Mochalov’s story is that when thieves stole some of his cattle and pigs, he protested to the authorities, only to find himself in jail for eight months for wrongful accusation. Maddened by what he considered the result of corruption behind the scenes, he protested all the way up to President Vladimir Putin, going so far as to appear in Moscow’s Red Square with a placard telling his story, though to no avail. As he pursued justice, his farm went untended.
And so he turned to journalism. “I had no choice. The whole administration was corrupt, nothing to be done but fight them with words,” he told me. Four years ago he founded a newspaper he called, boldly and baldly, Vzyatka (translation: The Bribe). It comes out most months, and it’s replete with investigations and denunciations of corruption in his locality. He prints some 20,000 copies and gives them away. Demand, he says, hugely outpaces supply.
The local administration and power brokers simply ignore him and carry on as before. That complaint was voiced by many of the young journalists at the conference, who see their revelations treated with the arrogant disdain of silence. They have no illusions about their situation. The majority work in the provinces, and try to practice journalism in cities where the power structure, official and corporate, would often unite to squash or punish journalism that was out of line. When critical or revelatory pieces are published, they have found – as has Edward Mochalov – that nothing changes.