Russian News Outlets Boycott State Duma in Response to Ignored Sexual Harassment of Journalists

Several Russian media outlets have decided to boycott the State Duma after Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky was exonerated by the Ethics Committee after being accused of sexually harassing dozens of journalists covering the Russian Parliament. According to Meduza, although 30 media outlets have joined the boycott, no newspapers owned or financed by the state have participated. Many journalists employed by state outlets, however, have expressed a desire to join the cause.

“When I read the news about Slutsky, my first reaction is pride for the outlets that have declared a boycott against him,” said a female reporter at a regional state news agency in an interview with Meduza. “This news blackout seriously makes me think about quitting and finding work at a publication that’s independent from the state. Journalism can’t be both honest and cautious. Journalism is either loud, honest, and dangerous, or it’s propaganda.”

Other journalists also spoke out about their experiences with sexual harassment at the hands of Slutsky.

According to CNN, journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze was pushed against a wall by Slutsky in his office, who then proceeded to try to kiss and touch her. Kotrikadze worked for a Georgian television station at the time and was too afraid to report the incident until two other female journalists spoke out about their experiences on the independent Russian broadcast station, Dozhd (TV Rain). One of the journalists also claims she was touched without consent in Slutsky’s office when trying to ask a question regarding Russia’s international policy plans while the other journalist, Darya Zhuk, was inappropriately touched during an interview in 2014.

“My story is, as it appears, one of many stories from female journalists covering the Duma,” said Kotrikadze. “Very brave women journalists in Moscow are doing the right thing.”

This issue also expands outside the scope of Russian journalists.

According to The Guardian, BBC reporter Farida Rustamova was interviewing Slutsky a year ago about then-French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her visit to Russia. The audio recording of the interview reveals that when Slutsky made advances towards Rustamova she told him she had a fiancé. Slutsky replied, “Great, you’ll be his wife, and my mistress.” Rustamova spoke up in early March as one of the three reporters (including previously mentioned RTVI Deputy Editor Ekaterina Kotrikadze and TV Rain producer Darya Zhuk) to tell their stories.

Not only is there a consistent pattern of abuse, but also a consistent pattern of negligence. When some of the women went to their newsrooms for support, they were met with unsurprised remarks.

One woman from a state-run news agency told Meduza that she went to her editor after being harassed by Slutsky to only be told, “A lot of people have gone through this. The only thing I can do is recommend a good therapist. I’ve been going for many years. But I can’t stop sending you on these assignments. Nobody likes them.” This reporter was then forced to choose between her well-being and her job. She chose her job.

Her later editor, this time a man, “also wasn’t too surprised when he heard people’s stories about deputies being rude and making advances, but at least he [took] such behavior a little more seriously.”

A male employee from the media holding group Rossiya Segodnya told Meduza, “The Slutsky case is glaring, but it’s not actually very surprising… It would be unfair to say that nobody in the newsroom gives a damn [about harassment], but at the same time this whole story hardly triggers any emotions anymore.”

As Russian news outlets like RBC, TV Rain, RTVI and Echo of Moscow gradually start to support their reporters, the State Duma continues to back MP Slutsky.

The Guardian reports that State Duma officials have found no evidence validating the accusations made against Slutsky. Officials such as the head of the Committee on Family Affairs Tamara Pletneva and Parliamentary Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin told female journalists not to report on the Duma if they thought it was “so dangerous.” Pletneva added, “those journalist girls should have dressed more respectably.”

CNN reports that the Ethics Committee exonerated Slutsky because its members thought it was suspiciously convenient for the journalists to speak out against Slutsky so close to the Russian presidential election campaign and that “their steps had been staged.”

Slutsky has denied all accusations and villainized his victims.

On February 23, Slutsky wrote on Facebook, “Attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation… and are bound to fail.”

According to Euronews, the State Duma’s lack of acknowledgment of this issue has resulted in a massive boycott from dozens of independent media.

RBC made a statement March 21 saying, “This decision was made by the outlet’s management as a sign of disagreement with the conclusions of the State Duma’s ethics commission, which found no evidence of sexual harassment of Russian journalists by the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky.”

Since then, RBC journalists have been pulled from their beats at the Duma.

Other newspapers such as Kommersant and Vedomosti have also pulled their reporters, as well as cut all ties to both Slutsky and all members of the Ethics Committee, according to CNN.

“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine,” said Kotrikadze. “This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state.”

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