Russia: Media under state control

Russia’s media landscape is controlled by the state. Virtually all the major TV broadcasters and the main newspapers either belong directly to the state or to oligarchs and companies closely associated with it. Online, by contrast, there is still a certain amount of freedom - for now.

People in Moscow demonstrating for the release of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on 11 June 2019.
People in Moscow demonstrating for the release of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on 11 June 2019.
Print media now play only a peripheral role in the Russian media landscape. But even so, the state is pursuing a strategy of transferring control of publications to entrepreneurs with close ties to the Kremlin who are dependent on the state – as in the case of RBC in 2016/17. In the spring of 2020, after a change of ownership the same appears to be happening with the liberal independent business newspaper Vedomosti - prompting the editorial staff to protest against the newly appointed editor-in-chief in their own paper.

Television and web portals play a crucial role in shaping public opinion. In practice, all the TV stations support the Kremlin's position in their news and magazine programmes. Independent broadcasters are only allowed to provide entertainment or, like, confine themselves to broadcasting via satellite or the Internet.

The newspapers and online media enjoy more freedom than the TV stations. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the radio station Echo of Moscow (despite belonging to the pro-Kremlin Gazprom Media holding) are now the only remaining traditional mass media outlets that are explicitly critical and open to oppositional opinions.

The authorities exert less control over online journalism, but in this area, too, the pressure from the state is increasing year by year. A number of sites that were critical of the regime have been blocked in recent years - in most cases for allegedly publishing extremist views. However, banned sites such as MBK Media or can often be accessed via redirects even after they have been blocked, so most of the independent media (e.g., Republic or can still be found online. In blogs and on social networks there is still plenty of open discourse, but the state crackdown on "fake news", purportedly extremist statements and insults to religious feelings or representatives of the state is gradually encroaching on this freedom too. The hefty fines imposed for such “offences” can be fatal for such platforms.

The country’s media law prohibits foreign citizens from establishing media outlets in Russia, and since 2017 it also limits the stake foreigners may hold in Russian media to 20 percent. In addition, since 2019 media that are even partially financed from abroad (as well as employees who cover political topics) can be classified as "foreign agents", which means that they are subject to stricter controls. Nevertheless, Russian-language foreign media such as Deutsche Welle, the BBC or the Riga-based website can still be used freely.

Consequently, despite all the restrictions on media freedom, free and independent information is still available in Russia. The Kremlin’s media policy has, however, ensured that only those who actively seek this information can access it.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 149 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020

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