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Foreign Correspondent -

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Killing the Messenger

Broadcast: 08/03/2011

Reporter: Eric Campbell

Activists published an anti-Putin calendar showing women with mouths taped shut.

Is there anyone, anywhere in the world more powerful than Russia's Vladimir Putin? His hold on the
nation is unyielding and undeniable and increasingly it appears beyond question. Putin's political
omnipotence and ruthless, autocratic style have effectively tamed much of Russia's news media into
compliance, little more than a fawning fan club. Political debate has been muted, political dissent
frowned upon, controlled and corralled onto the fringe.

And as Putin's authority tightens further, all but assured of a return to the Presidency again next
year, many people whose job is to question political authority and decision making at every level,
are being bashed into a pulp, or brutally murdered.

"That this is possible in Russia, that you can be beaten unconscious or murdered. The fault lies
not with specific people or specific bureaucrats. It's the whole atmosphere which has been in
creation for the past decade. This sort of thing became possible. A taboo had been broken." OLEG
KASHIN Bashed Journalist

In a revealing and often disturbing Foreign Correspondent, reporter Eric Campbell investigates the
spate of killings and attacks against the backdrop of political authoritarianism and a developing
fear about the future of hard won freedoms and genuine democracy. Campbell, a former Moscow
correspondent, discovers an increasing nervousness about candid political expression even among
Russia's toughest and richest. Billionaire Alexander Lebedev runs a newspaper that's seen a number
of staff killed but he's determined to persevere, albeit cautiously.

"I'm defending a very small area of my own private life in the country which used to live without
free media for many, many decades. I do remember that, I don't want to go back there. I want to
have the freedom of travel the freedom of consciousness, the freedom of faith. The freedom of
media, the freedom of election." ALEXANDER LEBEDEV Russian Billionaire

Surprisingly, given the death toll, there is an emerging generation at journalism schools willing
to fight on as investigative reporters while other young would-be journalists pursue a softer road
into light entertainment. Campbell explores the celebrated calendar spat that developed between
young students for Putin and others for freedom of speech. While one side revealed skin, the other
would much rather reveal the truth.

Transcript

CAMPBELL: Ksenia Selezneva is a model and a student journalist.

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "It's just my hobby. I like to study something new".

CAMPBELL: She and her friend Natalya Vasilevago go to the elite journalism faculty of Moscow State
University, but they don't want to be investigative reporters. They're looking for something more
glamorous that won't get them killed.

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "I really love TV acting. We have a special course of TV acting. It's very, very
interesting and it's very professional and I love it".

NATALYA VASILEVAGO: "When I first applied to study journalism I really wanted a journalism career.
I really wanted to work in television or radio to be famous, to work in the media. But now three
years later, I wonder if this is for me - if I want to be in this profession".

CAMPBELL: This is what can happen to investigative reporters. In November a well-known columnist
and blogger Oleg Kashin was nearly beaten to death outside his Moscow apartment.

(watching CCTV footage of beating) "Do you remember much of what happened?"

OLEG KASHIN: "I remember I bought a phone for my father. I was walking from the shop. This is my
street, this is the front gate where I came face to face with two men. One was holding flowers - he
hit me first. I don't know what happened next. I just remember getting up.

CAMPBELL: He was lucky to survive with scars and amputated fingers.

OLEG KASHIN: "They tried to kill me I'm sure because they could kill me. I could die".

CAMPBELL: Over the past decade, dozens of journalists have been murdered. Many more have been
beaten and mutilated. Few have been convicted for any of the attacks, but Oleg Kashin believes one
man is ultimately responsible, Russian President turned Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

OLEG KASHIN: "The fact is that this is possible in Russia. You can be beaten unconscious... murdered.
It's not the fault of particular people or bureaucrats. It's the atmosphere created in the past
decade quite consciously and deliberately from the first speeches of President Putin like "kill
them in the crapper". This sort of thing became possible. A taboo had been broken".

CAMPBELL: Vladimir Putin has long been Russia's most powerful and popular politician, thanks
largely to a fawning media.

He's usually portrayed as a can-do action man - even as a hunk. Many young people agree.

NATALYA VASILEVAGO: "I like Mr Putin as a person - as a man and as a politician - and I admire
everything he's doing for our country".

CAMPBELL: In October, Natalya and Ksenia joined ten other journalism students in a high profile
stunt - posing in lingerie for an erotic calendar. It was a very public birthday present for Prime
Minister Putin.

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "I said please call me Mr Putin and I left my cell phone number".

