Sunday, February 15, 2009

2008 Press Review

To what extent does mainstream media take into account what bloggers say about developments in Central and Eastern Europe? This is the question one has to put to oneself as one threads the thin line between blogging and expertise. Is the blogosphere but a shortcut for covering issues too complex to write about facing a deadline or is there a true desire to present a second opinion beyond the everyday chores of public policy-media discourse?
A couple of examples of what hopefully is the latter concern my own writings and analyses. Thus, in June this year I was interviewed by Aleks Tapinsh, Baltic correspondent of Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) for the upcoming Riga Summit of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). The story - "Baltic States Want Energy Cooperation Despite Pipeline Row" - covered the same theme as has been the case over the course of the Council's existence, viz. environmental issues and economic development, with the recent addition of energy and pipeline disputes in the Baltic. Still, amidst the course of yawnful meetings and press conferences, the DPA succeeded in posing the crucial question: What role for Baltic Sea cooperation and the CBSS now that an overwhelming majority of its members are also part of the European Union? My reply was the following:

Without the EU the CBSS would be naught, but also the EU needs this sort of regional cooperation. In this sense, organizations like the CBSS or the European Dialogue in the Mediterranean are essential for making EU policies work.
In December, Gabriela Ioniţă of Romanian policy journal Cadran politic interviewed me on Russian domestic and foreign policy, sovereign democracy, the 2020 policy plan, and consequences of the war with Georgia. Quoting me, in titling the article "Russia’s strive for recognition as an equal in international affairs is ---the greatest flaw in Moscow policy,” very much reflects a basic argument, that the high politics of the Kremlin leaves too little room for actively pursuing Russian interests. Russia's foreign policy simply is too much a matter of existence and recognition, and too little one of strategy and action. In military terms, one would say that the linkage between strategic, tactical and operative levels is too weak. Still, attention should be given to the fundamentally more strategic thinking, which has developed in recent years - currently labelled sovereign democracy.

Coverage in Swedish media has largely revolved around a couple of reports I have written or participated in. Thus, following the publication of my 2008 report on Russian democracy, Russia - a sovereign democracy: a study of popular rule and state power in demise, Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet wrote:

Konnander also puts the finger on a more unexpected consequence of developments under Putin. Normally, one associates political stability and centralization with a strong exercise of state power. But Konnander shows, using e.g. the World Bank governance indicators, that so has not become the case in Russia in ecent years. Instead, "the state capacity to exercise power has been significantly reduced, why the political system becomes all the more susceptible to crises. --- Democracy in Russia has decline, but so has also the capacity to sustain an authoritarian rule in the long run. Russia's political future thus becomes increasingly uncertain."
Commenting on Russia's tense relations with Georgia, Dagens Nyheter quotes the study in extenso:

For Moscow the loss of Ukraine as political friend - the historical Little Russia - became a rude awakening from the illusion that Russia's rising political stability could also encompass its near abroad - the country's vital sphere of interest. The Kosovo 1999 intervention, Serbia's 2000 bulldozer revolution, Georgia's 2003 rose revolution - in the same year as the US-led invasion of Iraq - Ukraine's 2004-2005 orange revolution, and Kyrgyzstan's 2005 tulip revolution, in all formed a pattern, which the Russian élite interpreted as a ever-growing threat against Russia itself.

Hudiksvall's Tidning also reflects on my results:

Also during the Yeltsin era, one freedom or another could be somewhat arbitrarily limited. The difference is that now the limitations have been written down in a number of fluffy laws, which more or less give a carte blanche for authorities to intervene against about anything that they think is annoying.

Blekinge Läns Tidning directs attention to similarities between the old Soviet élite and its current Russian epitomisation:

Even though Konnander does not explicitly say so, similarities with Marxist thinking are striking - a very élitist perception of society. He also illustrates by many examples how the regions and the media have lost their power, and how Russians turn to the European Court of Human Rights instead of seeking redress in their own court system, as this is nowadays considered too fundamentally biased.

