Russia: Media under state control

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

The wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Reports about Putin's involvement in the Panama Papers scandal and about the president’s daughter proved catastrophic for Mikhail Prokhorov: in 2016 this relatively independent billionaire had to give in to pressure from the Kremlin and replace the editorial board of his media holding RBC. The reporting of his media outlet promptly became tamer. In 2017, Prokhorov finally handed in the towel and sold RBC to Grigory Berezkin, who already owns the pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Generally, the TV stations clearly support the position of the Kremlin in their news coverage. At most, independent broadcasters are allowed to provide entertainment or, like Dozhd.tv, limit themselves to broadcasting via satellite or the Internet.

As a first step when Putin came to power in 2000, the oppositional news station NTV, which since then has been owned by the Gazprom Media holding, was brought into line. The newspapers and online media enjoy more freedom than the television stations. But in the print sector too, the state strategy is to put editorial departments under the control of pro-Kremlin, state-dependent business people – as in the case of RBC.

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 that are explicitly critical and open to oppositional opinions.

The Russian state exerts less control over online media, despite the fact that there are now several pro-government websites with high user numbers and a few regime-critical websites have been blocked in recent years - purportedly due to extremist publications. Nonetheless, most of the independent media are still found online (e.g. newsru.com, Republic or fontanka.ru). The discourse is also for the most part open on blogs and social networks.

An amendment to the Media Act adopted in 2014 prohibited foreign nationals from founding media outlets in Russia, and as of 2017 the percentage of shares foreigners are allowed to hold in Russian media assets has been limited to 20 percent. This resulted in the withdrawal from Russia of the Axel Springer-Verlag, which until then had published the Russian edition of Forbes magazine and other publications there. The Sanoma group also sold its stake to newspapers Vedomosti and The Moscow Times. The Russian-language versions of foreign media such as Deutsche Welle, the BBC and website Meduza are, however, freely accessible.

As a result, free and independent information is available in Russia despite massive restrictions on some areas of media freedom. The country's media policy has, however, ensured that only those who actively seek this information can access it.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 148 (2018)

Last Updated: May 2018
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