Freedom of the press in Russia

Freedom of the press in Russia

The issue of the freedom of the press in Russia involves both the ability of directors of mass media outlets to carry out independent policy and the ability of journalists to access sources of information and to work without outer pressure. Mass media in Russia include television and radio channels, periodicals, and Internet media, which according to the laws of Russian Federation may be either a state or a private property. It may be difficult to evaluate the situation in general, as different aspects of media freedom are developed to a different extent in Russia, and the overall question of media freedom is highly politized.

In 1997 there were just over 21,000 registered periodicals, virtually no electronic media, and just under 100 television companies, more than half of which were owned by the state. As of 2006 there were more than 58,000 periodicals, 14,000 electronic media, and 5,500 broadcasting companies, and the states share in the newspaper and journal market is estimated to be less than 10%. Its share in electronic media is even smaller. [ Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007] .]

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

In 2007, a report by professor of politics Nicolai N. Petro reaffirmed that foreign companies owned shares in over half of all Russian broadcasting companies and not the state. [ Russia as friend, not foe] , By Nicolai N Petro.] It was stated that critics concentrated solely on national television media, while "detailed statistics also demolish the myth that Putin dominates national television and allows no critical reporting". As reported, for the first time in modern Russian history independent media had become profitable. [ Russia as friend, not foe] , By Nicolai N Petro.]

Reporters Without Borders put Russia at 144th place in the World Press Freedom Index (from a list of 169 countries) [ Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007] .]

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, 43 journalists have been killed in Russia for their professional activity (which makes it the third deadliest country for journalist in 1992-2006 period [ CPJ calls on Putin to take responsibility for Politkovskaya murder probe] - Committee to Protect Journalists] ): 30 while Boris Yeltsin was President, and 13 since Vladimir Putin became President, as of 2006. [ Attacks 2005: EUROPE and CENTRAL ASIA ] ] []

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. [ [ Конфликты, зафиксированные службой мониторинга ФЗГ на территории РФ в течение 2006 года] ] 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. [ [ Конфликты, зафиксированные ФЗГ в течение 2005 года на территории РФ] ]

On October 7, 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. [ [ Putin's Russia failed to protect this brave woman] , Joan Smith.] [ [ Anna Politkovskaya, Prominent Russian Journalist, Putin Critic and Human Rights Activist, Murdered in Moscow] , Democracy Now] KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky believes that the murders of writers Yuri Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya show that the FSB has returned to the practice of political assassinations. [ [ Бывший резидент КГБ Олег Гордиевский не сомневается в причастности к отравлению Литвиненко российских спецслужб - ] ]

Journalist protection laws

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 has focused much of his attention on. [ [ New law protects journalists] Russia Today Retrieved on July 22, 2008]

Police raids

On June 19, 2006, Russian police raided the Educated Media Foundation, a totally non-governmental organization that receives U.S. funding, seizing documents and equipment in a search its director said was likely linked to the government's growing distaste for Western-funded NGOs. [ [ Russian police raid U.S.-funded Educated Media Foundation - International Herald Tribune ] ]


: "See also List of Russian-language television channels"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 2003 due to financial problems. [ [ Financial Times: Russian media set for landmark deals] , January 8, 2002 ]

Along with that, plenty of media outlets actively develop now while state participation in them is minimal [ Russia as friend, not foe] , By Nicolai N Petro.] . Private TV networks Ren-TV and TVC which cover 80% and 64% of population respectively, broadcast independent analytical programms like "25th hour", "Week" with Marianna Maksimovskaya, "Postscriptum", "Moment of truth". Ren-TV remains perhaps the only major TV outlet with liberal views, easily unveiling themas of censorship or showing interviews with leaders of Other Russia. Gazprom-owned NTV airs "Real Politics" with Gleb Pavlovsky and "Sunday Evening" with Vladimir Solovyov.

In 2006 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". [] Journalist Yevgeniya Albats has said: "Of course in the 1990s there were restrictions on freedom of expression but, due to the fact that the media belonged to different business structures, despite influence being exerted pluralism was preserved." [] 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." [ [ Interview with NBC Channel] . July 12, 2006]

It was reported later that 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 [ [ It Isn’t Magic: Putin Opponents Vanish From TV] New York Times, June 3, 2008 [ Related discussion] ] .