Whereas my contribution to another study, The Caucasian Test case, on the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, largely questioned generally accepted truths, the overall media reaction was one of portraying Russia as a growing threat to international security. Thus, Svenska Dagbladet wrote that "Russia chose its path in Georgia - the wrong path". Deutsche Welle wrote that "The Russian lesson was that the international community was not prepared, willing or able to add any costs to the Russian actions".

Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet reasoned along similar lines of thought: "Russia's actions now compels a reassessment of the prevailing world order". Västerbottenskuriren adds to this argumentation: "It is not the conflict per se - known for long - that has triggered the deterioration, but the fact that Russia has chosen to lower its threshold barring the use of violence and thus has chosen to change the rules of international relations. The Russian position constitutes a direct challenge to the current world order and signifies a new phase in Russian foreign policy." Världen idag concludes: "Due to Russian action in Georgia the security situation in Europe has deteriorated. And when Russia challenges the world, the mechanisms of the world community are paralyzed." Finally, Russian Novye Izvestiya has its own angle on the report, claiming that it supports the notion that Israeli military advisors took active part in the war on Georgia's side.

It is indeed peculiar how the media spins different stories, but also how security interests get their story across - here the Russian menace. That my own contribution to the Georgia report got minimal attention may perhaps point to the fallacies of mainstream media. Fundamentally questioning the extent and significance of the so-called Russian cyberwar against Georgia, it should really have attracted more notice than it did, since the general image portrayed by international media was that of a massive cyber attack.

Still, it is often not the stories that challenge assumptions, but the ones that confirm bias which conquer the day. Once the media beat has been set, even a potential scoop would have great difficulty to overcome a consensual media agenda. So, by the end of the day, there is little room for deviance as the public policy-media discourse evolves. When one, to the contrary, gets one's message across, there is no saying how it will be processed by its recipients, given the fundamental predisposition to interpret Russia in very simplified terms. That is the basic dilemma of policy-media interaction - a dilemma that may or may not be averted by the workings of a global and independent blog discourse. At least, blogs give each and everyone the opportunity to have his or her say, even though alternative facts and hypotheses risk getting lost in cyberspace.

Photo award for Georgia coverage

Earlier this week, the Swedish Dagens Nyheter news photographer Lars Lindqvist won second price in the World Press Photo competition for his photo coverage of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. His pictures, in my view, give a face to human conflict that accounts for war - ancient and modern: tragedy and drama, waiting and action.

World Press Photo was founded in the Netherlands in 1955 as a non-commercial organization with the purpose of supporting and forwarding the cause of professional news' photographers with the world as their field of work. The organization arranges an annual photo competition, which has formed a basis for the encouragement of photo journalism. Lindqvist won second prize in the General News Stories cathegory.

Global Voices wins Anvil of Freedom Award

The Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media has honored Global Voices Online, an online initiative of Reuters and Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, as the 2009 recipient of the Anvil of Freedom Award. This award is given in recognition of Global Voices Online's outstanding journalistic efforts in providing opportunities for people to read and respond to news from a variety of citizen and professional journalists, in several languages, using the best of blogging technologies. Global Voices Online Co-Founder Ethan Zuckerman received the award at the University of Denver on Thursday, February 5, 2009.

As a contributor to Global Voices, I am very happy to announce the above news that our organization receives recognition for our work. In a new media landscape, Global Voices serves a next to unique function in proffering a digest of alternative and citizen journalism and events, which are otherwise poorly covered by mainstream western media. However, what makes my heart beat with joy over Global Voices is how people all over the world succeed in cooperating constructively and be stimulated by each other's ideas and contributions without meeting each other more than perhaps once a year. So, in my view the various awards that Global Voices receives is little in comparison to the daily reward of cooperating with gifted and open-minded people all over the world in a mutual effort to give voice to those previously bereft of free speech and thus contribute to the growth of a global open society in its fight against intolerance and repression.

Estlow Center honors Global Voices with 2009 Anvil of Freedom Award
Blog site gets Anvil award
Global Voices Wins Anvil of Freedom Award 2009
Estlow Center honors Global Voices with Anvil of Freedom Award