Freedom of the press in Russia

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2014 Press Freedom Index[1]

The issue of freedom of the press in Russia involves both the ability of directors of mass media outlets to carry out independent policies and the ability of journalists to access sources of information and to work without outside pressure. Media of Russia include television and radio channels, periodicals, and Internet media, which according to the laws of the Russian Federation may be either state or private property.

Various aspects of the contemporary press freedom situation are criticized by multiple international organizations.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] While much attention is paid to political influences, media expert William Dunkerley, a senior fellow at American University in Moscow, argues that the genesis of Russia's press freedom woes lies in sectoral economic dysfunction.[10]

The Russian constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, however, government application of law, bureaucratic regulation, and politically motivated criminal investigations have forced the press to exercise self-censorship constraining its coverage of certain controversial issues, resulting in infringements of these rights.[2][11][3] According to Human Rights Watch, the Russian government exerts control over civil society through selective implementation of the law, restriction and censure.[6]

In 2013 Russia ranked 148th out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders.

Administrative acts[edit]

Legal position[edit]

Freedom of the press is provided by the Constitution of Russia. The Constitutional speech freedom norm guarantees the freedom of ideas and speech for everyone, as well as the right "to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way". With that, the propaganda instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred or supremacy is banned. The Constitutional norm provides for the freedom of mass communication, while Censorship is banned.[12]

The important law in context of the media freedom is the 1991 Law "On mass media",[13] that guarantees freedom of expression for media, journalists' rights and citizens' right for information. According to Gil-Robles, the Law has a strong democratic character; once put into practice it fostered the media freedom development and prompted an increase in the number of publications, as well as television and radio channels. The Law is the key text and guarantor for Russian media.[14]

However, the 2006 Federal Law on Combating the Terrorism[15] and the 2006 Law on Counteracting the Extremist Activity,[16] along with the Federal List of Extremist Materials, became a matter of concern of both domestic and international observers.[9][17]

The Human Rights Committee of United Nations criticized the lack of precision in the definitions of terrorism and terrorist activity, the counter-terrorist regime being not subject to any requirement of justification, as well as the lack of legal provision for the authorities' obligation to protect human rights in the context of a counter-terrorist operation.[9]

The Human Rights Committee of United Nations welcomed the adoption in 2009 of the Law "On the securing of access to information on the activities of the courts of the Russian Federation".[9]

Federal Law "On Guarantees of Equality of Parliamentary Parties in Covering their Activities by the National State-Owned TV and Radio Channels" adopted in May 2009 guarantees that each Parliamentary Party must enjoy equal share of coverage at state-owned national TV and radio channels. Independency of editorial policies towards viewing Parliamentary parties, as well as citizens right to be comprehensively and unbiasedly informed of parties activities are stipulated by the Law. Control over the proper fulfilment of this Law is performed by the Central Election Committee of Russia with participants of Parliamentary parties, since September 2009.[18]

A new law to be implemented at the beginning of 2009 will allow reporters investigating corruption in Russia to be protected. Under new legislation, they will be able to apply for special protection, like court witnesses. The new law is part of a grander national plan to fight corruption in Russia, an area that President Dmitry Medvedev focused much of his attention on during his presidency.[19]

Commissioner for Human Rights[edit]

Russia's ombudsman, named officially the Commissioner for Human Rights, is appointed for a certain term by the Parliament. The ombudsman cannot be dismissed before the end of his term, and is not subordinate to any body of power, including the President or the Government. Russia’s 83 administrative regions have the right to elect a local ombudsman whose authority is limited to that region. Less than half have done so.[20]

Russian Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin reported in 2006, that suggesting that freedom of speech is non-existent in Russia would be an exaggeration, the constitutional right for speech freedom is basically observed, as well as that there was no institutionalised censorship. Apparently for these very reasons journalists and publishers seldom appeal to the Commissioner protesting restrictions of their right of seeking, receiving, transferring, publishing or distributing information. Yet disguised restrictions exist to a considerable degree, they are often put through the economic pressure on mass media by the authorities and loyal business. The so-called "self-censorship" which induces journalists to refrain from disseminating information which, in their opinion, may not please the authorities, is also widespread. So in many places the right to praise the authorities is ensured, while the opposite right is just formally declared.[17]

In 2008 annual report Vladimir Lukin wrote, that it is important to have the comprehensive legal interpretation of the terms that may limit the freedom of thought and word.[21] He spoke against the election legislation amendment that is "a practical prohibition" of contesting candidates criticism, calling it obviously excessive. And Lukin was critical about the Law on combating extremist activities, noting that extremism and dissent must be strictly legally divided.[21]

History[edit]

For censorship in czarist Russia, see Censorship in the Russian Empire.

