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Tilting at Windmills? The European Response to Violations of Media Freedom in Russia

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For more content, see Review of Socialist Law.

This article is a study about the measures that European organizations take in response to violations of media freedom in Russia. Despite vigorous efforts, the media situation has not improved considerably. What are the reasons for the apparent inefficiency of the European enforcement mechanism? To overcome the tangle of sometimes contradictory historical, sociological, philosophical, and mere pragmatic explanations, one has to distinguish obstacles at the conceptual level from obstacles at the level of implementation. I will argue that insistence on a specific Russian mentality and another idea of freedom of expression in the Russian context is a mere rhetorical trick of the ruling political forces to hide the lack of democratic commitment in Russia and to avoid criticism from the West. Whereas these 'ideological' reasons—or, at least, their historical necessity—can be rejected, 'practical' reasons for the small impact of European measures cannot be denied. When exclusively addressing those responsible in the Russian government, European organizations underestimate not only reluctance by the Russian authorities but also the complexity of the whole situation. Without a change of journalistic behavior and some institutions closely connected with the work of journalists—and, most notably, a comprehensive alteration of public opinion—it is improbable that the situation of the media will change in the future.


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