Russian Journalist Tikhon Dzyadko to Speak

By Will DiGravio, News Editor

Tikhon Dzyadko, a Russian radio and television journalist, will deliver a lecture titled “The State of Democracy and Press Freedom in Russia: What Donald Trump Could (and Should Not) Learn from Vladimir Putin,” on Wednesday, April 26 in McCardell BiCentennial Hall 104 from 4:30-6 p.m. His lecture is sponsored by the Russian department.

From 2010 to 2015, Dzyadko worked for TV Rain, one of the last independent television stations in Putin’s Russia. Since leaving TV Rain, he has worked as a Washington correspondent for the the Ukrainian television station Inter, and currently works at RTVi, a Russian-language television station based in New York.

The Middlebury Campus communicated with Dzyadko via email to discuss his upcoming lecture, U.S. President Donald Trump’s relationship with the press, the state of journalism in Russia and the similarities between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Will DiGravio (WD): Your lecture is titled “The State of Democracy and Press Freedom in Russia: What Donald Trump could (and should not) learn from Vladimir Putin.” What do you see as the greatest similarity between the ways in which Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin interact with the press?

Tikhon Dzyadko (TD): I would say that the greatest similarity is that Trump (as Putin) considers press as the “opposition party.” He fights with it instead of admitting that the press is one of the most important instruments of democracy, the voice of the American people which he has to hear.

WD: In a 2014 piece in The Guardian, you wrote about how the Kremlin was able to undermine your independent TV news station “Rain” by excluding you from nearly all cable and satellite services and by putting pressure on advertisers. President Trump has labeled the American media as the “Opposition Party,” and has suggested making changes to the country’s libel laws in the wake of negative press coverage. Having experienced first-hand what it is like to be targeted by a government, what is your response to Donald Trump’s rhetoric? What advice would you give to American journalists?

TD: It is tough because you are becoming marginal and you lose your right to spread your [message] to the audience. At the same time you’re becoming a target of a campaign of misinformation against which you don’t have enough tools to compete: all the main TV stations and newspapers are under control of the government. American journalists, I think, should realize that the situation with press freedom in the US is in danger and they should show solidarity and resist right now.

WD: What is the state of independent media in Russia? What do you see as the future of independent media in Russia?

TD: The state of independent media in Russia is in a bad shape and it’s getting worse every month. The number of independent media is shrinking – the government is making their existence impossible by cutting its opportunities to make money and get to the audience. That’s why the Internet and social media are becoming the real independent press in Russia.

WD: Many have called Donald Trump one of the most media savvy politicians in the country, citing his use of the media and, in particular, television news to spread his message and build his political profile. What is Vladimir Putin’s relationship like with Russian TV news stations? Do you see similarities between him and Trump?

TD: I would argue that Trump is one of the most media savvy politicians in the country. Of course he is using it only the outlets which are friendly to him. Vladimir Putin is using Russian TV news stations only to spread his views to Russian people. News stations for him are not media but only the instruments of propaganda.

WD: Many Trump surrogates and supporters have used television news to spread misinformation in an attempt to legitimize and justify the actions of the president. Should networks provide a platform to individuals who spread misinformation on behalf of the president? How should networks hold those individuals accountable and make sure that the public is not misinformed?

TD: I think that networks should provide such a platform but they should be ready to respond. The anchors of these shows should be prepared well enough to show to the audience that the information these individuals are giving is actually a misinformation.

WD: Several weeks ago, the broadcaster Ted Koppel made headlines when he said that Sean Hannity of Fox News was bad for America. And last month, President Trump sent out a tweet urging people to tune into an episode Fox’s “Justice w/ Judge Jeanine” later that night. During the episode, Jeanine blamed the failure of the Republican’s healthcare bill on Paul Ryan, said the speaker let the president down, and called for his resignation. It is no secret that Donald Trump has an intimate relationship with Fox News. What do you make of this relationship? How is it similar and/or different from the relationship that Putin has with television networks in Russia?

TD: I think it’s common for all leaders who don’t like democracy. They consider media as their servants. That’s why they only like the journalists who ask “nice” questions. And [those who don’t] are “fake news.” That’s the very same thing that Vladimir Putin does in Russia.

WD: What advice would you give to young journalists who are interested in covering Donald Trump? What advice would you give to young journalists who are interested in working a country like Russia where the press’s ability to report is under constant threat?

TD: I think in Trump’s USA and in countries like Russia, journalists should be fearless (even if it’s difficult) and they should not compromise a thing. Because if they do it once, they will definitely be asked to do it again.