CAMPBELL: "Your real cell phone number?"

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "Yeah my real cell phone number".

CAMPBELL: "Did he call you?"

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "No he doesn't". (laughing)

CAMPBELL: "And what do you think of him as a political leader, is he good for Russia?"

KSENIA SELEZNEVA: "I think yes, yeah, yeah".

CAMPBELL: Natalya as Miss June asked Putin to take her for a drive.

"Some people say that as a journalist you shouldn't be praising Putin. What do you say to that?"

NATALYA VASILEVAGO: "I think that our project is evidence of journalism's independence because
everyone has the right to have a voice and an opinion".

OLEG KASHIN: "You see, the generation of kids who are 20 now, started school when Putin was already
in power and they haven't seen anything else. They think that's how it should be - that an ideal
career to become a police officer and take bribes, the ideal business is getting kickbacks in state
industry - and ideal journalism is PR crap received from the Kremlin".

CAMPBELL: Since Vladimir Putin came to power 11 years ago, a chill has passed through Russia's
civil society. Most media have gone soft or come under Kremlin control. Critics have come to be
seen as troublemakers. It's no surprise that many young journalists want to take the easy option.
What is surprising is how many are still prepared to take a stand.

"Masha, what was your reaction to the first calendar?"

MASHA TSITSURSKAYA: "We were upset, and quite indignant. We discussed it. We believe that all
students are different - not everyone is prepared to undress for PR reasons. We all have different
attitudes to government and so we do want to show that".

CAMPBELL: Masha Tsitsurskaya is also a student at Moscow State University. She saw the erotic
calendar as a betrayal of journalism.

MASHA TSITSURSKAYA: "Yes. I believe that a journalist should be neither in opposition nor
supportive of government but should have an independent view".

CAMPBELL: So she and some student friends decided to shoot a rival calendar.

MASHA TSITSURSKAYA: "We didn't have time to find twelve people. Some said no, others were scared.
Everyone had their reasons, so we just had six".

CAMPBELL: The new calendar asked Prime Minister Putin to explain why he'd muzzled the press and why
so many journalists were being killed.

MASHA TSITSURSKAYA: "The questions we pose are rarely discussed in the media. I mean, they are
discussed but they are suppressed. Journalists can't ask questions freely and have them answered".

CAMPBELL: Ksenia and Natalya who made the birthday calendar believe the girls were simply jealous.

NATALYA VASILEVAGO: "I think that's just stupid and I think doing this on the eve of the Prime
Minister's birthday is not very nice and plain disrespectful".

CAMPBELL: Disrespecting the authorities can have serious consequences. Novaya Gzeta, meaning new
newspaper, is one of the most dangerous places to work in Russia. In the past decade, six of its
staff journalists have been murdered, but these investigative reporters just keep on investigating.

ELENA MILASHIN: "Here she was sitting when she was alive and working in Novaya Gazeta".

CAMPBELL: Elena Milashin was trained by the legendary reporter Anna Politskovskaya, who was gunned
down outside her home in 2006.

"You've kept her desk as a kind of shrine?"

ELENA MILASHIN: "Yes, that's her place and it was full of papers".

CAMPBELL: Elena took over her job as chief investigative reporter, knowing she too could be
targeted. She has since seen more of her colleagues murdered, including Anastasia Baburova who was
just 25 and a close friend Natasha Estemirova.

ELENA MILASHIN: "I felt something like a very strong anger, fear and anger and I think I can't feel
both of them at the same time. I feel very angry and I'm still feeling like this after they
murdered Natasha Estemirova. I want to take revenge and I'm doing every possible thing to do so, so
I feel angry. I'm not feeling any fear anymore. I have to do what I have to and let it be what it
be. So that's the country. It's not the paper, its not that I will be safe if I quit journalism.
Nobody's safe in this country. The difference between people and me is that I understand that".

CAMPBELL: Novaya Gazeta is an oddity in Russia, a national newspaper with a brief to investigate
corruption and abuse of power. The co-owners are Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president and
Alexander Lebedev - a billionaire who's prepared to risk the wrath of Putin.

ALEXANDER LEBEDEV: "What I'm doing is that I'm defending a very small area of my own private life
in a country which used to live without free media for many, many decades. I do remember that I
don't want to live, to go back there. I want to have the freedom of travel, the freedom of
consciousness, the freedom of faith, the freedom of media, the freedom of elections and I'm trying
to defend it for myself purely egotistically speaking".

