Russia: closures and exile

State control, strict regulations and repression are the key features of the Russian media landscape – more than ever since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. All the country's large media outlets now belong either directly to the state or to state-affiliated oligarchs and corporations.

Journalist Marina Ovsyannikova holds an anti-war poster in March 2022. She was arrested and fined. After her release she went into exile.
Journalist Marina Ovsyannikova holds an anti-war poster in March 2022. She was arrested and fined. After her release she went into exile.
Freedom of the press has been under massive pressure in Russia for some time now. In 2019 a new law came into effect under which even media that are only partially financed from abroad (as well as their employees who publish content on political issues) can be classified as "foreign agents", which means they are subject to special, far stricter rules and controls. For the ambitious project VTimes, to name just one example, the resulting loss of advertising customers proved fatal, and it was closed in 2021.

With the start of the war against all Ukraine, strict censorship rules came into force: only official sources are allowed to report on the "special military operation", which may not be referred to as a "war". In addition, "spreading fake news" and "discrediting the armed forces" are now punishable offences, and dozens of media outlets and journalists have been labelled as "foreign agents".

Several major media outlets which refused to obey the new rules were closed down in the spring of 2022 – including online TV station Dozhd, the renowned newspaper Novaya Gazeta – whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 – and the radio station Echo of Moscow, which had provided a forum for opposition opinions over three decades.

Many of the journalists affected by these measures went into exile and the three media outlets mentioned above were relaunched abroad, Echo of Moscow in Berlin and Novaya Gazeta Europe and Dozhd in Riga. Dozhd, however, had its Latvian broadcasting licence revoked in December 2022 following a scandal over alleged support for the Russian army.

Print media play only a peripheral role in the Russian media landscape today – newsstands are disappearing by the day. In the print sector, the state pursued a strategy of transferring control of media outlets to Kremlin-affiliated businessmen who are dependent on the state power – as with RBK in 2016/17 and the once liberal and critical business daily Vedomosti in 2020.

Television is key in shaping public opinion. In effect, all TV stations support the Kremlin's position in their news and talk shows and have intensified their propaganda since the start of the war. Independent broadcasters are at best allowed to provide entertainment, but nothing more.

Even the Internet, which until the start of the war offered a certain degree of freedom, is now much more heavily regulated: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and certain foreign websites are officially blocked in Russia but can still be used via VPN servers. Social media users, bloggers and the media, however, must strictly adhere to the various censorship rules if they don't want to risk being blocked or even imprisoned.

Despite all the restrictions, independent opinions and free information are still available in Russia. However, they only reach those who actively seek them out on the Internet – whether via VPN connections or on Youtube and Telegram. Many of the Russian media professionals who emigrated in 2022 have created new channels on these two non-blocked platforms.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders): Rank 164 (2023)

Last updated: December 2022
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