A System of Ensuring Investigative Activity, SORM, an amendment signed into law by Putin. SORM allowed law enforcement bodies to monitor Internet traffic and required ISPs to assist law enforcement in their investigations. In late 2000, Russian Supreme Court ruled that the law enforcement bodies are required to obtain a warrant and inform ISPs when law enforcement agents were using the system. Similar laws exist in most developed countries with large internet populations.


The actual influence of Kremlin on the media space causes harsh debates between journalists of "liberal" (e.g. Shenderovich) and "patriotic" (e.g. Oleg Kashin) persuasions. [ru icon Gazeta.Ru: [ Censorship caused quarrel between journalists] ] 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." [ru icon [ Interview with M. Kononenko by Itartass] ] 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." [] .

According to 2005 research conducted by the [ All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center] (VCIOM), 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 favor 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 fraudelent businesses ads; and 24% for products for sex ads and 'criminal way of life propaganda' films).Source: [ 82% of Russians Approve TV Censorship] , Russian Development Portal, 24 June 2005
, [] A point to note is, that according to the Article 29/5 of the Constitution of Russia, "Censorship shall be prohibited." [] ]

Marches of discontent

The organization "Reporters Without Borders" [ [ REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: Call for international support for journalists and human rights activists in Russia] ] issued the following statement in connection with Dissenters' Marches:

Reporters Without Borders added: "The record of the last seven years confirms our conviction that Vladimir Putin is an enemy of press freedom. It is our duty to appeal for solidarity with Russian human rights activists and journalists so that they do not feel isolated. Their struggle must find support outside the country, starting with the European Union."

During a press-conference at the Summit, President Putin was quoted as saying: [ [ Press Statement and Answers to Questions During the Joint Press Conference with President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Following the Russia-European Union Summit Meeting] - Diplomacy and External Affairs]

In May of 2007, a court in Samara sentenced one of organizers of anti-government protests, a member of National Bolshevik Party Iliya Gurjev to six months of prison, for the reason he didn't attend obligatory registration every month, as he was previously convicted to a suspended sentence for NBP action of capture of several apartments in waiting room of Administration of the President [] [] [] . Later Guryev denied the accusation, as well as opposition leaders said that was the first time an activist was given a significant prison term for organizing protests and said it was part of the government campaign to intimidate dissent ahead of the summit. Fact|date=June 2007

Freedom House report

scores nations on political freedom.legend|#B30000|Not Free] Draft version of the 2007 report of Freedom House "Freedom of the Press" in Russia [ Freedom of the Press 2007] , Draft Country Reports and Ratings, Freedom House, May 1, 2007] states that::"Media freedom was further curtailed in 2006 as President Vladimir Putin’s government passed legislation restricting news reporting and journalists were subjected to physical violence and intimidation ...:Despite public objections, Russia’s parliament also passed amendments to the Law on Fighting Extremist Activity, which Putin then signed in July. The measure expanded the definition of extremism to include media criticism of public officials, and authorized up to three years’ imprisonment for journalists as well as the suspension or closure of their publications if they were convicted ...:Authorities continued to exert influence on media outlets and determine news content in 2006. The state owns or controls significant stakes in the country’s three main national television networks: Channel One, Rossiya, and NTV ... :During 2006, journalists continued to face criminal libel charges for printing and broadcasting statements that were unfavorable to public officials. Criminal courts also sentenced several journalists on charges of “inciting racial hatred” for publicizing controversial events in Chechnya. Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, was convicted of the offense in February after publishing statements by leading Chechen separatists like the late Aslan Maskhadov. He received a suspended prison sentence and probation, but his conviction allowed the government to shutter his organization in October under a provision of the new NGO law. It remained open, with appeals pending, at year’s end. Boris Stomakhin of the monthly Radikalnaya Politika, who has written various critical articles on Russia’s actions in Chechnya, was sentenced in November to five years in prison ....:The international media community expressed its shock at the October murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was renowned for her independent reporting about abuses committed in the war in Chechnya. Other journalists who were killed in 2006—likely for reasons tied to their work, according to media watchdogs—included Ilya Zimin, a correspondent for the national television station NTV; Vagif Kochetkov, a correspondent for the Moscow daily Trud and columnist for the Tula paper Tulskii Molodoi Kommunar; Yevgeny Gerasimenko, a correspondent for the Saratov independent weekly Saratovksy Rasklad; and Anatoly Voronin, deputy director of the Russian news agency Itar-Tass ....:With online media developing and 16 percent of the population now online, the government also harassed some of Russia’s leading news websites. For example, officials accused,, and of spreading extremist ideas, and fined the editor of the internet publication Kursiv for publishing an “offensive” article about Putin."