1990s and before[edit]

The process of democratization of the Soviet Union started with the policy of Glasnost, meaning openness or freedom of speech.[14] As stated by Gil-Robles, that policy is still regarded within the Russian society as one of the most precious achievements of Perestroika.[14]

According to Gil-Robles, the contemporary state of media freedom follows on from the proactive policy pursued by the Russian authorities at the beginning of the 1990s. During the 1990s the Russian society went through a period of rapid development of the traditional media.[14]

2000s[edit]

Mass media in Russia continued to develop in 2000s, as the number of periodicals, broadcasting companies and electronic media has more than doubled from 1997 to 2006.[22]

As stated by the BBC, two of the three main federal channels Channel One and Russia TV are controlled by the government, while state-controlled energy giant Gazprom owns NTV.[23]

In February 2011 Guardian journalist Luke Harding, from Britain, was refused entry into Russia, contrary to OCSE regulations. He thus became the first foreign journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War. Some linked his expulsion with unflattering coverage of Russia, including speculation about Vladimir Putin's wealth. On 9 February Russia reversed the decision.[24]

Issues under debate[edit]

Government ownership and control[edit]

Critical points[edit]

The government used direct ownership, or ownership by large private companies with government links, to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television. There were reports of self-censorship in the television and print media, particularly on issues critical of the government.[3][25][26]

As of 2009, the Russian government owns 60 percent of newspapers, and in whole or in part, all national television stations.[27][26] A news report in Kommersant suggested that the last two remaining semi-independent television channels REN TV and Channel 5 may become under state control in 2010.[28]

In 2008, the BBC has stated in recent years, that companies with close links to the Government, state-owned Gazprom among them, have bought several of the most influential papers.[29]

Positive points[edit]

Further news reports affirmed that the television channels REN TV and Channel 5 will retain their independent editorial policy and won't be under state control.[30][31][32]

In 2007, a report by professor of politics Nicolai N. Petro asserted that foreign companies owned shares in over half of all Russian broadcasting companies and not the state. According to him, the Russian state's share in the newspaper and journal market is estimated to be less than 10%, while its share in electronic media is even smaller.[22]

Russian head of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Konstantin Kosachev said in a 2005 interview that there were no differences between freedom of speech in Russia and Western countries in regards to the printed media: "there is an enormous amount of newspapers which write any sort of stuff." Speaking of electronic media, he acknowledged that they were mainly under the control of the authorities, but added that that's not a specifically Russian phenomenon.[33]

According to the BBC, the Russian newspaper market offers its consumers a more diverse range of views than those same consumers can sample on the country's leading television channels.[29]

According to Vedomosti newspaper, in 2009 Rupert Murdoch's corporation failed to sell its three popular Russian radio stations because it didn't manage to find buyers for them.[34]

Pressure on independent media[edit]

According to the World Press Freedom Review 2008 by International Press Institute, the pressure on Russian independent media outlets and their employees increased considerably in 2007. The government use variety of methods to control of broadcasters, to sideline critical journalists, and to intimidate them into self-censorship.[2]

According to International Press Institute, even bolder publications have to curtail their coverage to avoid problems with the authorities.[2]

Selective use of bureaucratic regulations were employed to inhibit media outlets, vague laws were passed to restrict independent activities, politically motivated criminal investigations against critics were used, independent journalists were imprisoned on trumped-up charges and their media outlets were closed, controlling interests in independent news outlets were purchased, aggressive harassment of journalists by security services took place and the failure to bring justice in the murders of journalists and in other violent attacks against the press prevailed.

