Putin says Russia needs independent, brave journalism

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been widely criticized for curbing media freedoms, on Thursday praised journalists as a driving force behind democracy.

“An active, responsible position of the press, really independent and brave journalism, are more in demand than ever today — they are necessary for Russia’s democratic development and for strengthening civil society,” Putin said.

He made the comments in a welcome message for a congress of the Russian Journalists’ Union published on his website.

Putin said “a journalist’s honest word has enormous weight” and journalism plays a key role in “consolidating citizens in the fight with corruption and injustice.”

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 148th out of 179 countries on its 2013 Press Freedom Index. The country has seen string of unsolved murders of journalists in the past years.

Many critics blame Putin for creating conditions in which reporters fear for their safety while those behind attacks on journalists can rely on impunity. In 2010, he was labeled a “predator of the press” by Reporters Without Borders.

Since Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012 legislators have passed a series of laws, which critics say restrict press freedom and civil rights.