Moscow-based media pretends to bring “objective” environmental journalism to Barents region

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Timofey Surovtsev is head of the Pomor environmental consulting and monitoring center. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
The head of the ecological monitoring and consulting group POMOR, Timofey Surovtsev, wants to counter Norwegian media’s negative reporting on environmental problems in Russia.

“Russia needs to create popular and credible media resources abroad, primarily in the Barents region, where foreign media are already successfully operating in Russia,” says Timofey Surovtsev.

Together with a group of Moscow-based journalists, Surovtsev is the initiator of the newly established Eco-Press, an association for ecological journalists. Among the other partners are the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda and Moskovsky Komsomolets and news agency Regnum.

The Moscow-based group has a dedicated focus on the Barents Region and recently toured the Russian-Norwegian borderland with seminars in Murmansk, northwest Russia, and Kirkenes, in Arctic Norway.

In Murmansk, the wording “propaganda” sparked a debate among regional journalists over the intentions of the Moscow group to teach environmental journalism to regional media. It was the introduction to the seminar program that highlighted the need for “propaganda resources” in order to reach out to an international audience.

“We urgently need powerful propaganda resources which will aggregate information of the regional mass-media, Russian environmentalists and transfer this information on the international level,” the introduction said.

Explaining the wording to the Barents Observer, Timofey Surovtsev says: “Propaganda is maybe in-political. Propaganda of Russian life-style, Russian qualities, Russian culture is what I mean with propaganda. All of the constructive, all of the progressive about Russia we must translate to other countries.”

Surovtsev is especially concerned about the lack of objective environmental journalism.

“I think it is not objective. We must listen to each other’s opinions,” he stresses when commenting on Norwegian reporting.

“Norway is the second or third-best country in terms of environment. But it has the same problems as Russia. You have toxic garbage in fjords and aquaculture. In Russia we also have toxic garbage, but not in the fjords.”

Surovtsev says we must be more truthful to each other when talking about problems.

“We talk about Norway as if it does not have any problems and I know it is not true. When I read your [Norwegian] newspapers I can’t find information about Norway’s problems. But about our [Russian] problems you write regularly.”

Langfjorden, a kilometre from the centre of Kirkenes near Norway’s border to Russia, is filled up with tailings from the iron-ore processing plant. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Norway’s dumping of mining waste in the fjords was also an issue brought up by Dmitry Kobylkin, Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment when he met his Norwegian colleague Ola Elvestuen in Oslo in late October.

The Ministry writes on its portal (in Russian) that “the sides exchanged opinions about the most problematic mining and processing companies, in an environmental sense,  that engage in offshore waste disposal. At the moment, waste rocks are disposed on five sites along the Norwegian coast.”

“The leader of the Russian Natural Resource Ministry proposed that Norway look at issues related to pollution in the borderlands, including the marine environment, on a multidimensional basis that is not only limited to control over the activities of Russian companies, the way it has previously been.”

The Russian Minister’s concerns are not mentioned on the portal of the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment.

Cross-border journalist cooperation

Ecological problems have for decades made headlines in media of the Barents Region.

Tim Andersson, Chairman of Barents Press Sweden, a network of journalists in the region, says objectivity is always core to journalism. Andersson points to a series of study tours on Arctic journalism where both Swedish and Russian reporters from a wide-range of media participated.

“In 2016, we traveled across northern Sweden with a dozen journalists from Barents Russia visiting locations where the mining industry both have caused huge environmental problems, but also to mines where the industry takes responsibility,” Andersson tells.

“We got great feedback from the participating journalists who were able to see for themselves how Sweden deals with its ecological problems.” And, Tim Andersson underlines, “to see that cleanup of old pollution spots actually takes place and costs billions of kroner.”

Tim Andersson refutes claims that journalists are biased in their reporting.

“We are not writing that Sweden, Finland and Norway don’t have environmental problems and Russia being an ecological wasteland. But, it is a fact that hindering pollution was neglected in the Soviet Union and due to that many of the environmental hotspots today found in the Barents Region are in northern Russia,” Andersson says.

Tim Andersson is Chairman of Barents Press Sweden. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
Visa-trouble for journalists?

Timofey Surovtsev claims Norway makes it difficult for Russian journalists to visit.

“In the last year Norway has significantly tightened the visa process for Russians,” he says.

“For us, a visa application can take more than a month and visa issuance may be denied under any dubious pretext. Especially reluctant are Norwegian authorities to allow Russian journalists and public figures into their territory,” Surovtsev says.

Asked by the Barents Observer to elaborate, Surovtsev suggests this is a “consequence of spy-mania” that in recent times have erupted in “this most democratic” country. He claims to have several examples of journalists being denied visas, but will not name anyone specific.

“This started when Norway got a new ambassador to Moscow,” he says.

Anne Stavik, Head of Visa Section with the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow rejects the claims and says there are no changes making it difficult for journalists or others applicants from Russia.

Stavik says to the Barents Observer that “journalists on press-travel to Norway are a group we specially facilitate for.”

“The Embassy handles such applications as priority, often the same day, but at least within the 10-day period stated in the visa-agreement,” Anna Stavik explains.

She elaborates: “When specially needed, we can receive such applications here at the Embassy without any delays instead of at some of our 25 visa application centers in Russia.”

An applicant who has previously held a multiple-entry visa for a period of two or three years may, provided that the need for a multi-entry visa is substantiated, can be granted a multiple-entry visa for up to five years.

Problems unknown to Barents Press
Anna Kireeva (right) and Tatiana Britskaya. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Anna Kireeva, head of Barents Press Russia says visa troubles for Russian journalists trying to Norway are unknown to her.

“I have never experienced any problems with visas. We have never had any visas denied,” Kireeva says.

She estimates that about 100 Russian journalists over the last few years have participated in events abroad traveling within the framework of the Barents Press network.

Tatiana Britskaya, Murmansk correspondent for Novaya Gazeta agrees. “I have never had any problems getting a visa and I don’t know of others being denied.”

Note: The author of this article holds a valid press-visa to Russia, but has been denied entry to the country by FSB since March 2017.

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Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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