Top Russian journalist flays state TV at gala

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A top Russian journalist astonished the audience at a glitzy awards ceremony by launching a lacerating attack on the slavishly loyal news reporting of state television, media reported Friday.

Leonid Parfyonov, a top television journalist who rose to prominence in the 1990s when independent channels enjoyed a relatively free rein, said that the endless replaying of protocol events resembled news in Soviet times.

Curiously, he made the speech at an awards ceremony organised by state-owned Channel One television that appeared to be one of the main targets of his attack and his comments were published in full on the channel's website.

Parfyonov said after the 1990s state control over television news had increased to such an extent channels started to broadcast "not information but PR or anti-PR on behalf of the authorities."

"The correspondent is then not a journalist but a bureaucrat following the service and logic of obedience," he said.

Russian state television is notorious for filling its news broadcasts with institutional reports of President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin receiving officials or attending summits.

Parfyonov said this obsession with protocol events -- and the implied support for the protagonists -- was "familiar to anyone who remembers the Central Television of the USSR."

"This is not news, it's just old stuff that becomes habitual to broadcast in such situations."

"Things can get shown without the slightest reason. In the garden of television news, any vegetable can look like an important figure just by virtue of being regularly on screen."

Footage of the ceremony posted on Youtube showed some guests as the black-tie dinner looking aghast at Parfyonov's comments.

In a heavy irony, Channel One edited out the controversial portions of the speech in its news bulletins.

Parfyonov was awarded with the first ever prize for excellence in television in the name of Vlad Listyev, a legend of Russia's post-Soviet journalism who anchored much-admired shows until his assassination in March 1995.

In his speech, he paid tribute to Kommersant newspaper reporter Oleg Kashin who was brutally beaten up earlier this month and is recovering in hospital after several operations.

Parfyonov was a leading journalist for independent television NTV in what was seen as a golden era for Russian television before the state reimposed tight control during the Putin presidency.

© 2010 AFP

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