Selective use of regulations and criminal investigations[edit]

As stated by IPI, the Russian Government use selectively politicized regulations and bureaucratic harassment to inhibit media outlets.[2][35]

In 2008 Amnesty International criticized the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections as "a clampdown on the freedoms of assembly and expression", stating that "the authorities have violently dispersed some opposition demonstrations, while pro-government events have gone ahead without interference."[8]

Official stance towards the issues of state dominance[edit]

In 2006 President of Russia Vladimir Putin commented that in the period of 1990s freedom of press in Russia "was indeed under threat, not from the former state ideology that once held a monopoly on expression, but from the dictates of oligarchic capital".[36] When asked about media freedom in 2006 interview with NBC TV channel, Putin replied: "We have more than 3,500 television and radio companies here in Russia and state participation in them is decreasing with every passing year. As for print media, there are more than 40,000 publications and we could not control them all even if we wanted to."[37]

In May 2008 the International Federation of Journalists welcomed signs of a "fresh start" in relations between the authorities and independent media in Russia.[38]

In November 2008 state of the nation address President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged problems with the Russian media:[39]

[A]s was the case 20 years ago, the bureaucracy still does not trust free citizens and free activity. This logic pushes it into dangerous conclusions and acts. The bureaucracy from time to time casts fear over the business world, pressuring it to keep in line and not to take what they consider wrong action, takes control of this or that media outlet, trying to stop it from saying what they consider the wrong thing, meddles in the electoral process, preventing the election of what they consider the wrong person, and puts pressure on the courts, stopping them from handing down what they consider the wrong verdict.[39]

The policies adopted in that address answered that criticism the following way:

Ninth, parliamentary parties should have clear guarantees that their work will be covered by the state media.

Tenth, freedom of speech should be backed up by technological innovation. Experience shows that it is practically of no use to persuade the bureaucrats to "leave the media in peace". Instead of persuading, we should work more actively to expand the free internet and digital television space. No bureaucrat can obstruct discussion on the internet or censor thousands of channels at once.[39]

In May 2009, a Federal Law "On Guarantees of Equality of Parliamentary Parties in Covering their Activities by the National State-Owned TV and Radio Channels" was adopted.[18]

In his 2009 State of the Nation Address Dmitry Medvedev recommended all regions of the Russian Federation to pass laws on guarantees of equal media coverage of activity of parties represented in regional parliaments.[40]

Assaults on journalists[edit]

Since the early 1990s, a number of Russian reporters who have covered the situation in Chechnya, contentious stories on organized crime, state and administrative officials, and large businesses have been killed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, 50 journalists have been murdered for their professional activity in Russia (which made it the third deadliest country for journalist in the 1992–2006 period[41]): 30 journalists from 1993 to 2000, and 20 journalists since 2000.[42][43]

According to Glasnost Defence Foundation, there were 9 cases of suspicious deaths of journalists in 2006, as well as 59 assaults on journalists, and 12 attacks on editorial offices.[44] In 2005, the list of all cases included 7 deaths, 63 assaults, 12 attacks on editorial offices, 23 incidents of censorship, 42 criminal prosecutions, 11 illegal layoffs, 47 cases of detention by militsiya, 382 lawsuits, 233 cases of obstruction, 23 closings of editorial offices, 10 evictions, 28 confiscations of printed production, 23 cases of stopping broadcasting, 38 refusals to distribute or print production, 25 acts of intimidation, and 344 other violations of Russian journalist's rights.[45]

On 7 October 2006, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, well known for her criticisms of Russia's actions in Chechnya and the pro-Russia Chechen government, was shot in the lobby of her apartment building. The death of this Russian journalist triggered an outcry of criticism of Russia in the Western media, with accusations that, at best, Putin has failed to protect the country's new independent media.[46][47]

International Press Institute reports selective use of regulations, politically motivated criminal investigations, journalist imprisonments, outlet shutdowns and aggressive harassments by security services.[2] According to the organization, Russia remains the most dangerous European country for journalists, with four killed in 2009.[48]

