Russian Independent Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Russian experts note alarming trends in connection with the adoption of the law on fake news
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. It was proclaimed by a special resolution by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 1993.
Since 1997, the UNESCO Prize for Press Freedom has been awarded annually on this day. In 2007, Anna Politkovskaya was posthumously awarded this prize..
In addition, on this day, messages of the UN Secretary General are published, and UNESCO holds thematic events in different parts of the world..
The Russian service of “Voice of America” found out the opinion of a number of Russian experts on the state of affairs with freedom of the media in the country.
Nikolay Svanidze: “There is no need to talk about freedom of speech in Russia”
Head of the Department of Journalism at the Institute of Mass Media, Russian State University for the Humanities, Professor Nikolay Svanidze believes that the position of the Russian press in terms of freedom has remained virtually unchanged over the past year. However, now, in his opinion, there are some signs that the situation may worsen..
“In particular, this is evidenced by the scandal in the newspaper Vedomosti,” he concretized in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America. – But this is still a local scandal, so it is too early to draw conclusions. In general, the situation, I repeat what it was, remained approximately the same. There is no need to talk about freedom of speech in Russia, but also about complete lack of freedom too “.
Recall that the new editor-in-chief of Vedomosti, Andrei Shmarov, came into conflict with the editorial board, personally rewrote the title of the article about the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, to the opposite, removed the critical column about Rosneft from the site and forbade reference in the materials to the data of the Levada polls -center “.
“If we compare with what happened in the 90s, then there is no freedom,” Shmarov notes. If we take the Soviet era, then there is freedom. There are several publications that are allowed to be relatively independent. But those that are designed for the mass consumer, all of them in one way or another, directly or indirectly, are under the control of the state. There are some holes for the steam to escape, but they are very small. “.
It is too early to talk about how the actions of the authorities in the context of the coronavirus affected the freedom of the media, since not much time has passed, says Nikolai Svanidze. In his opinion, the fight against the pandemic and the related measures have more influenced the physical condition of individual journalists who work online, in conditions of self-isolation..
“But television has taken on a more, let’s say, humanoid character,” Svanidze continues. – Because earlier, for several years in a row, the screens were mainly talking about Ukraine. The impression was that we live more in Ukraine than the Ukrainians themselves. Now they partially forgot about Ukraine, they began to talk about the coronavirus. It’s not really a lie here, at least it’s harder to do. In a word, television has become a little closer to real life. But I think that this is only due to the height of the epidemic. “.
As soon as the pandemic subsides, everything will immediately return to square one, the expert believes..
Galina Sidorova: “Journalists run the risk of getting additional trouble for doing their job”
The tendency that has emerged in recent years to complicate the work of journalists in Russia has not only not disappeared since the last Press Freedom Day, but has been further developed. This opinion was expressed by the co-founder of the 19/29 Fund, a fellowship of investigative journalists, in an interview with the Voice of America correspondent. Galina Sidorova.
According to her, the coronavirus pandemic has only allowed the authorities to increase pressure on the media. “In this regard, the coronavirus has played into the hands of those forces in Russia that, roughly speaking, are pursuing a line of gagging and complicating the possibility of obtaining independent information both for the journalists themselves and for society,” says Sidorova.
This trend, according to the expert, was facilitated by the tightening of Russian legislation on the press. “In particular, in March last year, a law was passed to combat the so-called“ fake news ”, which suggests that a journalist or publication is punished with very serious fines for publishing false information. And in April of this year, in the context of the coronavirus, amendments to this law were adopted, and now for the dissemination of information that will be recognized as fake, not only administrative but also criminal liability is envisaged. Up to 7 years in prison, if the court considers that this or that publication had tragic consequences for people, “- and recalls the interlocutor of the” Voice of America “.
The adoption of this law also allows Roskomnadzor to block websites where information objectionable to the authorities is published. “And what is called justice, in this case, in fact, does not work. We do not have the opportunity to somehow challenge this decision before it comes into force, “- said the co-founder of the” 19/29 Fund “.
The most striking example of recent times, Galina Sidorova considers the consequences of the publication in Novaya Gazeta of an article by Elena Milashina on the situation with the coronavirus in Chechnya. “The Novaya Gazeta correspondent said that the doctors did not have enough personal protective equipment, and the local authorities were detaining them for violating the regime of self-isolation. And this article extremely angered the local authorities in the person of Mr. Kadyrov..
He began to threaten both Novaya Gazeta and Elena Milashina in particular, saying: “If you want us to commit a crime and become criminals, then say so! One will take upon himself this burden of responsibility and will be punished according to the law. Sit in jail and get out! Well, don’t try to make bandits and murderers out of us ”. It was a call to the FSB and the administration of the Russian Federation to influence the publication. And, accordingly, this was perceived by our journalistic community and, in general, by normal people, as an immediate threat. And taking into account what happened to the journalists of Novaya Gazeta, this threat is viewed as quite real, ”Sidorova notes..
Galina Sidorova notes that this statement did not entail any consequences for Ramzan Kadyrov – the press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov called Kadyrov’s speech “very emotional”, but did not see anything illegal in it. As for the article by Elena Milashina, it was blocked by Roskomnadzor on the publication’s website. “But the most important thing is that Elena Milashina sent a statement to the Prosecutor General’s Office that threats were made against her, but this statement had no consequences. And in relation to the newspaper that published her article, measures were taken in accordance with the law on fake news, ”emphasizes Galina Sidorova. And he sums it up: “The situation now is already difficult. What we experience these days does not happen every year. But for journalists this turns into additional difficulties: they face not only the danger of being infected, like all ordinary people, but also risk getting additional trouble for doing their job. “.
Galina Arapova: “The authorities are doing everything to make the official information uncontested”
Director and Leading Lawyer of the Center for the Defense of Media Rights, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize for the Protection of Human Rights Galina Arapova in a commentary for the Russian service of the Voice of America, she noted that the situation with the media during the pandemic has become more tense both in terms of the volume of information and the working conditions of journalists. According to the lawyer, the authorities are very jealous of how the problem is covered, and are doing everything to make official information uncontested..
“Journalists, as a rule, cannot double-check the data released from above regarding the number of cases, the number of deaths among the medical staff, the quality of the tests performed, and so on,” Arapova emphasizes. – And this information is important for society in order to understand what is really happening, what the real dynamics are. But it is only necessary to write in the media or social networks, for example, about the lack of ventilators, problems with treatment, an outbreak of diseases at a particular enterprise or hospital, then in the vast majority of such cases it is announced as fake news, administrative cases are initiated, and after April 1 – and criminal “.
There are many more such cases, and this is a very alarming trend, says Galina Arapova. She also pointed out that recently amendments were made to the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code, which establish responsibility for the spread of fake news about epidemics and methods of combating them..
“This opened wide gates for initiating criminal cases, even when it comes to socially significant information that cannot be withheld from people. It is noteworthy that in April alone, against the background of a pandemic and imposed restrictions under the pretext of combating fakes, the number of requests from journalists for help increased by more than a third. This is a huge leap forward. If earlier we processed 15-20 such questions and consultations every day, now – more than 30 are stable “.
All this, of course, in no way contributes to either freedom of speech or public discussion of the problem, which, of course, is very painful and important, summed up Arapova.
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