Foreign Policy Blogs

Russian independent media takes on Putin “in exile”

Vladimir_Putin_-_Visit_to_Russia_Today_television_channel_6

Less of this, please? Photo Credit: Kremlin.ru

If 2014 is to be known for the significant expansion to Russian state-owned English language media, 2015 may be the year of the Russian independent media “in exile.”

Meduza — an independent Russian-language news site — launched its English-language edition on Monday, just months after it set up shop in Riga, Latvia. Spearheaded by Galina Timchenko,  the former Editor-in-Chief of Lenta.ru who was abruptly dismissed by the site’s billionaire owner in early 2014, Meduza hopes to provide an alternative to the ever-growing behemoth of Russian state media. Because that mission opens Meduza up to censorship within Russia — new “anti-terrorism” legislation has made it even easier for the government to block certain sites on a whim — it’s also available as an app. Apps are far harder to ban, allowing Meduza to provide users with unfettered access to content even if the government removes the main site.

Despite being the self-described “free press in-exile,” it’s a welcome development for a country where, to quote Human Rights Watch, “independent media is practically on its death bed.” In addition to mass resignations at Lenta.ru following Timchenko’s departure, the popular television channel Dozhd (“Rain”) was dropped by a number of satellite providers in early 2014 over a single poll. A new law limiting foreign ownership of media conglomerates operating within Russia has changed the landscape as well and recently prompted CNN International to cease broadcasts in the country. Then there are a flurry of laws directly targeting the Russian Internet (“RuNet”). One forces bloggers with wide audiences to register as “quasi-media outlets” with the government; another requires companies operating on the RuNet to store data on local servers, not abroad.

As the Kremlin tightens its grip at home, it’s also made a point of expanding the reach of state-owned media abroad. Once called the “best propaganda machine for the outside world” by Andrei N. Illarionov, an adviser-gone-critic of Putin, RT (formerly Russia Today) stepped up its game in response to the Ukraine conflict, pushing out an “alternative” narrative to that of the West that has frequently taken a turn to the absurd. (Even Steven Seagal was given airtime to share his thoughts on the conflict.) Then, on Nov. 10, 2014, Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the state-owned international news agency Rossiya Segodnya, unveiled a new platform called Sputnik. Kiselyov introduced Sputnik as an alternative to the “aggressive propaganda that is being fed to the world, that propagandizes and imposes a unipolar construct of the world.” One of its first stories was on global secessionist movements, including one in, no joke, Florida.

Assuming Meduza’s goal is to counter the “dezinformatsiya” of the Kremlin’s media empire, it certainly has its work cut out for it. “We are against propaganda from both sides,” said Ivan Kolpakov, one of Meduza’s co-founders, in an interview with The Calvert Journal. “However, we’re not going to pretend that the Russian government and the Russian opposition are in the same conditions, nor that it’s fair play. No, I personally think that it’s a conflict of the serpent and the rabbit.”

Hopefully, a ruble in decline will not only put a dent in the seemingly endless flow of cash that funds Rossiya Segodnya and related organizations, but also make the government’s failures increasingly harder to cover up. Nevertheless, an objective voice — even one coming from abroad — can still go a long way.

 

Author

Hannah Gais
Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of ForeignPolicyBlogs.com. Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais

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