“We cannot live with those who support Putin’s war“: TV chief who fled Russia | DayDayNews

On the ninth day of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, editor-in-chief Viktor Muchnik called TV2’s crew for a meeting in their small newsroom in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Muchnik told them that new wartime laws meant entire newsrooms could be jailed for reporting the conflict, and that TV2 had just been officially blocked by Russia’s communications regulator, as well as many other independent media outlets.

“We all want to make things better here, and at this point we can feel that we’ve failed,” said Muchnik, reflecting painfully on his three-year stint at one of Russia’s most resilient media outlets .

The reporters drank their glasses and nearly everyone cried. Muccinick then signed the entire collective’s resignation document. A few days later, he and his wife Viktoria, who has also worked for TV2 of more than 25 years, packed a few suitcases and flew out of Russia, probably for good.

“One reason is professional: what you’ve been doing has been killed. The other is human. Neither of us want to be in this space, in this country that is waging war, and living among people who support this war,” Muchnik said in an interview in the Armenian capital Yerevan that the couple now live with dozens of thousands of Russians who fled in the weeks after the war began.

TV2 has been a counter-example to the Russian media scene for many years, an island of media freedom in the Siberian university town of Tomsk. From its chaotic and idealistic beginnings when the Soviet Union collapsed, to various gritty battles with the authorities that culminated in anger, defiance, and eventual defeat, TV2’s history offers extraordinary insight into Russia’s past 30 years.

The channel is the brainchild of Arkady Maiofis, a journalist for Soviet TV who wanted to create a venue for free debate in 1991 when the Soviet Union was in its final stages. At the time, Muchnick was a young history professor, drawn to the idea of ​​making a political platform.The first photographer was a former police officer

“Arkady was the only one who didn’t know anything about TV—the rest of us were down the street. We had a VHS camera, we made shows and took them to the tower. They rolled it out for us,” recalls Muchnik road.

For entertainment, the channel broadcasts American movies: they find pirated tapes on the market and play them, happily forgetting about copyright issues.

The channel started operating in August 1991 during a coup d’état by reactionary forces that wanted to restore hard-line Soviet rule. As night fell on CCTV, TV2 reporters got the latest news by calling friends in Moscow to broadcast the latest news to viewers in Tomsk. Subsequently, TV2 sent a two-person crew to Moscow to film the event. Journalists sent the tapes back, and the pilot flew to Tomsk.

As a result, TV viewers in the heart of Siberia get more relevant information than those watching from their homes in Moscow, thousands of miles away.

In Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, the channel’s reporters felt they were riding the wave of freedom. Local politicians didn’t like TV2 much, but they felt compelled to come to the studio for an interview.

But then, when Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, things slowly began to change. “I didn’t like him from the beginning. I didn’t like his KGB background, I didn’t like the way he smiled and spoke,” Muccinick said.

Gradually, the space for free programming began to shrink. It didn’t help that oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky bought the channel, keeping his promises of a non-interference editorial policy but making authorities suspect that the channel was his personal mouthpiece.

By this time, TV2 was already a media holding company with multiple radio stations and two TV channels. When Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, a nine-story building to house the media conglomerate was under construction, signaling Putin’s intention to keep the oligarchs out of politics.

The channel survived Khodorkovsky’s arrest, but pressure from independent media has grown. In 2007, the channel received a series of unofficial warnings from Moscow.

“It’s been made clear: if you want to attack the mayor, that’s okay; if you want to attack the governor, that’s okay, but please don’t attack Putin,” Muchnick said.

“If you want to do journalism in our wonderful country, how are you supposed to keep Putin out of the way? If you have any problems, very soon you’ll get to the Kremlin because that’s how the system is built,” he said.

On May 24, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a video link to the prison provided by the Moscow City Court.
On May 24, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a video link to the prison provided by the Moscow City Court. Photo: Alexander Zemlyanichenko/Associated Press

The channel continues to host opposition figures such as Boris Nemtsov and Alexei Navalnywhen they visited Tomsk, most Russian TV airwaves were blocked.

At the end of 2013, TV2 sent a reporting team to Kyiv to report Maidan Revolutionand publish a report later annexation of Crimea This is very different from the style of national television.

“Not only did our reporting alienate us from the authorities, but it also alienated a segment of our audience who started sending us abuse,” Muchnick said.

A month later, the channel was taken off the air due to alleged technical issues and officially shut down in late 2014. TV2 has grown from a media holding company with more than 250 employees to a website run by a team of 15 people. Authorities have refused to register the site as a media outlet, meaning they are barred from attending press conferences or requesting official comment.

Still, TV2’s impact is beyond its modest capacity. During the Covid-19 pandemic, TV2 reporters got a call from a doctor who spoke of a disaster that state TV pretended not to exist. People have sent footage of patients lying on the floor due to lack of beds.

The site broke several Covid-related stories: a man disguised as a doctor caring for his grandmother and documenting the hospital’s dire conditions along the way, and a family being told her grandmother had died, but when they opened the coffin The body of a stranger was found.

Working in these conditions is difficult, but possible – but intrusion Ukraine February was a game changer.

A new Russian law on “fakes” means entire newsrooms could be jailed for reporting. Under these circumstances, Muchnick decided to close the station.

“It breaks my heart that we cannot communicate to people what is happening in their own country,” said TV2 photographer Alexander Sakalov. “People don’t want to know. They want flowers and birds. Well, now all the independent media across the country are going to be shut down and people are going to get what they want,” he said.

Now, from Yerevan, Muchniks is in touch with other journalists from independent regional media who have also fled Russia, trying to coordinate future work. They are also working on a project called Witnesses to interview Russians about their feelings about the war and how the decision changed their lives. Some have fled, but others are still in Russia, who declined to be interviewed anonymously.

“Despite the risks, some people think it’s important to show up. If you go to a protest, you might get arrested and no one will see you, but it’s a way for them to show they don’t agree with this war,” Victoria said. Say.

Many interviewees told the Muchnicks that they had fallen out with their families over their opposition to the war, and that Victoria had a similarly difficult conversation with her own mother, 82, who watched mostly national television.

“She was very upset when we left. She really wanted us to stay and she said, ‘Why are you talking so much when you can’t be quiet?'”

Like many recent Russian immigrants, the Muchniks were deeply disappointed that their years of work had failed to bring about a different kind of Russia, and were saddened that they had no choice but to flee.

They want to be able to continue to have influence on Russian politics from abroad, but insist they won’t return until politics changes.

“It is very difficult to survive in this atmosphere of militaristic hysteria. We will not go back until the regime falls,” Victor said.