The news from a Russian perspective

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am


A state-funded Russian news supplement begins publishing in Hong Kong today as part of Moscow's efforts to pay major newspapers around the world to carry articles it says uphold editorial independence and correct a lack of balanced reporting on the country.

Russia Beyond The Headlines starts its first monthly issue with the South China Morning Post today. It makes China the 15th country to circulate the paper, its publisher Eugene Abov said.

When a partnership with a mainland media outlet starts next month, it will bring the number of languages the supplement is published in to 10, Abov said.

The paper, produced by the official Rossiyskaya Gazeta, claims it will not shy away from criticising the Russian government, although a local academic doubts its effectiveness since 'people don't read much into such supplements'.

On that, Abov said they were under no pressure from Moscow to show it in a good light.

'We are not doing advertorial,' he said. 'We are not doing advertising. We are not doing public relations. We are doing quality journalism.'

He acknowledged common misgivings about news published by official agencies. 'Russia is still coming to terms with its long - sometimes painful, sometimes curious - history that cannot be understood in the context of stereotypes,' he said.

'One of them is that any media outlet that receives funding from the Russian government must inherently take a heavy pro-government perspective and toe the Kremlin line. We think our coverage shows this is not the case.'

Asked if the paper would sometimes criticise the government, he said: 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just read what we write. We want to give an objective picture of our country.'

Newspapers that already have tie-ups with the five-year-old project include The Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph. Abov said they hoped to reach 20 countries by 2014.

'We think that there is an obvious lack of information about Russia in Hong Kong media,' he said. 'It doesn't apply only to Hong Kong, but to all countries.'

The amount of money each newspaper is paid to carry Russia Beyond The Headlines is not made public, but the sum 'is for production, printing and sub-editing services'.

Some see the project as a sign of Russia developing its soft power. However, Ma Ngok, an associate professor of politics at Chinese University, doubted its effectiveness, given that 'readers don't usually read these sponsored supplements'.

'Whether it should be seen as an exertion of soft power depends on how it is packaged, but it's not unusual for a government to commission reports, for instance, in tourism magazines,' he said.