The Amnesty International reported in 2009, that "Human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers who spoke openly about human rights abuses faced threats and intimidation. The police appeared to be reluctant to investigate such threats and a climate of impunity for attacks on civil society activists prevailed." The Amnesty International reported also a "climate of growing intolerance towards independent views". According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is a more dangerous place now than it was during the Cold War. Only Iraq and Algeria outrank it on the list of most life-threatening countries for the press.[35]

The Human Rights Committee of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is concerned about the contemporary situation in Russia.[9]

at the alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders, which has created a climate of fear and a chilling effect on the media, including for those working in the North Caucasus, and regrets the lack of effective measures taken to protect the right to life and security of these persons.[9]

Media outlets[edit]

The Press[edit]

According to the BBC, Russia has a very wide range of newspapers, over 400 daily, for every field. In recent years companies close to the Russian government, such as Gazprom, have acquired several of the most influential newspapers; however the national press market still offers its consumers a more diverse range of views than those same consumers can sample on the country's leading television channels.[49]

Major Russian newspapers with foreign owners include the Vedomosti and SmartMoney owned by Rupert Murdoch'es the News Corp.[50] Notably, a number of American editions (such as Newsweek, GQ) have Russian versions.

Following his 2004 visit to Russia Gil-Robles reported, "At the meeting organised with the editors-in-chief of the major Russian newspapers, I noted the broadly shared opinion that freedom of speech has remained substantial since 1991. It is true that there have been several recent reports of pressure on journalists."[14]

The highest-ranked difficulty mentioned was the financial situation of the press. Most of the Moscow-based newspapers seek diverse sources of funding, "so that their independence will not be jeopardised and they will not have to turn to either the State or private shareholders, which are more often than not big industrial groups."[14]

Another specific problem was mentioned in relation to the press distribution outside the capital. While subscriptions to press was reliable in the capitals, difficulties with press subscriptions arose "in relation to other towns and cities, especially those in Siberia and the Far East".[14]

Television and radio[edit]

Many observers note the loss of independence of national television stations.[14][28][51]

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "All three major television networks are now in the hands of Kremlin loyalists."[52] Indeed, while "Сhannel Russia" was state-owned since its foundation in 1991, major shareholders of ORT and NTV (Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, respectively) sold their stocks to the government and Gazprom in 2000-2001. Moreover, TV6, a media outlet owned by Berezovsky, was closed in 2002 using a legal hole. In 2003 TVS channel which was formed mainly of former NTV and TV6 was closed due to financial problems. [53]

Along with that, plenty of media outlets actively develop now while state participation in them is minimal.[22] There are private Russian TV networks with the broadcast cover reaching the majority of the Russia's population: REN TV (known for the daily analytical talk show with Tigran Keosayan, analytical news program "Week" with Marianna Maksimovskaya), TV Center ("Postscriptum" with Aleksey Pushkov, "Moment of Truth" with Andrey Karaulov), Petersburg - Channel 5.

Liberal opposition TV-Channel RTVi owned by Vladimir Gusinsky is not broadcast in Russia, but available in that country through networks of cable and satellite television, MMDS and IPTV networks.[54] A former editor of a program on that channel, Vladimir Kara-Murza, believes it is the merit of the RTVi that the possibility of a third presidential term of Vladimir Putin was prevented, and that the "backdoor political technologists" were made to "abide to the Constitution, albeit with the Successor operation".[55]

On 29 January 2014, the largest Russian TV providers, after key politicians expressed their discontent, disconnected Dozhd channel in response to a survey on its website and in live "Dilettants" discussing program asking viewers if Leningrad should have been surrendered to the invading Nazi army in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives.[56]

"Black lists" controversy[edit]

As reported by Clifford J. Levy in a 2008 New York Times article, all Putin's opponents are being made to vanish from Russian TV. They are blacklisted and not allowed to appear in TV shows. In one example, a presentation critical of Putin's policies has been digitally erased.[57]

