Media freedom in Russia
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Media freedom in Russia concerns 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.
In 2013 Russia ranked 148th out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. In 2015 Freedom House report Russia got score of 83 (100 being the worst), mostly because of new laws introduced in 2014 that further extended the state control over mass-media. The situation was characterised as even worse in Crimea where, after annexation by Russia, both Russian jurisdiction and extrajudical means are routinely applied to limit freedom of expression.
Various aspects of the contemporary press freedom situation are criticized by multiple international organizations. 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Legislative framework
- 3 Attacks and threats against journalists
- 4 Censorship
- 5 Judicial prosecution of journalists and media outlets
- 6 Government ownership and control of media outlets
- 7 Political pressure on independent media
- 8 Internet censorship and surveillance
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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. According to Human Rights Watch, the Russian government exerts control over civil society through selective implementation of the law, restriction and censure.
Commissioner for Human Rights (ombudsman)
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.
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.
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. 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.
Attacks and threats against journalists
The dangers to journalists in Russia have been well known since the early 1990s but concern at the number of unsolved killings soared after Anna Politkovskaya's murder in Moscow on 7 October 2006. While international monitors spoke of several dozen deaths, some sources within Russia talked of over two hundred fatalities.
Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty in Russia is observed on 15 December every year.
Assaults on journalists
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): 30 journalists from 1993 to 2000, and 20 journalists since 2000.
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. 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.
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.
International Press Institute reports selective use of regulations, politically motivated criminal investigations, journalist imprisonments, outlet shutdowns and aggressive harassments by security services. According to the organization, Russia remains the most dangerous European country for journalists, with four killed in 2009.
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.
In October 2016 a group of Chechen journalists published an anonymous, dramatic appeal in The Guardian describing the intimidation and physical attacks they are experiencing under the Ramzan Kadyrov government and complete control the officials are enforcing over the media organisations in the republic.
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.
- In August 2014 the Pskov-based publisher Lev Shlosberg, member of the opposition Yabloko party, suffered a serious attack that left him unconscious. He claims the attack was related to his paper's investigations on the deployment of Russian soldiers from Pskov to Ukraine.
- In August 2014 the investigative reporter Aleksandr Krutov was attacked and beaten in Saratov - the fourth time in his 20-years career in covering crime for a local publication.
- In September 2014 a TV crew reporting on fraud was attacked in Novosibirsk. Their equipment was destroyed and the videographer was injured.
- In December 2014 in Novosibirsk the editor in chief of taiga.info was beaten by two men in the website premises.
Denial of entry and deportation of foreign journalists
- 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.
- In July 2014, the Ukrainian journalist Yevgeniy Agarkov (1+1 TV) was arrested in Voronezh while reporting on the trial of a Ukrainian prisoner of war. He was charged with missing proper accreditation, and was convicted, deported and banned for five years.
- In September 2014 a BBC team was attacked in Astrakhan while investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine - at the time still denied by the Kremlin. They had their equipment destroyed.
- In 2015, an Australian journalist, Helen Womack, who spent over 30 years reporting from Russia was denied accreditation after listing on a nationalist-operated "list of enemies of Russia" website and forced to leave the country.
- Also in 2015, following the documentary on Russian soldiers serving in war in Donbass, Simon Ostrovsky was denied accreditation to Russia.
- Wacław Radziwinowicz was expelled in December 2015.
Article 29(5) of the Constitution of Russia states, "The freedom of the mass media shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be prohibited." 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.
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.
According to 2005 research conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM), 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).
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." 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."
Access to information
In 2015, the FSB proposed a new regulation that will restrict access to public property registers, that were previously frequently used by whistleblowers to expose multi-million dollars mansions belonging to public officials that couldn't afford them from the official salary. The regulation was proposed shortly after the media exposed an undeclared mansion belonging to FSB vice-director Sergey Smirnov using the public registers. In the same year, a group of deputies proposed a new law that would penalize "anti-Russian" or "anti-patriotic" statements. The law was criticized as unconstitutional and vague due to lack of definition of what these terms would really mean.
