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As many as 20 Russian-language news outlets withdrew reporters from covering the country’s parliament, the State Duma, in Moscow today in an escalating sexual harassment scandal.
Russian media’s biggest #MeToo moment came after complaints against a senior lawmaker accused of sexually harassing a female TV producer and radio reporter went unheeded. Leonid Slutsky, the powerful head of the Duma’s International Relations Committee, is alleged to have behaved inappropriately on several occasions while being interviewed by female reporters.
Leading the boycott was Echo of Moscow, regarded as one of the last national independent broadcast outlets in Russia. Echo said its part in the parliamentary reporting boycott was designed to show “solidarity with the journalists who fell victim to sexual harassment at the Russian State Duma.”
The statement by the station’s influential chief editor Alexey Venediktov added that the lack of response by the Duma’s deputy commission on ethics in response to the allegations against Slutsky was “disappointing” and the station would “stop any interaction with” him.
Echo would, however, continue to cover “news of high importance … but will keep a physical distance to ensure our journalists’ safety.”
Accusations of sexual harassment against Slutsky surfaced earlier this month and originally came from Darya Zhuk, a producer with the TV network Dozhd. Later, RTVi deputy editor in chief Ekaterina Kotrikadze and BBC reporter Farida Rustamova also revealed similar experiences.
Rustamova has given the most graphic descriptions of Slutsky’s behavior. She has alleged that during one interview with Slutsky in his office, he had touched her pubis. Some Russian media commentators have dubbed Slutsky Russia’s Harvey Weinstein.
The parliamentary boycott, which includes Dozhd, Lenta.ru, radio station Govorit Moskva and major business news outlets Kommersant, Vedomosti and RBC, comes after the Duma’s ethics committee found no wrongdoing on Slutsky’s part during its meeting on Wednesday. The committee ruled that Slutsky “didn’t violate the code of conduct.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the issue during a press briefing on Thursday, although he was asked several times by various reporters.
Karina Orlova, Echo of Moscow’s Washington D.C. bureau chief, told The Hollywood Reporter that the parliamentary boycott was significant because it was the first sign of collective action in Russia over sexual harassment. Until now there has been little sign in Russia of support for the #MeToo movement sweeping through Western media and creative industries.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before in Russia. I think this is significant — it is not just liberal media that has joined this boycott, but some Kremlin-controlled or pro-Kremlin outlets likes Govorit Moskva and Kommersant, so this is significant,” Orlova said.
She added: “It is not clear why they have joined this boycott, but Russians are people too. People who know Slutsky know what a pig he is.”
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