzhkov’s thoughts about International Native Language Day, observed today.

The Chair of the Committee on Monitoring Press Freedom in the Crimea Volodymyr Prytula, present at the briefing, told UNIAN that the position of the Mayor of Moscow’s press service had been “absolutely staggering”. “Journalists have already grown unaccustomed to such things and even if there have been timid attempts by particular highly-placed officials from the press services of the President or Prime Minister to tell Crimean journalists what questions it would be better to ask, this has been immediately nipped in the bud, even where the issues are hardly fateful and ones of principle”. Mr Prytula added that he was “stunned that (Luzhkov’s) press secretary should have telephoned the head of a Russian television channel following which the channel radically changed its editorial task and withdrew a question”. This is truly reminiscent of the early days of President Kuchma’s  last press secretary. At that time you could still see such things. It passed without a scandal, thank goodness, but how retrograde. Ukrainian journalists have already forgotten such things”.

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