Yulia Savchenko, the host of VOA Russian’s TV webcast Podelis, which means Share in English, lived up to the show’s name last month at Stanford University by sharing secrets to success in navigating Russia’s restrictive media environment.
Savchenko spoke as a returning alum at this year’s Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program, part of the Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.
A 2005 fellow of the program, Savchenko discussed obstacles of working in heavily censored media environments as well as VOA’s social media triumphs with Podelis.
“In two years, we went from nothing to being influencers in this [social media] sphere,” Savchenko said. “In my presentation, I emphasized this and shared how we interact with our audience from outside the country.”
Podelis encourages citizen journalists and audience members to contribute eyewitness accounts and insights through social media platforms. During the weekly 30-minute program, Savchenko and co-anchor Igor Riskin directly engage with viewers, who frequently guide the live conversation with their comments.
“Our methods are relevant for broadcasters in other regions that face similar obstacles,” Savchenko said. “After my presentation [at Stanford], people from around the world – Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Egypt, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Ukraine – came up to me, asking questions and explaining the barriers within their own countries.”
Savchenko has a keen understanding of Russian media as well as even more oppressive media environments in Central Asia. She began her broadcast journalism career as a talk show host on Pyramid TV in Kyrgyzstan, a country with a poor record of media freedom.
Before joining VOA in 2009, Savchenko worked at the BBC, where she served as an anchor and participated in creating multimedia projects for the Russian language website.
“International broadcasters in Russia have liberties that people inside the country don’t have,” Savchenko said. “Social media can serve as an agent for change, and we can still be a part of that landscape and make waves.”
Savchenko’s interest in social media goes back to 2005 when she was a Reagan – Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and focused her research on what was then just an emerging phenomenon.