by Shaye Southall
On Oct. 25, a conversation took place between a group of Norfolk State students and journalists from Russia through a Norfolk Sister City program. In the meeting, there were discussions of journalism, race, free speech and some religion. With the use of an interpreter, the journalists discussed their reasons for becoming journalists and what it is like being a journalist in Russia.
In Russia, the government controls 80% all media outlets and what is broadcast over the air. The use of free speech is limited to blogs and using dot-com sites to voice their opinions on certain issues and current events. The internet is censored in Russia, so having a Twitter account in Russia means you can only use 3000 characters per day. If you go over, then your account is subject to deletion by the government.
Broadcast personalities in Russia can only report limited facts, with no adlibs or opinionated gestures or expressions. He or she has to report facts about an issue using what they call “the poker face.” They can show no emotion while on camera or inject opinion or emotion over radio.
The journalists spoke of how being journalists in the days of the Soviet Union meant that you were among the most educated and well-revered. The earlier journalists were considered pioneers who—given that they agreed with the government viewpoint—still had a say on what went across the air; unlike today, where Russian journalists are called specialists. They serve more as technicians who deliver information. Most of their education is in the liberal arts with a focus on classic literature.
Speaking against the Orthodox Church in Russia could get you a prison sentence if you are a journalist. The Orthodox Church in Russia is sacred and protected by the government. Having limited freedom of speech does not apply if caught speaking against the church. You will have to pay a price.
By the end of the conversation, Norfolk State University students gained valuable lessons about freedom of speech; it will cost you a price in other areas of the world. The journalists unanimously said “We want to be free in an unfree world.”
The video below is the report the Russian journalists filed when they returned home. While the report is in Russian, English viewers can still get a feel for what the journalists did during the rest of their Sister City visit to Norfolk, Virginia.