CAMPBELL: The last tycoon to cross Putin was Mikhail Khordokovsky who funded opposition groups and
toyed with the idea of running for president. He's spent the past six years in a Siberian prison on
tax charges and has just been sentenced to another fourteen. Lebedev has also felt the sting of
authority. His bank was recently raided by masked police.

ALEXANDER LEBEDEV: "There's a few law enforcement agencies here who hate Novaya Gazeta".

CAMPBELL: But for now he's confident the government doesn't want to scare off more investors with
another high-profile arrest.

ALEXANDER LEBEDEV: "Now with a verdict which is criticised all over the world, this is the biggest
hit on investment climate here. Much, much stronger than for example a small raid about a medium
bank like NRB or Mr Lebedev but I don't think this country and this economy can survive without
foreign investment. It is not producing anything except oil".

CAMPBELL: Like Putin, Lebedev was once a KGB spy. Now he's seen as one of the oligarchs,
businessmen who made massive fortunes in the chaotic transition from communism. They've been
allowed to keep their money as long as they stay out of politics. Lebedev has bought a degree of
protection by becoming part of Britain's establishment. He recently took over two London
newspapers, the Evening Standard and the Independent.

ALEXANDER LEBEDEV: "How can I defend myself? I'd like to have at least a few newspapers, a few
radio stations which can at least raise a hand".

CAMPBELL: But even his and Gorbachev's patronage can't stop the murders and for some reporters
there's a living hell.

Mikhail Beketov was once the editor of a feisty local newspaper covering the town of Khimki on the
edge of Moscow, but in November 2008 he was savagely beaten with iron bars. He lost a leg, most of
his fingers and was left with severe brain damage. Natasha Bezugova was one of his reporters. Now
she and her husband care for him.

NATASHA BEZUGOVA: "He was a difficult person before the attack. He was wilful and demanding. He had
a strong personality. Now he's exactly the same, but we don't always understand him. When he wants
something and we understand, that's fine - but sometimes he tries to explain and we don't get it
and of course he gets agitated".

CAMPBELL: While he can no longer talk, he's aware of what's happened to him and can point to the
exposes he wrote that doomed him.

NATASHA BEZUGOVA: "What happened was that Mikhail organised his own newspaper called The Khimki
Truth, in which he campaigned to save the Khimki forest and that included writing about the
corruption in our city. He was in possession of some facts, which he exposed in the newspaper. Our
local administration obviously didn't like what he wrote and you can see what happened to him".

CAMPBELL: Adding insult to injury, the mayor of Khimki, Vladimir Strelchenko is now suing Mikhail
Beketov for defamation.

NATASHA BEZUGOVA: "How can a normal human being feel about something like this? These people aren't
human".

CAMPBELL: Mayor Strelchenko has long had a combative relationship with journalists. His police
force is notorious for arresting and roughing up reporters. Oleg Kashin was attacked after writing
articles that infuriated the mayor, but he doesn't believe Strelchenko ordered him dead.

OLEG KASHIN: "Every Russian journalist wrote about Khimki administration because Khimki
administration was the most terrible administration in Russia really. I was one of hundreds of
journalists who wrote about the Khimki administration and I don't think I did more than the others
in that regard. What I will take credit for is being one of the very few journalists who got to
interview the Mayor himself. He's a veteran of the Afghanistan war who transferred the ways he
learned in the war to his own peaceful city district".

CAMPBELL: While Khimki's administration is notorious, the town itself bears a special place in
Russian history. It was where the Red Army halted Nazi Germany's advance on Moscow. A giant
monument of tank barricades marks the limit of the German invasion at what used to be a distant
village from the capital.

Well today Khimki is part of Moscow's suburban sprawl, the monument now dwarfed by shopping malls
and a giant Ikea store. And yet Khimki is once again the centre of a battle for the heart of
Russia. You see people here are testing whether people power can defy the might of Moscow and in
post democratic Russia, that's a dangerous business.

Yevgenia Chirikova isn't a journalist, she's a businesswoman but she's continuing Mikhail Beketov's
fight. She moved to Khimki so her two daughters could enjoy the nearby oak forest.

YEVGENIA CHIRIKOVA: "It's a very old and beautiful place. The air is clean, there is clean spring
water. We love it here and this is our homeland which is why we want to protect it. We don't want
this beauty to disappear for the sake of a project which doesn't solve the transport problem and
the purpose of which is to benefit corrupt people".