Another regulation enacted in 2015 and going into force in 2016 is based on European right to be forgotten concept, but without any of the safeguards to the public interest and freedom of speech it was predicted its intention is to silence publications about specific corrupted politicians, even if the accusations were true and confirmed in courts. Public land registers were also anonymized to hide names of property owners after they were frequently used by watchdogs to question unexplainable wealth of public officers.
Prosecution of "extremist" content
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. The bill was criticized as not being aimed at combating the causes of illegal content and its distribution through the internet, nor contribute to the effectiveness of law enforcement and prosecution of criminals, and its subjective criteria could allow Russian authorities to mass block internet resources with legal content. In December 2013, a law criminalizing "calls for separatism" was proposed. 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.
Since 2009, the practice of the law enforcement agencies (most notably FSB) was to abuse newly introduced anti-extremism laws to suppress freedom of speech, including corruption investigations. Publications and activities classified as "extremist" included protests against the court rulings in Bolotnaya Square case ("calling for illegal action") and criticism of overspending of local governor ("insult of the authorities") or publishing a poem in support of Ukraine ("inciting hatred") In 2015, the fines for "extremist" content were raised to a maximum of 1 million rubles ($16,069).
- In June 2015, Alexandr Byvshev, the poet whose works were banned as "extremist" earlier, was also listed on the official "list of terrorists and extremists" maintained by the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring (Росфинмониторинг, Rosfinmonitoring) and a "spontaneous collective condemnation" campaign was started in his village described as Soviet-esque by independent media.
- Litvinenko's book "Blowing Up Russia" was also listed as an "extremist publication" and banned in 2015.
- In November 2015, just before the Holodomor anniversary in Ukraine, the articles of Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide and used it to describe the Holodomor, were also added to the federal index of extremist materials in Russia.
- In February 2016, police in Saint Petersburg confiscated a whole print run of a book by a Polish war-time author Jan Nowak-Jeziorański because of an allegedly "extremist content".
In 2016 alone, at least 54 were convicted and imprisoned for merely reposting or "liking" memes on the social network VK which were classified as "extremist" by the FSB and courts despite their almost universal trivial and humorous character. For example, Andrei Bubayev was jailed for two years for reposting a picture of a toothpaste tube with the words "squeeze Russia out of yourself". The campaign is believed to either serve as show trials to discourage citizens from expressing opinions critical of the government, or to be an easy way for FSB to improve their efficiency statistics.
Judicial prosecution of journalists and media outlets
Prosecutors in Russia have the custom of charging individuals - including journalists, bloggers, and whistle-blowers - with trumped-up criminal offenses including defamation, extremism, and other common criminal charges, as part of an effort to deter and limit their activities.
- 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. Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, and ARTICLE 19 all protested the charges, and Isayeva was ultimately acquitted. She described the case as "a test for the institution of press freedom" in Dagestan.
- In November 2013 the Rostov-na-Donu investigative journalist and blogger Sergey Reznik (often reporting on corruption and abuses by politicians) was sentenced to 1,5 years in jail on various charges, including insult to a governmental official. The jail term was upheld in appeal in April 2014. A new defamation case was open against him in July 2014.
- In January 2014 Aksana Panova, former chief editor of the Ura.ru website in Yekaterinburg was given a 2-year suspended sentence - including a ban on journalist activities - after being tried for extortion. She rejected all charges, claiming to be targeted in retribution for critical coverage of local officials.
- In September 2015 the Siberian journalist and blogger Dmitriy Shipilov was arrested after he had interviewed the organisers of a march for Siberian autonomy. The official reason included failure to serve a three-month sentence for "insulting a public official". Shipilov claims the detention is politically motivated.
- In October 2014 the Rostov-na-Donu journalist Aleksandr Tolmachev was convicted to 9 years of hard labor on extortion charges, after having already spent three years in pre-trial detention.
Judicial harassment of the blogger and politician Aleksey Navalny continued in 2014. Navalny was fined $8,400 in April for defaming a Moscow city councillor on Twitter. In December he was sentenced to three and a half years (with suspended sentence) together with his brother Oleg Navalny upon fraud charges. Roskomnadzor warned four media that reported on the sentence and relied a video of Navalny calling for demonstration, accusing them of inciting extremism.
Government ownership and control of media outlets
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.