As reported by Russian scientist Sergey L. Lopatnikov, information about "black lists" is nonsense; an argument was made that not less than 35-40% of participants of NTV-aired talk show "At a barrier" hosted by Vladimir Solovyov during the last two years represented the liberal opposition (including Novodvorskaya, Ivanenko, Nemtsov, Hakamada); from January to May 2008, overt adversaries of Vladimir Putin participated in 9 of 16 (more than 50%) issues of the talk show.[58]

REN-TV and Channel 5 news ban controversy[edit]

On 16 October 2009, Kommersant newspaper reported that the owner of private television channels REN TV and Channel 5 had made changes to the managing structures of the channels. Referring to an anonymous source, Kommersant stated that as the result these channels would cease to broadcast independent news; instead, since 2010 they would receive the news from the state-powered TV-channel RT. As Kommersant wrote, "the Channel 5 and REN-TV are the only Russian TV channels today the editorial policy of which is different from the state news. Only there opposition politicians are aired, as well as other events are reported that cause discontent of the authorities." However, the head of a REN-TV analytical news program "Week" Marianna Maksimovskaya was quoted by Kommersant as saying she held optimistic about the new executive director of REN-TV and sure that its editorial policy won't be altered.[28][59]

On 19 October 2009, press secretary of REN-TV channel Nazarov asserted that REN-TV and Channel 5 will receive from the RT "exclusively technological support", and the state channel will impose no influence on the informational part of the news.[30]

On 22 October 2009, Alexander Orjonikize, a former head of REN-TV, and now CEO of National Media Group that owns TV channels in question, said that while the possibility of partnership in order to produce more saturated and interesting news is discussed, "it's important to note that whatever business strategy would be chosen in that direction, editorial policy regarding news and its informational contents will not be altered."[31]

The Channel 5 employs 1700 people in St. Petersburg, its sales in 2009 accounted for 20 millions USD, while the expenditures exceeded 100 millions. On 19 October 2009, employees of the TV channel published an open letter to the top Russian politicians, concerned over a possibility of mass dismissals.[60] On 23 October 2009, CEO of NMG-TV Vladimir Khanumyan in an interview promised no mass dismissals will take place; he also commented that "Information about Russia Today is generally some misunderstanding. I don't even understand how could it be used in our project. It's the TV channel which makes programs for the abroad audience in English and Arab languages. How does that relate to the Channel 5?"[32]

Internet[edit]

Russia was found to engage in selective Internet filtering in the political and social areas and no evidence of filtering was found in the conflict/security and Internet tools areas by the OpenNet Initiative in December 2010.[61] Russia has been on Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance since 2010.[62]

In 2014, during the Crimea Crisis, Roskomnadzor has blocked a number of websites criticising Russian policy in Ukraine, including pages of Alexei Navalny, Garri Kasparov and Grani.ru.[63]

The absence of overt state-mandated Internet filtering in Russia before 2012 had led some observers to conclude that the Russian Internet represents an open and uncontested space. In fact, the Russian government actively competes in Russian cyberspace employing second- and third-generation strategies as a means to shape the national information space and promote pro-government political messages and strategies. This approach is consistent with the government’s strategic view of cyberspace that is articulated in strategies such as the doctrine of information security. DoS attacks against Estonia (May 2007) and Georgia (August 2008) may be an indication of the government’s active interest in mobilizing and shaping activities in Russian cyberspace.[64]

Infrastructure[edit]

In 2004 only a minority of Russians (8% of the population) had Internet access.[14] In May 2008, some 32.7 million users in Russia had access to the Internet (almost 30% of the population).[65] In 2012, 75.9 million Russians (53% of the population) had access.[66]

In a November 2009 address to the Federal Assembly, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged that Russia was ranked only as the world's 63rd country based on estimates of the level of communications infrastructure development. He stressed the necessity to provide broadband Internet access on the whole Russia's territory in five years, and to manage the transition to digital TV, as well as the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards.[40]

SORM, a System for Operative Investigative Activities, was amended in July 1998 to allow monitoring of the Internet in addition to telephone communications. SORM allows law enforcement agents to monitor Internet traffic and requires ISPs to assist law enforcement in their investigations. In late 2000, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the law enforcement agents are required to obtain a warrant and inform ISPs when the SORM is going to be used.[citation needed]