CAMPBELL: She's been leading a campaign to stop the government building a freeway through the
forest. The plan is to link the nearby international airport with a new road to St Petersburg.
Chirikova believes it will destroy the last wilderness around Moscow.

YEVGENIA CHIRIKOVA: "I'll hand out markers, paper and masking tape and we bind our names around the
trees so we don't forget later which tree we are defending. And when the time comes, when the enemy
is here each of us will know which tree to defend".

CAMPBELL: The 33-year-old's campaign has held up a project worth more than a billion dollars.
That's put her at odds not only with the Khimki administration, but the highest echelons of the
Kremlin.

YEVGENIA CHIRIKOVA: Unfortunately there are a lot of people now especially in the oligarch
structures with an interest in this project. It really shows that both Medvedev and Putin are
working for the oligarchs. They scorn the law and public opinion but the oligarch interests are
very important to them. For the first time in our history, there's a system where the high
authorities are intent on enrichment and stealing at the expense of their own people. We need to
stand up for our interests".

CAMPBELL: The authorities have reacted with undisguised fury to this troublesome woman. While she
hasn't broken any laws, her home is under police surveillance and she's at constant risk of arrest.

YEVGENIA CHIRIKOVA: "I could be arrested tomorrow. We've already had peaceful protests which ended
with us being illegally detained and behind bars. I am prepared for it, I'm not afraid. I
understand that I am fulfilling my duty".

CAMPBELL: It's very different from Russia under its first president, Boris Yeltsin. Back in those
days, protest, like press freedom, was seen as a new democratic right. The country was in a mess,
but there were strong hopes the repression of Soviet times was over.

When I was a correspondent here in the late '90s, it became known that the ailing Boris Yeltsin had
chosen a successor. Not Vladimir Putin, none of us had even heard of him, no, the next president of
Russia was going to be a democratic dream. A handsome young liberal reformer named Boris Nemtsov.

He was first Deputy Prime Minister, hugely popular and not afraid to stand up to corrupt
politicians. But within a year, Boris Yeltsin changed his mind and turned to the former KGB spy
Vladimir Putin. Boris Nemtsov's fate reflects the opposition in general. He's now a marginal
figure, unable to even win a set in parliament. On New Year's Eve he was thrown in gaol for two
weeks after taking part in a protest.

I caught up with him shortly after his release.

"Mr Nemstov twelve years ago many people said you would be president - instead Mr Putin got the job
and he's just put you in gaol, do you regret the way things have turned out?"

BORIS NEMTSOV: "Yeltsin made a mistake. He got his successors mixed up".

CAMPBELL: Nemstov is now trying to unite Russia's small and divided opposition into a force that
can take on Putin.

BORIS NEMTSOV: (Moscow rally) "I believe we will surely have justice. I believe Putin must be made
to resign. Russia must be free of Putin! Russia free of Putin! Russia free of Putin! Down with the
thieves! Down with the thieves! Long live freedom! Long live free elections! We will win!"

CAMPBELL: But he doesn't believe Russia will see a revolution of the kind that swept through the
Arab world.

BORIS NEMTSOV: "Egyptian society has huge amounts of youths, millions of youths. Forty per cent are
younger than thirty. If you look at the structure in Russia, we have mainly babushka and dedushka,
grandmothers and grandfathers. That's why energy of society is completely different than in Egypt.
That's why we face marathon to fight corruption, to fight dictatorship, to fight violation of law,
violation of constitution etc".

CAMPBELL: The young women who made the calendar for Putin won't be joining the fight. He's just
praised them in an interview with the model Naomi Campbell.

NATALYA VASILEVAGO: "Yes. I read that and I was buoyed by Mr Putin's answer. He said he liked not
so much the calendar itself but especially the fact that we girls had the guts to do it - because
people like to poo poo the government and people who praise it are subjected to mass criticism".

CAMPBELL: Putin is likely to be in power for at least another decade. Next year he's expected to
become president again, replacing his protégΘ Dmitry Medvedev. But every few weeks the opposition
perseveres, staging more protests, demanding freedom and denouncing Putin. After leading the
protests at Khimki, Yevgenia Chirikova is becoming the new face of dissent.

YEVGENIA CHIRIKOVA: (at rally) "Friends, I believe that we must put an end to this. Our numbers are
growing. Bring your friends on the 31st. Tell them they should not be afraid".

CAMPBELL: Many are afraid that Putin power will prevail and that those who hanker for justice and
democracy will remain out in the cold. Now is just the beginning of a long fight back for civil
freedom. There will be many more calendars to fill before it's over.