While Russia maintained "partly free" status of its media in the reports of the 1990s, it recently deteriorated back to "not free". [ [ Historical Trends in Media Freedom] by Freedom House]

Russian journalist Andrey Kuznetsov criticized factual accuracy of the draft version of the report [ Lilac fraud] ( [ Russian text] ), Andrey Kuznetsov.] . Considering the amendments to Russian Law on Fighting Extremist Activity, the draft version of the report mistook "public slander of authorities" for "media criticism" [ru icon [ Amendments to the Law on Fighting Extremist Activity] , July 2006.] (in a more recent report of Freedom house the correct term — public slander — was used and mentioned as allowing the authorities to use "unchecked power against its critics" [ [ Muzzling the Media: The Return of Censorship in the CIS] , Freedom House, 2007.] ). Kuznetsov claimed, that considering the journalists convicted "for publicizing controversial events in Chechnya" Freedom House mixed the guilty with the innocent ones: while Dmitrievsky only published statements of Maskhadov and Zakayev, Kuznetsov believes theat the conviction of Boris Stomakhin could be justified [Lilac fraud: "If Dmitriyevsky was sentenced for publication of statements made by Aslan Maskhadov and Ahmed Zakayev, in case of Stomakhin such phrases as the following were considered propagation of extremism: " 'Let tens of new Chechen snipers take their positions in the mountain ridges and let hundreds, thousands of aggressors fall from their just bullets!' " and " 'explosion in the Moscow underground is justified, as Chechens have the full moral right to blow up what they wish in Russia' ". Feel the difference."] .

According to Kuznetsov, death of journalist Ilya Zimin was classified as murder on everyday grounds, motive of murder of Kochetkov was robbery (although father of Kochetkov disagrees with the version of investigation), Gerasimenko was murdered by a hobo (this murder was solved), and Anatoly Voronin was a business chief, rather than the deputy director of Itar-Tass. Kuznetsov claims that "only the murder of Politkovskaya may be directly tied to her unveiling articles about Chechnya. In all other cases it makes an impression that authors of the report simply composed death list of people having any relation to spread of information."

Considering "harassment of some of the Russia’s leading news websites", Kuznetsov clarified that all they got a precaution "on inadmissibility of propagation of extremism", and noted negligence of the report's authors who listed regional Altai server [] as a "leading news website" and placed in the list a "comical" case of chief editor of "Kursiv" fined for a moderate sum for satirical article 'Putin as phallic symbol of Russia'.

Kuznetsov concluded that "the situation with press freedom in Russia is for sure very far from ideal, and weighted and reasoned estimation of it could greatly facilitate its improvement. But the methodology of the authors of Freedom House report leaves open space for subjective treatments... Freedom house has carried out a vast research, but obvious flaws of the report slightly discredit the very idea of securing speech freedom as one of basic values of the humankind."

ee also

*List of journalists killed in Russia


External links

Russian media with English language versions

* [ Expert Magazine]
* [ Kommersant]
* [ Vedomosti]
* [ Novaya gazeta]
* [ Pravda.Ru]
* [ Russia in global affairs]
* [ Russia Today TV]
* [ RIA Novosti]
* [ Russia Profile]


* [ Free Press in Russia] by Ivan Skalauh

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