Interview with Mr Vasily Pushkov, Director of International Cooperation, Sputnik

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Mr Vasily Pushkov poses for the memorable photo in front of the former Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT).

GNLM: Mr Vasily, could you tell us the purpose of your visit?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: The purpose of my visit is a very specific, singular purpose to actually, finally, personally sign a new cooperation agreement with our new partner in Myanmar—the newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar. So, this is such an important occasion for our media group that just for this purpose alone, I decided to come to Myanmar.

GNLM: Yesterday, I saw you at the signing ceremony. So, after the signing ceremony, how do you feel about our cooperation?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: I feel very optimistic because when you start talking to your new partners, you immediately understand whether you are on the same page or not. As I mentioned yesterday, I know that we are experiencing the same problems, we have the same challenges, and we have the same goals and values. So, I just see that there will be no difficulty for us to move forward with this cooperation. Now all we have to do is to find the best way to communicate, the best way to conduct logistics, and I think that it will just grow naturally from there.

GNLM: Is The Global New Light of Myanmar your first partner in Myanmar?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: In this particular form, I would say yes. We are already working with Myawady, but the form of cooperation is a little bit different. In this particular form, you are the first partner in Myanmar.

GNLM: Why did you decide to make a cooperation with The Global New Light of Myanmar?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: Actually, well, I am personally not a big expert on Myanmar media, so I have talked to several people, and we had good advice from the Russian embassy to Myanmar. We had good advice from our colleagues in the Russian Ministry of Information, and they all said that The Global New Light of Myanmar would be a very suitable partner for us. Because, again, they basically said that the two organizations have the same goals and the same operational technique. Though they are newspaper and we are basically a news agency, I think that we will have a lot of common ground that we can use.

GNLM: Could you elaborate in more detail about what kind of cooperation will be conducted between us?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: We understand very well that nowadays, different media companies from around the world are experiencing several challenges. Not the least of them are financial troubles. So, I’m going to be completely honest. Because of that reason alone, our media company, being one of the largest in Russia, still does not have a correspondent in Myanmar, not in Nay Pyi Taw, not in Yangon. But we have a steadily growing demand for news out of Myanmar. So, we need a partner who will provide us with that news, and vice versa. I understand that it’s not very simple, it’s not very easy to put a correspondent in Moscow, being a Myanmar media company. So, we are ready to provide you with our own news products about Russia that you can use in your work. Also, the second thing is that we, an international media group, Broadcast Sputnik broadcast 32 languages worldwide, and part of our audience lives in Myanmar. So, for us, it’s very important to actually understand the local audience there, the interest, media, culture and so on and so forth. We hope to learn that from you. At the same time, we are ready to share any of our expertise with you.
GNLM: With our cooperation, do you believe that can we promote the friendship between our two countries?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: Well, the most possible direct way, because Russian people, I’m sorry to say that Russian people are now are only learning in general, are only starting to learn about Myanmar.
The government has been working on creating closer ties with Myanmar for quite some time now. General audience, the general public only starts to learn about Myanmar. In order for the government to conduct its work at a steadier pace, the public has to support them. So, we are here also to provide our Russian-speaking audience with news about Myanmar. We are here to provide the international audience with news about Myanmar because I’m sure you know better than I do that there is a lot of low-quality information, let’s just call it that, about Myanmar circulating in the world media. We have to create a balanced, steady stream of balanced information about Myanmar. We will try to do that with your help. This will help our two governments to, as I said, more steadily bring our countries closer together.

