Challenges for Political Journalism between the Neva and Spree Rivers
One-week Graduate Seminar with Students of Journalism from Saint Petersburg and Freie Universität
Mar 18, 2014
How is political journalism shaped by economic, legal, ethical, political, and cultural dimensions in Russia and Germany? Students of journalism from Saint Petersburg State University and students from the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at Freie Universität addressed these issues in a joint graduate seminar.
Journalism studies professor Margreth Lünenborg and Saskia Sell, a research associate at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies, were responsible for organizing the one-week seminar, entitled “Challenges for Political Journalism – a Transnational Perspective,” on the German end. The two of them had most recently visited Saint Petersburg in 2012, for a specialized conference, and they maintain close contact with the journalism school there.
“Alongside professional dialogue, this kind of weeklong event is naturally also about getting to know the other culture and engaging in discussion on more than just matters of journalism,” says Lünenborg.
What Affects a Country’s Media Landscape?
Elena Nikulicheva, 20, is one of eight students from Saint Petersburg who participated in the weeklong seminar with their German counterparts in Dahlem. Alongside her studies of journalism, Nikulicheva also works as a freelance journalist. “In my opinion, the German media landscape is directed more strongly by economic factors than by government interests,” she says, adding, “In Russia it’s just the opposite.”
Gemma Pörzgen, a member of the board of “Reporter ohne Grenzen,” the German arm of Reporters Without Borders, agrees. Every year, the nongovernmental organization compiles a press freedom ranking. In 2013, Russia placed 148th out of 179 countries in the index, and even Germany “only” ranked 17th. Pörzgen attended the seminar at Freie Universität at the organizers’ invitation. In her view, the fact that Germany is not ranked among the countries leading the press freedom index is due primarily to the threat to media diversity posed by processes of consolidation.
A Special Institution: The Federal Press Conference
The seminar agenda also included group visits to media outlets in Berlin, such as the capital city studios of German broadcaster ARD, the “Hauptstadtstudio,”and the Federal Press Conference, the “Bundespressekonferenz.” “A place like the Federal Press Conference where journalists invite politicians to a press conference – we don’t have that in Russia,” said Svetlana Bodrunova, of Saint Petersburg. Bodrunova, who holds a doctorate in media studies, teamed up with Anna Litvinenko to lead the seminar on the Russian side. Both scholars are currently involved in research on the topic of new media and political protest in Russia. “The Russian government ignored the Internet for a long time. But things are changing now,” Litvinenko said. Litvinenko, who also holds a doctorate in journalism, is already familiar with Freie Universität, having done research at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies, in Dahlem, under a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
Government-run TV is still the first source of information for the majority of the Russian population, Litvinenko said, but the Internet is playing an increasingly important role. Journalist and scholar Litvinenko views increased use of this medium, which connects people across national borders, as offering an opportunity. “We want to see not only the differences between our media systems, but also the commonalities we share with each other as digital natives.”