Russia: Media under state control

Russia’s media is tightly controlled by the state. Television is the main source of information and almost all the country's TV channels are either owned directly by the state or by oligarchs and companies like Gazprom with close ties to the state.

The wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
A number of these channels openly promote the Kremlin's views. Independent channels are at most allowed to air entertainment programmes; otherwise they must make do with broadcasting via satellite or the Internet.

The state's first steps towards bringing the media under its control came in the early 2000s when it took over major channels such as NTV. By contrast newspapers and online media enjoy considerably more freedom. The state has refrained from direct takeovers in these areas, and in particular in the print segment, contented itself with handing over control of such outlets to pro-Kremlin, amenable oligarchs, including the owner of the Kommersant publishing group, Alisher Usmanov, and media mogul Yuri Kovalchuk.

Even the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who was seen as relatively independent and who owns the media group RBC, was forced to hand over the reins following critical reports about Putin's involvement in the Panama Papers scandal and about one of his private residencies. This became the major media scandal of 2016.

The Russian state exerts far 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. Nonetheless, most of the country's free media are to be found online.

An amendment to the country's media laws passed in October 2014 forbids foreign citizens from founding media outlets in Russia and limits their shares in Russian media to 20 percent. The amendment, which becomes effective in 2017, led to the withdrawal of the Axel Springer publishing group from Russia, where it had published several journalistic brands (e.g. Forbes Russia). 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 Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 148th place (2017)
Freedom House: 176th place – status: not free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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