Society 20 July 2020

Navalny ramps up fight with independent journalists

навальThe most discussed topic on Moscow social media this week was a spat between opposition leader Alexei Navalny and top investigative reporter Ivan Golunov. The disagreement is the latest battle in a long-running conflict between Navalny and a group of prominent journalists. Navalny alleges that many journalists have an inflated opinion of themselves, that they only care about their own, and that their profession is outdated.

Disclaimer: one of the journalists mentioned by Navalny in his recent attack on Golunov was Liza Osetinskaya, the founder of The Bell.

  • The initial argument started because of the Ivan Safronov case. Two days after Safronov’s arrest, Navalny called for his release on a YouTube livestream, but was critical of his articles, and the fact that he went to work for state-owned space corporation Roscosmos. In other words, of Safronov’s decision to go and work for the same people he had once tried to expose.
  • Navalny’s attack on a person in prison who couldn’t respond appeared unethical, and drew criticism from Safronov’s colleagues. One of those most virulent in their objections was Golunov, who shot to prominence last year after a huge public campaign saw him released from prison where he was being held on false drug charges. Golunov posted a list of blog posts by Navalny and his team that were written using material from Safronov’s articles, and called on Navalny not to have greater respect for the media.
  • Navalny replied Thursday in a long blog post that he used to rip apart Safronov’s publications, calling them Roscosmos press releases, and allege Golunov was a liar and a terrible writer. In response, Golunov accused Navalny of using journalists as political pawns, and published some of his own correspondence with Navalny from two years ago in which the opposition leader praised one of Golunov’s articles but said it should have been published earlier to reduce United Russia’s rating ahead of elections.
  • It was clear to most that the bitterness in this exchange comes from Navalny’s disdain for traditional journalism. For this reason, Navalny is sometimes compared with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, who also have no love for the media. There was no winner in this public debate: both participants damaged their reputations. The level of mutual trust left between Navalny and opposition-minded journalists is fast approaching zero.

Why the world should care

Both protagonists in this fight have valid points to make. But the personal attacks are unedifying, perhaps particularly for someone who would like to be the next Russian leader.