“Our sources say they are likely to use this against journalists,” stated Kolpakov, talking from a location he wouldn’t disclose. “They can use it against journalists, and why wouldn’t they? They decided to destroy the industry entirely.”
Kolpakov, whose web site relies in Latvia, started what he known as “an urgent evacuation” of his Russian employees.
Similar situations are enjoying out at numerous independent media shops throughout Russia, a nation that has by no means had a completely welcoming angle towards a free press.
The nation was most not too long ago ranked a hundred and fiftieth out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders, and the federal government has usually pushed restrictions on independent media throughout occasions of navy battle, in keeping with Gulnoza Said, coordinator for Europe and Central Asia applications for the Committee to Protect Journalists. But the newest crackdown is unprecedented.
“Putin understands how high the stakes are in the invasion of Ukraine, and a big part of this war is the information war,” she stated. “Once Russian officials saw the information war could be lost because of the activities of Russian-based outlets, I think they were outraged and decided to close them.”
The closure Thursday of Echo of Moscow, a 32-year-old radio station, was particularly stunning, she stated. “Echo Moscow has become a part of Russian identity just as ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘War and Peace.’ And now it’s no more.”
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine final week, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor put Echo and 9 different shops on discover, ordering them to delete news and commentary that used phrases such as “invasion” and “war” to explain the incursion. One of them was independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, not too long ago gained the Nobel Peace Prize.
Another was TV Rain, the nation’s final independent tv station. Two hours after the federal government blocked its web site Wednesday, chief editor Tikhon Dzyadko and his spouse, the station’s news director, fled the nation. The station aired its final broadcast over YouTube on Thursday.
In an interview with The Washington Post from Turkey, Dzyadko mourned the top of the work his station had been doing. “In a country which is free only on paper but in reality has been becoming more repressive, in such a country, we were absolutely free and we were saying what we wanted to say and reporting about actually important things,” he stated.
Some colleagues additionally fled, whereas others stay in Russia. “All of us are just trying to understand where we are and what is happening.”
An organization spokeswoman stated The Washington Post remains to be assessing the brand new law’s potential impression on its correspondents and native employees.
The Russian authorities both owns or controls a lot of the TV channels from which older Russians get their news. But for a number of years, as Russia tried to take part in the worldwide area, Putin “tried to appear friendly to independent media and journalists,” Said stated.
It has at all times been an uneasy historical past, although. In the late Nineteen Nineties and early 2000s, Russia was affected by a spate of high-profile killings of journalists. And throughout Putin’s 20 years in energy, oligarchs have purchased up many independent media shops.
Putin was targeted on tv news in the primary years of his presidency, stated Kolpakov, however left newspapers and web sites intact: “They didn’t see it as an important part of the market” for controlling public opinion. Dzyadko noticed Russia’s tolerance of independent media as principally window dressing.
“There was an idea to make it look like Russia is democracy,” he stated. “But one day they decided that they don’t want to do it anymore.” Crackdowns got here throughout Russian incursions in Chechnya, Georgia and Crimea.
The independent media was usually capable of do “thoughtful and heroic work,” stated Philip Seib, professor emeritus of journalism and public diplomacy on the University of Southern California and creator of “Information at War: Journalism, Disinformation, and Modern Warfare.” But it principally served as a facade — “Potemkin journalism,” he stated, “behind which are the tightly controlled major entities” of state-owned media.
“When global political difficulties arise, the facade is torn down and truth banned,” Seib added.
Since 2019, Russia has designated dozens of journalists and media organizations as “foreign agents,” together with Rain TV and Meduza. One of Meduza’s journalists, Ivan Golunov, was arrested on manufactured drug costs, prompting mass protests earlier than he was launched.
TV Rain — which grew its viewers with protection of 2010 and 2011 anti-government demonstrations — was kicked off main cable and satellite tv for pc suppliers in 2014 earlier than pivoting to YouTube, the place Dzyadko stated its viewers averaged about 15 million viewers month-to-month.
“The designation of being a foreign agent, the idea was to show to the people that we were spies and enemies, but instead, our audience got bigger,” he stated.
Independent media has been particularly beneath strain over the previous two years, because the Russian structure was amended to permit Putin to stay president till 2036 and opposition chief Alexei Navalny was poisoned and arrested. In April 2021, the Kremlin declared Meduza a overseas agent. Advertisers dropped it, forcing Meduza to shut its workplaces and lay off employees. Sources grew scared of talking to its reporters, Kolpakov stated. And then U.S. sanctions made it onerous for Meduza to entry the donated funds it had come to depend on.
“It’s not like Latin America, where people are shot in the street, but it is still a dangerous profession and there are lots of methods that the authorities use to put pressure on people,” he stated. “I have huge concerns about the security of our people. I can’t tell you how many people we have or where they are based because it is so dangerous.”
On Thursday, Meduza printed an editorial saying it could proceed to report upon unfolding occasions in the nation, whereas it could, noting that “within a few days, maybe even today, it is possible that there will be no independent media left in Russia.”
And the ultimate few seconds of Rain TV on Thursday featured dozens of staffers who had assembled on set strolling off collectively.
“No to war,” stated the station proprietor and co-founder. And then the feed minimize to a scene from the ballet “Swan Lake” — which state TV usually broadcasts throughout moments of political upheaval, most notably in the course of the 1991 failed coup try that preceded the autumn of the Soviet Union.
“We know when and why this was played once on Russian television, and we know what happened soon after,” Dzyadko stated. “So since we are optimistic, we hope good times will come.”