Russian President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip over Russia’s media after announcing on Monday that the main state news agency would be dissolved and replaced with another organisation, who is charged with the promotion of Moscow abroad. The move will see the closing of well known RIA Novosti, and the creation of a new agency which will be called Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). The state-owned Voice of Russia radio station has also been closed. The decree, effective immediately, has many critics slamming Putin for what many are calling a clear move against media freedom, and toward total censorship…
Putin’s cabinet have defended the decision, with Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration saying the decision was made in order to save money and improve the state media. Ivanov justified the Kremlin’s action, saying:
“Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests.It’s difficult to explain this to the world, but we can do this and we must do this.We must tell the truth, make it accessible to the most people possible, and use modern language and the best available technologies in doing so.”
The decree, signed by Putin, explained further:
“The main focus of … Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) is to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation.”
But some, like newly closed RIA Novosti, are saying such statements smack of old-time propaganda agencies, not news. The head of the new agency will be conservative news anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov,who prominent member of parliament, Alexei Mitrofanov, has described as a “powerful propagandist”. In a statement released after Putin’s announcement, RIA Novosit said:
“The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”
The timing of the decision is also being called into question. As Russia has become increasingly assertive in its international dealings, particularly towards the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries–which has brought a lot of heat on Russia from the West, with accusations that Moscow has pressured some of the EU-leaning Eastern Partnership countries into allying themselves with Russia for fear of the repercussions.
The context for this, many have suggested, is Putin’s slipping control over Russian public opinion. After returning for a controversial third time, Putin has taken several steps that critics have denounced as a stifling of political rights and open debate, as he increasingly concentrates power on a small circle of allies. The action against semi-independent media outlets may be regarded as an extension of this–a silencing of would-be critics.
But, of course, the implications go beyond Russia’s borders.
Open Democracy Russia:
One hand washes the other?
The Kremlin’s strong backing of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is raising fears–particularly after Putin met with Yanukovych late last week in a meeting, which many are speculating led to a secret agreement between the two parties to forge a strategic partnership. The announcement to close media outlets in Russia came just two days after the Ukrainian-Russian gathering, and raised eyebrows across Russia and the world, catching the agencies’ employees, executives and even some government officials by surprise.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is facing backlash for its heavy crackdown on protests across the country, after putting its dialogue with the EU on pause. Reports of police brutality are bringing the country under fire, and media freedom is being called into question. A report from Freedom House called “One Step Forward, One Step Back: An Assessment of Freedom of Expression in Ukraine during its OSCE Chairmanship” has just been released, assessing Ukraine’s media freedom, or lack thereof. The report explains:
“2013 is the first year Ukraine has held the Chairmanship in Office (CIO) of the OSCE since it became a participating state in the organization in 1992. The Chairman in Office, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Leonid Kozhara, outlined the country’s priorities for its CIO in November 2012, among which were the freedom of speech, resolving the frozen conflicts, and combating human trafficking,and acknowledged that Ukraine’s own record would be under the microscope during its CIO.
Little progress has been made on many of those questions as acknowledged by Foreign Minister Kozhara in a recent editorial and in a bi-annual report issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Ukrainian OSCE chairmanship. According to their assessments, special attention has been paid to resolving the frozen conflicts, but few results in strengthening the freedom of speech have been realized except for the “arrangement of necessary conditions for renewal of mandate of Representative on Freedom of the Media.”
“Citizens may freely express their views, and collect and disseminate information, but access to free and pluralistic media and to public information held by the authorities is inadequate. Journalists’ working conditions are not secure enough to work safely and remedies for violations of journalists’ rights or attacks on journalists are ineffective.
The media, and especially television, is rife with hidden paid content, making it difficult for viewers to discern what news is real and what is not. Television stations are constantly juggling political and economic pressure. Adherence to journalistic standards is unsatisfactory as ethics boards are ineffective.”
The report also criticizes Ukraine’s media for what Russians also already fear:
“Much of the local media is financially dependent on the government and thus on the ruling political forces. Ownership of TV channels is not transparent and the new law on media ownership leaves loopholes, allowing opaque ownership structures to persist across the sector. The National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting is not an independent regulatory body. Moreover, nationwide TV channels show loyalty to the government as important political events and themes, especially those relating to the political opposition, are covered inadequately or not at all.”
— Media Initiative (@MediaECI) December 11, 2013
Social Media & Euromaidan
— Barbara Gorska (@BasiaGorska) December 1, 2013