GNLM: Another one is the rise of social media and also the rise of so-called citizen journalists. So the mainstream media is facing a lot of problems with fake news and other uncorrected information. So what is your opinion about how we fight for the fake news?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: Well, I’m going to be honest with you, it is my personal opinion, but I don’t treat fake news as some sort of new disease that you can’t actually find a cure for. Fake news has been around for centuries, actually.
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So, all we can do is actually provide a balance with professional news. Now, the other issue that you have raised is actually much more dangerous because of the single journalists, the private journalists, the so-called Facebook journalism, and the bloggers. The problem is that we professional media companies actually have honestly, to compete with them on basically the same level. When we talk about platforms like Facebook or even Telegram, basically an account, a channel in Telegram belonging to our company, which is created out of efforts of thousands of people has to compete with a channel only created by one or two people. And that, of course, creates a bit of trouble for us. But at the end of the day, like I said, fake news is not a new problem. Those who are spreading the fake news are not a new problem. Unprofessional journalists are not a new problem. They have been around for many, many years.
I still believe that for a dedicated audience, it will be always simple to distinguish between unprofessional journalism and professional journalistic entities like a professional newspaper news agency or a media group. And people will always, at the end of the day, select the proper professional journalistic entity. So, I’m very optimistic about the future of media companies.

GNLM: What are the most challenging issues media industries face around the world?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: The problem of financing has started again in the media industry.

GNLM: The second part is like that you have your visit so now you are this is I know that you’re first visit to Myanmar. How do you have an impression about Myanmar when you are right here?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: Should I tell my family story, right? And well, I have a little bit of a special position when you compare me to the ordinary Russian, because I have heard about Myanmar since my childhood, and I have heard about it many, many times. My mother was born in Myanmar because my grandfather was working in Myanmar and living here with my grandmother. So my mother was born in Yangon in 1958. My grandfather worked as an interpreter on the construction sites of several buildings in Yangon, which were constructed with the help of the Soviet government. My mother lived here until she was five years old when they moved to another country, but because of that, Myanmar had always a very special place in the heart of my family. So I came here, to be honest. I came here a little bit more prepared than an ordinary Russian. I knew something about the culture and the language. I even knew how money looks because my grandfather brought some money, even that money still looks almost similar to what you use nowadays. On the other hand, there was a negative thing impacting my impression, because if you look at how the mainstream media describes the modern life of Myanmar, you read a lot of negative stories about the modern situation in the country. Whether you like it or not, after reading enough stories, you’re starting to believe it at least some of them. So I was expecting at least some form of this repair in the country.
And of course, as always, I immediately understood that those stereotypes are not correct, that this is a very prosperous country, that is moving steadily forward. After visiting Nay Pyi Taw, I almost lost my breath just looking at how beautiful the city is and how it’s developing before you rise. So as always, as it happened to me before many, many times, I decided for myself that you should not read about countries and create your image of them without visiting them. Definitely visit the country and see for yourself if you’re interested in the place.
I mean, just saying that I’m happy to finally get this chance to say nothing at all because this is basically a dream come true for me. Plus, right now, I can honestly tell my colleagues in Russia, how the country actually represents right now. What it actually looks like, what it actually feels like and so on and so forth. So I think that from now on, I will be somewhat over Myanmar ambassador in Russia and public investment.

GNLM: So that means that your view on Myanmar change after visiting here.
Mr Vasily Pushkov: My view on Myanmar, of course, become much more positive. Well, you should even say positive, it will be much more objective, realistic and close to what the situation actually is. It will be more fruitful of course.

GNLM: You meet with a lot of Myanmar people. How do you feel about the Myanmar people? So what is your impression of Myanmar people?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: I would say that Myanmar people are so welcoming that you could say that they are too welcoming.

GNLM: I saw you in the television news yesterday night. You visited the Maravijaya Buddha image. How do you feel about that?
Mr Vasily Pushkov: Um, well, I’m going, to be honest with you at first, I was a little bit afraid for my eyes, because it was so bright that I lost my eyesight for a second. I was not sure if it was good for my eyes to be this white. It was like a fairy tale. I’m just sorry that modern cameras on phones are not able to capture this beauty. My eyes could not distinguish from where the roofs of the pagoda ended. I think that after promoting this, you will bring a lot of tourists also from Russia because of this kind of thing.

GNLM: My last question. After you return to Moscow and Russia. What kind of words you’re telling your colleagues about Myanmar? Only one sentence one sentence and complete.
Mr Vasily Pushkov: I’m not sure that you will be satisfied with my answer. But if you want to limit it to one sentence, which I will tell my friends, it will be that you should go and try the food there.

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