'Too Brave' -- Journalist's Apparent Political Murder

Journalists in Russia seem to be facing a very difficult choice. If they are true to their profession and report on the truth they are increasingly more likely to lose their lives in the process.

Russia's most outspoken journalist was silenced on a Saturday afternoon in the elevator of her central Moscow apartment block. She was the 13th journalist killed since President Vladimir Putin came to power six years ago.

"She was not just a political journalist," political opposition leader Grigory Yavlinksy said after Politkovskaya's funeral service on Tuesday. "She was a real political opponent [of the Kremlin], and this was a political murder."

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was gunned down as she returned home from the grocery store.

Her killer -- still at large -- shot the Novaya Gazeta reporter twice in the heart, once in the shoulder, and then put the final shot in her head before tossing the gun next to her slumped body.

Politkovskaya was a constant critic of the Kremlin and was renowned for her hard-hitting reports on human rights abuses in war-torn Chechnya.

Her murder underscores the dangers facing the media in Russia today.

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks it the third most dangerous place after Iraq and Algeria, and has labeled Putin "an enemy of the press."

"The dangers that had threatened people working in this sphere [of journalism] became more real after her murder," said Masha Zaitseva, 22, a lawyer in Moscow.

"It is evident that nothing is changing for the better. This incident … reflects the situation just as it is here. There isn't [freedom of the press in Russia]. There can't be any debate about that," Zaitseva said.

Politkovskaya's influence was such that people who fear independent journalism in Russia could die with her.

"Our Western colleagues often asked, 'Is there freedom of the press in Russia?' to which we answered, 'We have Politkovskaya,'" said Paul Gutiontov, the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists. "Now we can't say that."

It is not just native Russian journalists who have been targeted.

In 2004, American Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was shot dead leaving his central Moscow office. The case remains unsolved.

Russian TV media, the source of news for 85 percent of the population, is almost entirely state owned.

Rossiya and Channel One typically begin each newscast with a report on Putin's daily activities -- kissing children, opening construction sites and churches.

Six years ago, Russians were able to tune into opposition voices on NTV, a privately owned channel. That ended in 2001, when the state gas company, Gazprom, took control of the station, bringing it into line with Putin programming.

Television coverage was pivotal in the last parliamentary elections; pro-Putin parties were given disproportionate amounts of air time. They gained two-thirds of the 450 seats in the State Duma, giving Putin a rubber-stamp parliament.

Many of the country's leading newspapers, though more openly critical of authorities, have been bought up by Kremlin-friendly businessmen.

There are two small beacons of hope: Vedomosti, a business newspaper owned by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and, Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya's paper.

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