Media[edit]

Following his visit to Russia in 2004, Gil-Robles noted high quality of news and reaction speed of Russia's Internet media. Virtually all the main newspapers were available on-line, some even opting for Web as a sole information outlet. Russia's press agencies (including the most important Ria-Novosti and Itar-Tass) were also well represented in the Web.[14]

As reported by Agence France-Presse, "The Internet is the freest area of the media in Russia, where almost all television and many newspapers are under formal or unofficial government control".[67]

As reported by Kirill Pankratov in April 2009 in The Moscow Times:

Even discounting the chaotic nature of the web, there is plenty of Russian-language material on political and social issues that is well-written and represents a wide range of views. This does not mean, though, that most Russians are well-informed of the important political and social issues of today. But this is largely a matter of personal choice, not government restrictions. If somebody is too lazy to make just a few clicks to read and become aware of various issues and points of view, maybe he deserves to be fed bland, one-sided government propaganda.[68]

A number of Russian Internet resources provide Russian translations of the world press on a regular basis: InoSmi, InoForum, SMI2, and Perevodika.

Controversies[edit]

  • At the background of December 2008 demonstrations in Vladivostok,[73] it was reported by Kontury news website that FSB officers addressed moderators of the ru_auto Internet community with a request to remove stories about the Vladivostok protests. The major reason, as reported by a moderator of the resource, was that a number of repeating posts with the information about protests worsened some sort of statistics on people's attitudes. The moderator in question requested bloggers to publish only unique posts about protest actions.[74]
  • In December 2009, Internet provider Yota with over 100,000 subscribers[75] has blocked access to some Russian opposition Internet resources for its Moscow-based subscribers for few days. The block occurred after the chief prosecutor of St. Petersburg recommended the company to block access to extremist resources. In the same time, the only Internet resource listed as extremist by the Ministry of Justice of Russia is the site of Caucasian separatists KavkazCenter.ru. Since the evening of 6 December 2009, Yota opened access to all previously blocked resources, but the KavkazCenter.ru.[76][77]
  • In July 2012, the Russian State Duma passed the Bill 89417-6 which created a blacklist of Internet sites containing alleged child pornography, drug-related material, extremist material, and other content illegal in Russia.[78][79] The Russian Internet blacklist was officially launched in November 2012, despite criticism by major websites and NGOs.[80]
  • On 31 March 2013 the New York Times reported that Russia was beginning 'Selectively Blocking [the] Internet'.[81]
  • On 7 August 2013, the Central District Court of the city of Tver, located 100 miles (roughly 160 km) north of Moscow, ruled that the Bible-education website http://jw.org should be banned throughout the Russian Federation. On 22 January 2014 the Regional Court of Tver ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses and reversed the earlier ruling by the lower court. The Regional Court conducted a new trial, which concluded that the decision of the Central District Court was unjustified, since there was no legal reason to ban the site.[84][better source needed]

Regional media[edit]

According to report by Reporters Without Borders in 2009, "the current situation of the media in the Russian regions provides grounds for hope as well as for concern".[51] The regional print media has been able to maintain a solid position as an information resource. However, most publishers shy away from politically charged topics in order not to endanger their business. The situation is similar in radio where journalist has set up an Internet forum in which radio journalists can publish reports that their often strictly formatted radio stations refuse to broadcast.[51]

Following his visit to Russia in 2004, Gil-Robles reported the high degree of press development in the regions.[14]

Speaking about the obstacles that make the diversity of the press in regions being tested somewhat, Gil-Robles noted "deliberate attempts to restrict the media's freedom of expression", and the financial issues that reflect "a difficult or in some cases disastrous economic situation".

