Sarah Lindemann-Komarova: “Fake News or Sloppy Journalism? The Washington Post Dims the Lights of Democracy in Siberia”

Arm and Torso of Person in Brown Sweater Placing Paper Ballot into Ballot Box

Subject: Fake News or Sloppy Journalism? The Washington Post Dims the Lights of Democracy in Siberia
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2019
From: Sarah Lindemann-Komarova <echosiberia@gmail.com>

Fake News or Sloppy Journalism? The Washington Post Dims the Lights of Democracy in Siberia
Re: Washington Post, September 5, 2019, “In Russia’s local elections, the vote totals are not what really count” By Will Englund (JRL#143)
Commentary by Sarah Lindemann-Komarova
[Sarah Lindemann-Komarova has been a community development activist in Siberia since 1992. Currently she is focusing on research and writing about civil society in Russia.]

I have no idea who “analyst” Alexei Mazur is but I suggest Will England cross him off his “go to” list for sources. In his short description of the upcoming election in Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia, England describes Anatoly Lokot, the sitting Mayor who is running for re-election, as representing the LDPR party. It is hard to imagine how a journalist could make such a mistake as Lokot’s election as a representative of the Communist Party RF in 2014 was a notable and well-covered upset for United Russia.

Further, he totally misrepresents the campaign conditions for Sergey Boiko, one of 15 candidates running, by claiming, “Boiko has received virtually no financial support and no access at all to the local media.” In a recent interview I had with Boiko, he presented his small donor support from crowdfunding as a strategic choice and point of pride in relation to some of his competitors. An August 25th official accounting listed Boiko’s reported fundraising at 1,900,000 r which put him in sixth place among the candidates. A former Vice Mayor has declared the most money raised with 10,500,000 r. followed by Lokot with 8, 600,000 r. 3rd and 4th in declared campaign contributions are Boiko’s key opposition opponents with over 7,000,000 r each.

I learned all of this from the local press that contradicts England’s second pronouncement about Boiko having “no access at all to the local media.” Although he like Natalya Pinus, his closest opponent in the polls, rely heavily on social media, they have taken advantage of numerous local television debate opportunities (Lokot did not). Their complaints about unfair practices such as excessive use of administrative resources have been covered (but rejected in the court). Google Tayga Info or Sib FM, plug Boiko’s name in search and assess the coverage of his attempt to create an opposition coalition (failed) or call for Lokot to debate or his appearance at a recent protest by ripped off apartment buyers. There is no doubt that the sitting Mayor’s anticipated victory with 45% is hugely enhanced by his exploitation of administrative resources. But, that is not the whole story. No, the story is not the appearance of a perfect election, but it is also not the pointless exercise described in the Washington Post. It is, in fact, an interesting election worth being honestly reported.

The only possible response to the thunderous cries of “fake news” is honest, well-researched journalism. The Washington Post and Will England have failed miserably in this piece. The political evolution in Russia beyond Moscow not only deserves, but requires legitimate coverage if we want to make any meaningful observations about its trajectory. The Washington “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Post and Will England turned out the dim but brightening lights of democracy in Novosibirsk in this piece.