Official stance towards the issues of state dominance
In 2000, prior to the presidential election, Kommersant published a long document titled The Reform of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation allegedly leaked from the election committee of Vladimir Putin. The programme proposed a number of changes to government information policy, including strict centralization of mass media and suppression of criticism from both media as well as from opposition in Duma.
The Directorate, setting a goal for itself, needs to act more effectively and actively than the opposition, must be harsher in its work and claims than the opposition, it must use sharper and more crushing facts. There should be no weakness or liberalism, there is no time left for this. For every claim directed against the Leadership of the country or its policy, the Presidential Press Center of the Administration must immediately answer. Operational information about the intentions of opposition forces to conduct political events comes to the Directorate. The Directorate implements all preemptive actions before the action to be conducted by the opposition, but in a beneficial “light” for the Presidential side.
The document also offered a number of case studies and examples on how journalists or members of Duma exposing cases of corruption or suspicious purchases (e.g. foreign property) by members of the administration should be silenced with "preventive political actions", involving release of compromising personal details about the whistleblowers, journalists and protesters or organizing "spontaneous" counter-pickets in support of the administration. These methods were also applied to foreign journalists reporting from Russia and included ostensible surveillance, tapping of apartments and threats to relatives.
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". 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."
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Government control over the broadcast media
Many observers have noted the loss of the independence of national television stations. 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.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "All three major television networks are now in the hands of Kremlin loyalists." 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 loophole. In 2003 TVS channel which was formed mainly of former NTV and TV6 was closed due to financial problems.
Along with that, plenty of media outlets actively develop now while state participation in them is minimal. 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. 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".
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.
Top state television channels frequently apply self-censorship, avoiding any controversial topics that might impact the public image of the authorities. For example, massive truck drivers protests across the country were never even mentioned in the First Channel in spite of wide coverage in local and independent media and requests of the viewers.
"Black lists" controversy
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.
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.
REN-TV and Channel 5 news ban controversy
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.
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.
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."
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. 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?"
In 2016 leadership and top journalists of RBC media holding left the company following an investigation launched by the authorities into an alleged "fraud", which was widely associated with the non-mainstream coverage of political affairs and the government, including the latest Panama Papers publications on the wealth of Vladimir Putin. One journalist described the situation as "having a strong resemblance to the take-over of NTV in the early 2000s".
The Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, in 2014, led to a reinforcement of propaganda and disinformation from state-owned media outlets, including by altered or misidentified images, stories that were distorted or invented from scratch. Russian authorities also kept using paid commentators to influence online contents and comments related to the conflict. According to war reporter and veteran of the First Chechen War Arkadiy Babchenko, Russian mass media played a significant role in actually starting the war in Donbass stating that "this is the first war in history started exclusively by Goebbels-like propaganda".
Independent coverage of war-related issues led to official pressures on media outlets. Lenta.ru was warned by Roskomnadzor in March 2014 after publishing an interview with a member of Right Sector; the following day the owner replaced the editor with a pro-governmental one, and 40 employees resigned in protest. In October 2014, Ekho Moskvy was warned by Roskomnadzor after airing first-hand testimonies of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, allegedly "justifying war crimes".
In June 2016 a number of regional newspapers (''Yakutsk vechernyi'', ''Gorodskiye vesti'', ''Omutninskiye vesti'') initiated a joint campaign against NTV which in a number of propaganda programs accused them of being "agents of Gosdep" (US Department of State) and other foreign conspiracies. The newspapers started warning the readers of their printed TV programmes about NTV "frequently spreading disinformation".
Political pressure on independent media
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.
According to International Press Institute, even bolder publications have to curtail their coverage to avoid problems with the authorities.
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.
In 2016 PEN concluded that using a combination of methods including taking control over large media companies and TV channels and selective and flexible usage of newly introduced laws, the government has acquired practical control over what is published in mass-media in Russia:
Although the press has not given in without a struggle and some key independent outlets, reporters, and editors continue to speak and publish, state television and a limited selection of other “loyal” outlets dominate today’s Russian media landscape. With the mainstream press increasingly toeing the Kremlin line, government restrictions have expanded to encroach upon other cultural spaces and modes of expression, including social activism, literature, art, and theater.
