World newspapers convene in MoscowSpecial report on the 59th World Newspaper Congress and the 13th World Editors Forum in Moscow (1-2) [Archives:2006/957/Reportage]

June 22 2006
The gathering of more than 1,700 journalists and editors was considered the biggest event of its kind.
The gathering of more than 1,700 journalists and editors was considered the biggest event of its kind.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses congress participants at the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses congress participants at the Kremlin.
Hamdan Dammag
Earlier this month, Moscow welcomed the largest gathering of newspaper editors and media executives in history. More than 1,700 participants from 111 countries attended one of the biggest events for newspapers and editors organized by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the World Editors Forum. One of nine Arabic newspapers, The Yemen Times was the only Yemeni newspaper participating in the event. This two-part report aims to shed light on the event's activities.

The 59th World Newspaper Congress and the 13th World Editors Forum and Information Services Expo were held June 4-7 in Moscow. The gathering of more than 1,700 journalist and editors was considered the largest event of its kind.

Gavin K. O'Reilly, who was re-elected President of WAN, said at the congress's opening ceremony, “I'm delighted to note that the attendance at these events is the largest ever in our organization's history, making this truly the annual summit meeting of the world's press.”

The Congress

The congress focused on the immense wave of innovation that continues sweeping through the global newspaper industry. Based on the latest data and information on global newspaper trends, key industry developments were highlighted and new publications, advertising and circulation strategies, digital product development and business practices were examined.

The Editors Forum

The forum focused on what newspapers can do to adapt to changing habits of the “free generation” – readers accustomed to getting their news from free newspapers and free internet sites. It also looked at embracing citizen journalism, offering new technological services, the importance of newspaper supplements and protecting newspaper credibility. The last topic involved a special session about the Prophet Mohammed cartoon crisis and the limits of press freedom.

Alongside these events, the 2006 Information Services Expo showcased new services and the latest products and technologies that are shaping newspapers of the future.

The conference opening

The opening ceremony took place at the Kremlin. Addressing more than 1,700 senior newspaper executives from 111 countries in the presence of President Vladimir Putin, as well as other Russian leaders and foreign ambassadors, O'Reilly said media control by the state and its allies is hindering free press's ability to contribute to Russia's development.

He told Putin that his legacy would be judged “as much by the media's fate – perhaps more – than any other measure.”

A video was shown detailing numerous press freedom infringements across the globe, including last year's jailing of a New York Times reporter in the United States. However, the video avoided mentioning the Russian state or its press.

O'Reilly pinpointed Russia's absence of independent national television, which is still under direct or indirect government control, several important newspapers purchased by financial and industrial groups directly controlled by the government or loyal to it and creation of an atmosphere of caution and self-censorship among journalists.

According to The Moscow Times, while Russian television's coverage of congress and forum events reinforced O'Reilly's remarks, it devoted considerable footage to Putin and little to the criticism aimed at him.

President Putin in attendance

Putin responded to O'Reilly's comments about the state's role in Russian media by saying, “The number of state assets in the Russian press market is decreasing steadily.”

He said the fact that he and O'Reilly were speaking about the issue inside the Kremlin reflected vast changes that have occurred in Russia. “Today, we're discussing the problems of the press in a critical manner. You couldn't imagine such a situation 10, 12 or 15 years ago,” he noted.

Minor incident

Three national Bolsheviks staged a protest in the middle of the meeting hall as O'Reilly was about to speak, shouting, “Putin is the executioner of freedom!” and “Russia without Putin!” The protesters' voices were muffled by security guards, who quickly detained them.

According to The Moscow Times, the protesters had obtained press credentials to gain entry into the conference. Putin appeared calm during the incident and referred to the protesters by saying, “True, Bolsheviks still come to this hall, but in a different capacity.”

Golden Pen awarded

Leading investigative journalist Akbar Ganji was awarded the 2006 Golden Pen of Freedom during the opening ceremony. The prize is WAN's annual press freedom prize. Ganji, who is now one of Iran's most renowned political prisoners, spent six years in jail for articles implicating senior Iranian officials in the killing of dissident intellectuals in 1998.

The WAN award citation noted, “Akbar Ganji fights for freedom of expression in Iran, but his efforts are watched around the globe. His remarkable resistance to repression and his steadfast refusal to be silenced, at great personal cost, is an inspiration to journalists everywhere. It is through courageous journalists who do not capitulate ) even in the face of long prison terms or death ) whereby freedom advances.”

In his acceptance speech, Ganji said, “This prize should go to all those who were tortured and paralyzed simply because they worked in journalism and contributed to defending free thought in the country.” He added, “Our ideal is creation of a humane world, but in fact, we live in a world steeped in reckless and widespread violence, a world of genocides and civil wars, of ethnic cleansing and gross violations of citizens' rights in many corners of the globe.”

He continued, “Human rights knows no boundaries and accepts no exceptions,” pointing out that, “Our world today suffers from violence and this violence has many facets. It creates various forms of pain and suffering. Terror, oppression, imprisonment and solitary confinement are only the more obvious facets of such violence.”

Sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 on several charges, including threatening Iranian national security and insulting the country's leaders, Ganji was released this past March. He spent most of his prison term in solitary confinement while reportedly being pressured to give up his writing and opinions. He launched a hunger strike in 2005 to demand his release, which lasted more than 40 days. While on medical leave last year, he called for a boycott of Iran's presidential elections.

Three roundtable conferences prior to the conference

The Congress and Editors Forum actually began with three roundtable conferences Sunday morning, June 4. The first was on press freedom, the second on digital media and the third was on young readers.

The first roundtable was entitled, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” wherein the underlying factors limiting Russian press freedom today were highlighted. While admitting that Russian newspapers operate more freely than during the Soviet era, the roundtable looked at broadcast media restrictions, which continue to raise grave concerns within the industry while public confidence in the media remains low.

The conference also looked at lessons that can be learned from neighboring countries' experiences. Conference speakers included Petr Godlevsky, director general of Russia's Izvestia newspaper, Olena Prytula, Editor-in-Chief of Ukraine's Ukrainska Pravda newspaper and U.S. media consultant William Dunkerley.

Under the title, “The Annual Digital Media,” the second roundtable began by looking at the impact of new digital technologies and strategies, which continue their rapid growth across the globe. The main theme of this year's conference was “The Digital Explosion – Exploiting the Potential of Our Media,” with an exploration of new content and advertising opportunities. This included a case study of how The New York Times aggregates its content services into new products and revenue streams. Vivian Schiller, Senior Vice President of NYT Television and Video, presented the case study.

The new 2006 roundtable involved “Young Readers,” focusing on winning strategies for a new generation, with an examination of young people's aspirations and motivations and how newspaper companies can reach them. This roundtable's speakers were Senior Design Anthropologist Anne Kirah, who studies youth worldwide to help Microsoft produce its products and Marcelo Rech, Editor of Zero Hora, a Brazilian newspaper whose young reader strategies have enabled it to find 42 percent of its readership in the 10 to 29 age group.

This roundtable's presentations and discussions will be presented in a future report.