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Bidzina Ivanishvili

Bidzina IvanishviliIvanishvili

Attacks on freedom of press

While Russia pursues its foreign policy interests in the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin exerts more pressure on mass media domestically. This is a threat mostly to Kremlin’s critics and the opposition. A report by Peggy Lohse

Vladimir Putin already passed a decree on December 9 to Increase the efficiency of state mass media. It includes the agglomeration between the daily newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta and the magazine Rodina as well as the cancellation of the state news agency RIA Novosti and the radio station Golos Rossii. Instead, a new international state news agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today, RT) will be established. Its director is appointed directly by the president. Dmitry Kiselyov, known through the TV channel Rossiya 1, closely associated with the Kremlin and notorious for his nationalistic polemics, will be RT’s first director. The Kremlin consequently gains decisive power over the information to be distributed abroad. Sergei Ivanov, the chief of staff of the presidential administration, explained: “It is important to tell the truth and to make it accessible for a majority of the population.” The intention is to counteract the Russia-critical reporting and the partly extreme anti-Russia bashing in Western media and to establish a proper Russian perspective.

The end for Dozhd


In mid-January, Viktor Yanukovich penalizes participation on the Maidan in Kiev. The protests grow more radical. At the same time, the most widespread government-critical medium is shut down in Russia: the private TV channel Dozhd. Since it was reporting on the anti-government protests in 2011 to 2012, it had established itself as an opposition channel. It was set apart from the state channels thanks to its uncut live stream which also covers the Ukrainian Yanukovich government's violence on the Maidan.

From September 2013 on Dozhd was only available as pay-per-view TV, and since late January 2014 exclusively through the Internet. The government cited a report on the 70th anniversary of the blockade of Leningrad as reason for the cancellation. The report asked the question “Was the high number of victims worth not ceding the town?” In early March, director and owner Natalia Sindeeva announced the sender would have to close in early April.

Shulgin: Too political for ComputerBild

Until the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on February 7, Russia and its media was busy with preparation for this big event. Ukraine became temporarily unimportant. In the meantime, explosives, guns and barricades are needed on the Euro-Maidan as well as in other towns in Western Ukraine. The Russian state media observes this with disgust, calling the participants increasingly “Western fascists”.  

On this topic, Dmitry Shulgin, editor of the Russian ComputerBild, wrote on February 20 on his private Facebook page: “My nation is ill like the Germans in the 30s and 40s of the last century.” Editor-in-chief Nikolay Levskiy urged him to resign due to “political activities”. Novoye Vremya quoted Shulgin: “It was made quite clear that Russian Titushky could be waiting for me in my staircase.” The German publishing house Burda commented that it would never restrict the private speech of its editors, but that Shulgin had quit his job on his own.

Error 451 for as well?


The Olympic Games ended on February 23 and with them the close season for regime critics. The current situation in Russia is not only difficult for journalists but also for members of the opposition. One day after Russia's medal-filled finale at the Winter Games on February 24, the participants of the protests on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012 were convicted. Outside of the courthouse, there were more protesters. Among the critics of the process was the member of the opposition and blogger Alexei Navalny. In response to this, Navalny was put under house arrest on February 25.

Until the end of April, he is forbidden from accessing the Internet, the telephone and anyone apart from his wife and lawyer. Navalny's blog as well as the privately financed news pages and were blocked by the Russian state media supervision agency Roskomnadzor in the night of March 13. The reason given was that these websites called for a disruption of the public order. Navalny's blog was blocked according to due to a breach of the imposed house arrest. The interference with freedom of press therefore came to a new low.

During the referendum on Crimea, the news platform received a warning that its website could lose its registration within a year for publishing an interview with Andrei Tarsenko, a representative of the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector. In consequence, the editor-in-chief Galina Timtshenko and the president Juliya Minder were let go. Around 80 employees called this step another government attack on the freedom of the word, about 40 employees decided to terminate their employment for this reason. On March 17, the new editor-in-chief Alexei Goreslavskiy announces a new concept for which focuses on economics and trade. Allegedly, a reader survey had shown greater interest in these topics.

What would be possible if...

The encroachments on the media landscape might look like singular cases so far. Yet they are in accordance with the strongly anti-Western official propaganda of media close to the Kremlin. Indeed, there are print media like Novaya Gazeta, Novoe Vremya or Russkiy Reporter as well as the radio channel Echo Moskvy that publish critical analyses and viewpoints. However, those only reach about five percent of the Russian population, according to Reporters Without Borders' 2013 Russia report. At maximum, about one percent of the population receives its news from the Internet, through social networks or blogs.

The beginning of the Maidan protests in Ukraine showed an increasing interest in factual reporting independent from the Kremlin in Russia, and the free media became more uncomfortable for the government. In consequence, it now demonstrates how easy it would be to curtail those freedoms. The Russian elite is threatening with consequences if the protests become too loud. Critics are to be discredited, discouraged and intimidated in the public perception. The following months will show if the Kremlin's plan will be successful.

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