While there are provisions in the Russian Constitution that guarantee freedom of speech and specifically forbid censorship, the practical execution of numerous legal acts and dependence of courts results in practically unlimited control of the government over what is published and where. The laws in question are the anti-extremism laws, law on protection of children from harmful information, law on insult to religious believers, foreign agents law and undesirable organisations law. An important role in the censorship system is played by Roskomnadzor, an institution that "has reawakened people’s internal editors — the voice in your head that consciously or unconsciously makes you question what you are writing or publishing: does this cross the line? will this get me in trouble?"
Selective use of regulations and criminal investigations
As stated by IPI, the Russian Government use selectively politicized regulations and bureaucratic harassment to inhibit media outlets. Main legal tools used here are anti-extremism laws (described above) and foreign agents law.
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."
In 2015, PolitPress initiated a database of various forms of repression applied to journalists and activists in Russia, counting overall 302 of those subject to various forms of repression, including 17 journalists. Memorial has published a list of political prisoners in Russia, that also includes journalists.
Internet censorship and surveillance
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. In 2015, the European Court for Human Rights found Russia's SORM surveillance legislation and practice in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (Zakharov v. Russia).
In 2004, only a minority of Russians (8% of the population) had Internet access. In May 2008, some 32.7 million users in Russia had access to the Internet (almost 30% of the population). In 2012, 75.9 million Russians (53% of the population) had access.
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. Russia was on Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance from 2010 to 2013 and was moved to the Internet Enemies list in 2014. On 31 March 2013, the New York Times reported that Russia was beginning 'Selectively Blocking [the] Internet'.
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. 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". 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.
In 2014 two new laws extended the state control over the internet. According to the Federal Law 398 (February 2014), the prosecutor general may bypass the courts and make use of the federal regulator agency Roskomnadzor to directly block websites in order to prevent mass riots, "extremist" activities and illegal assemblies. In the first year of the law, Roskomnadzor blocked over 85 websites, including Aleksey Navalny's blog on Ekho Moskvy's website (which removed it) as well as the news site Grani.ru, the online magazine Yezhednevny Zhurnal, and Kasparov.ru, the website of the opposition activist Garry Kasparov. In July 2014, the online extremism law was used to prevent a march for Siberian autonomy.
The "bloggers' law" no. 97 (May 2014) required any website with over 3,000 daily visits to register with Roskomnadzor as a media outlet, subjecting personal blogs and other websites to the same restrictions foreseen for major publications - including a ban on anonymous authorship and obscenities, as well as legal responsibility for users' comments. Under a follow-up law passed in July 2014, social networks are required to store their data in Russia in order for them to be accessible by the authorities.
Social media platforms came under increased pressure in 2014. In April the founder of Vkontakte, Pavel Durov, announced he'd resign and leave the country due to FSB intimidation, after he refused to hand over the account data of Ukrainian activists. In September 2014 Vkontakte was taken over by mail.ru, owned by Kremlin-friendly businessman Alisher Usmanov.
- In 2004, Russia pressured Lithuania and in 2006 Sweden into shutting down the Kavkaz Center website, a site that supports creation of a Sharia state in North Caucasus and hosts videos on terrorist attacks on Russian forces in North Caucasus.
- Magomed Yevloyev, editor of Ingushetia.org, a vocal critic of the region's administration, was murdered in August 2008.
- At the background of December 2008 demonstrations in Vladivostok, 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.
- In December 2009, Internet provider Yota with over 100,000 subscribers has blocked access to some Russian opposition Internet resources for its Moscow-based subscribers for a few days. The block occurred after the chief prosecutor of St. Petersburg recommended the company to block access to extremist resources. At the time, the only Internet resource listed as extremist by the Ministry of Justice of Russia was the site of Caucasian separatists Kavkaz Center. Since the evening of 6 December 2009, Yota opened access to all previously blocked resources, save for Kavkaz Center.
- 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. The Russian Internet blacklist was officially launched in November 2012 despite criticism by major websites and NGOs.
- On 5 April 2013, it was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media that Wikipedia had been blacklisted over the article 'Cannabis Smoking' on Russian Wikipedia.
- On 7 August 2013, the Central District Court of the city of Tver, located 100 miles (roughly 160 km) northwest of Moscow, ruled that the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses 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.
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