It seems to be increasingly the case that regional authorities agree to fund regional press in return for favourable treatment from it, with the result that journalists can be hampered in their work by increasingly close ties between the media and local authorities.[14]

According to Gil-Robles: "Finally, the only media to remain relatively independent in the regions are the big Moscow-based dailies, most of which carry a regional insert. As they are funded by their publishing group, they maintain a greater objectivity as regards regional authorities."[14]

In a three-year court case beginning in 2008, Chernovik, Dagestan's largest independent newspaper, saw its editor-in-chief Nadira Isayeva and several reporters prosecuted on charges of "inciting hatred toward law enforcement officials" following criticism of the Federal Security Service's counterinsurgency tactics.[85] Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists,[86] and ARTICLE 19 all protested the charges,[87] and Isayeva was ultimately acquitted. She described the case as "a test for the institution of press freedom" in Dagetan.[88]

Censorship[edit]

According to journalist Maxim Kononenko, "People invent censorship for themselves, and what happens on some TV channels, some newspapers, happens not because Putin dials them and says: No, this mustn't go. But because their bosses are fools."[89] However, political scientist Yevgenia Albats in interview with Eduard Steiner has disputed this assertion: "Today the directors of the television channels and the newspapers are invited every Thursday into the Kremlin office of the deputy head of administration, Vladislav Surkov to learn what news should be presented, and where. Journalists are bought with enormous salaries. In discussions they tell us then how horrible it is to work in the state television service."[90]

According to 2005 research conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM),[91] the number of Russians who approve of censorship on TV has grown in a year from 63% to 82%; sociologists believe that Russians are not voting in favour of press freedom suppression, but rather for expulsion of ethically doubtful material such as scenes of violence and sex (57% for restricting of violence / sex depiction on TV, 30% for ban of fraudulent businesses ads; and 24% for products for sex ads, and 'criminal way of life propaganda' films).[92] A point to note is that Article 29(5) of the Constitution of Russia states, "The freedom of the mass media shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be prohibited."[93]

Alexei Bayer, writing for the liberal opposition-minded Moscow Times newspaper said, in Aug. 2008, that aside from the main television channels, journalists in Russia can generally write whatever they wish and criticize and ridicule even topmost officials.[94]

The World Report 2009 by Human Rights Watch claimed that the Russian government controlled over civil society through selective implementation of the law, media restrictions and harassment of activists and human rights defenders.[95]

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in 2005 interview to Russian radio Ekho Moskvy said there was pressure on media from authorities in Russia's regions, and situation with the central media caused concerns, as many central TV media looked to lose former independence; his conclusion was that the most important task in Russia was to protect the victories of the 1991 Law on mass media, and to let journalists work fully independently; yet he said that with all the difficulties the Russian media were free as a whole, and the fact he was interviewed in a direct broadcast without censorship spoke also about press freedom.[96]

In the summer of 2012 the Russian State Duma considered Bill 89417-6 which would create a blacklist of internet sites including child pornography, drug related material, and extremist material; as well as making providers of telecom services liable for such breaches.[97]The bill was criticized as not being aimed at combating the causes of illegal content and its distribution on the Internet and will not contribute to the effectiveness of law enforcement and prosecution of criminals. While its subjective criteria might allow Russian authorities to mass block Internet resources with legal content.[98][97] In December 2013, a law criminalizing "calls for separatism." Under the law violators face a fine of up to 306,700 rubles ($9,500) or jail terms of up to five years for making public calls for action aimed against the country's territorial integrity.[3]

Freedom House[edit]

Map showing Freedom House free press ratings (2010)

Freedom House has reported multiple issues related to freedom of the press in Russia. According to their 2013 Freedom of the Press report, Russia's press freedom status is "not free" and Russia ranks 176th out of 197 countries world-wide.[99] The organisation reports declining media freedom starting in 2003 and the reintroduction of "Soviet-style" media management. Russia was rated "partly free" from 1993 to 2002 and "not free" from 2003 to the present.[100] According to the 2009 report the Russian constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but in reality, the politized and corrupt court system is used against independent journalists.[27]

Activities of Freedom House in regards of assessments of the situation in Russia are widely criticized in that country as russophobic. In 2007, head of the President's Council for aiding development of institutions of civilian society and human rights Ella Pamfilova said that the results of Freedom House investigation in regards of Russia look "ridiculous, awkward and far-fetched":[101][dead link]

Many authoritative international organizations know perfectly what is the Freedom House. Among their leaders there is the former CIA head and many people who essentially hate Russia. This organization is for long the tool of the U.S. politics, such a human-rights bludgeon.[101][dead link]

