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Ethics Code Proposed for Russian Journalists

June 19, 1994

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian journalists have drafted an ethics code to discourage bribe-taking and ″hidden advertising,″ flourishing practices in a country of poorly paid reporters, corrupt capitalism and little experience with a free press.

″Signing the code would mean voluntarily assuming serious responsibilities and a readiness to civilize the activities of the Russian press,″ Pavel Gutionov, secretary of the Union of Russian Journalists, told the ITAR-Tass news agency Sunday.

Many Russian journalists say corruption among their colleagues is common, and more are beginning to write about it.

Free-lance reporter Oleg Pshenichny wrote in the English-language Moscow Times on Saturday that bribe-taking among journalists is extremely common.

Journalists in the perestroika era, he wrote, were fueled by idealism and still cushioned by the privileged social status and salaries of Soviet-era journalists.

With the collapse of the Soviet power structure, however, journalists lost the perks that had come with loyal service. Left to the mercy of market forces at a time when new newspapers were springing up every day, their salaries and prestige plummeted.

At the same time, upstart businesses scrambling for a share of the post- Soviet pie were eager to tap reporters for publicity and influence.

″I have personally received nearly a dozen ... blatant proposals to write reviews for new films or articles about computer companies or about politicians for considerable money,″ Pshenichny wrote.

He said a company offered him $100 last year for a favorable story in a newspaper that was paying just $1 per typed page.

Another reporter, who works for a large Moscow daily, said she routinely accepts money from companies for writing puff pieces about them. The reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her editors allow such hidden advertising because reporters’ salaries are low.

Reporters at big Moscow newspapers generally earn from $100 to $200 a month, roughly average in Russia but well below the pay possible in business. Many newspapers try to supplement salaries with various bonuses.

The new code, to be submitted to the Congress of Russian journalists on Tuesday, would forbid journalists from taking money from ″third hands,″ ITAR-Tass said.

Drafted by the union’s Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech and Journalists’ Rights, it denounces ″deliberate distortion of facts, urges respect for the honor and dignity of citizens, and stresses the incompatibility of journalists’ activities with hidden advertising,″ ITAR- Tass said.

The code also aims to clearly distinguish fact from opinion; establishes citizens’ right not to talk to the press; proposes withholding the names of crime victims and witnesses; and forbids journalists from holding political office.

A previous code was adopted by the journalists’ congress in spring 1991 but is outdated, Gutionov told ITAR-Tass.

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