According to Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MSIIR) professor Aleksey Pushkov:

There's a sensation that their [Freedom House] anti-Russian attitude has no relation to reality but is related to different tasks, that is, of maintaining the very unfavourable image of Russia abroad.[102][dead link]

American Russia-based journalist Mark Ames noted in 2005:

Since 2002, Freedom House's annual "freedom reports" have been used as the basis by the White House to determine international aid, primarily through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The reports are also regularly cited by both the American media and Congress. Since 2004, Russia has been demoted to the very bottom ranking — "Not Free" — along with genuinely tyrannical regimes like North Korea and Libya. To those of us who live here, even those of us who oppose the direction Putin has taken, this is not only surprising but nauseating, an example of the worst type of "moral relativism" that these same right-wingers constantly denounce.[103][dead link]

Opposition opinions[edit]

Head of the largest opposition party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady Zyuganov spoke in 2007 in support of the press freedom:[104]

In the meantime you, the journalists, can also rely on us. We are the last bastion of speech freedom and democracy in Russia. Without us there would be such extent of crime and the police state, that all of you would do bad. Essentially, you hear and watch that every day. You are treated now very simply: if you say something wrong, you are thrown from your job in 24 hours. But we will guarantee the speech freedom and normal democratic elections.[104]

The country's socialist party, Fair Russia has the program that involves the following points:[105]

Our party speaks in support of mass media defence from the pressure of commercial and governmental structures. We are for the responsibility in the cause of realization of speech freedom principle. The speech freedom must rely on the moral and ethical norms and be subject to the corporate ethics of the mass media. The media must held responsible for the "pollution of man's informational environment", and the society must control the quality of the information.

The television is a powerful means to influence the moral and ethical condition of the society, and we have no right to ignore its contents.

The party speaks in support of the open informational society. We believe it's principally important to provide the Internet access for every citizen of the country.

The country's nationalist party LDPR makes the following statements in its program:[106]

For LDPR the basic norm is that a person must be that much free, as one's freedom doesn't start to restrict freedom of a different person.

The country's liberal democratic party Right Cause makes the following points in its program:[107]

We do not need charity gifts, but the liberty — liberty of choice, liberty of business, liberty of the word and the equal rights for everyone. That all is only possible under the effective power, responsible before the society and the law. We need the order based not on the right of the force and privileges but on the law, the single one for everybody.

We united in the name of the principle "The state is for a person, but not a person is for the state."

...

We consider the free media the most important institute of the civilian society, the means of control over the authorities. Only the media, independent from both the state will and the private corporate interests may be the effective tool of the democratic system.

We speak for the establishment of the media managed by the society, including TV, radio and a newspaper.

We are for strengthening the rights of the media to receive from the state or other bodies of power any not secret information after an inquiry, while the refuse to provide the information or its deliberate skewing must be punished by the Administrative or the Criminal Code.

We are against state endowments paid to the media, including the ones established by the state bodies or other structures, as such endowments are a form of pressure imposed on the media. In the same time we are for broadening the taxation privileges for the media, including the ones related to advertising revenues.

We are against the free interpretation of the limitations imposed on the activities of the media under pretexts of combating the terrorism, incitement of social or religious discord, etc., what means in practice limitation of media freedom for the sake of this or that authority benefits.

The United Civil Front, headed by Garry Kasparov, who is often referred to as the "opposition leader"[108] in the West, makes the following claims in its manifesto:[109]

Our country is ruled by the regime which stands against both the interests of Russia as a whole, and practically every its citizen. Except only for the top people in the security services and the corrupted bureaucracy, that use the state machine in their private interests. This regime makes the steady go to destroy all the institutes of the democratic society: elections, free media, independent court.

...

The major UCF task of the day is breaking Putin's regime, its complete dismantling. We believe that today it's already impossible to limit ourselves to the only consolation of the fact that Russia is headed towards the wrong direction. Today it is the time to come from words into the action, plainly because it will be too late tomorrow. It's this phrase — "From words to the action" — that will become the major motto of the new organization at the current stage.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]