Sunday, March 18, 2007

Russia Silences its Free Voices?

Will the Kremlin's grip on Russian freedom of speech tighten further? This fear has grown stronger in recent days, as president Putin this week decided to merge two state agencies responsible for media and communication. The new superauthority may pose a serious threat to both independent media and a free blogosphere in Russia. The agency will both control the media and the technical means for delivering it.

On 12 March, president Putin signed a decree "On a Federal Monitoring Service in the sphere of mass media, communications, and protection of the cultural heritage." Accordingly, agencies responsible for monitoring media, Rosokhrankultura, and communications, Rossvyaznadzor, are to be merged. The new agency will thus be given the powers to comprehensively monitor both printed and Internet media, increasing possibilities for sanctions against the whole spectre of media coverage. This includes not only electronic media but also the Russian blogosphere, e.g. by keeping records on and intervening against oppositional bloggers.

As it already is, the position of Russian regular media is precarious to say the least. Except murders and mysterious deaths of critical journalists on what must now be regarded a regular basis, it has become everyday business for Russian government and financial interests to impose pressure on various media to sack journalists that will not go with the stream. For example, in 2004, Raf Shakirov was sacked from Izvestiya due to his coverage of Beslan, and last year Gazeta.ru got an official warning for writing about the Danish Mohammed drawings. These are also some of the voices who have now protested against Putin's new decree.

What is most worrisome with the new agency is that it possesses all means necessary to suppress the freedom of speech exercised in printed media and on the Internet. Thus, the agency will issue and revoke licences for both media publication and technology. Furthermore, the agency will have the resources to also monitor all forms of media, providing it with the tools necessary to quickly intervene whenever information is deemed "unfit" for public consumption.

All in all, this means that previous restrictions on printed and televised media now will be extended to all forms of online media, including the blogosphere. With these powers, the agency may close down servers hosting "inappropriate material," trace individual users - read bloggers - and bring charges against people exercising their freedom of speech, if it contradicts the interests of state.

As traditional media in Russia has been increasingly curtailed in its freedoms during the Putin presidency, the demand for alternative media has drastically increased. Here, the blogosphere has offered the forum for the free exchange of thought and ideas no longer granted the official media. Today, the Russian blogger community is the second largest on the American blog provider LiveJournal, or Живой Журнал (ЖЖ), as it is commonly referred to by Russian bloggers.

Internet has offered people an alternative arena to freely express the diversity of views we normally associate with exercising the unalienable rights of modern society. Now, the Russian government once more turns against the very same constitutional principles that it is set to uphold. In such a Russia, Big Brother watches you: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. The question for the future is: Who will first shout "Down with big brother!"

6 comments:

An-Lu said...

It seems that the Russian media are taking great strides...backwards...

Alex(ei) said...

I wouldn't worry too much about it right now because it's yet unclear if the new agency will have greater legal authority than its two predecessors combined. We'll see how it works out when we're close enough to the election.

The Kremlin is more likely to buy up influential bloggers and manipulate the Russia blogosphere though a team of dedicated pro-Putin bloggers.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Angela,

Yes, the position of Russian media is truly precarious. However, what we often fail to recognise is that private interests are often a greater threat to journalists than the state.

The government usually have other - "administrative" - means at their disposal to keep the media in check, whereas commercial interests more often resort to violence.

The latter example may be everything between giving some drunkard a bottle of vodka to beat up an inconvenient journalist, to paying a "security firm" hundreds of thousand dollars to kill critical media representatives.

I actually believe that private interests are the greater threat to Russian media and a reality that all Russian journalists have to relate and adapt to on an everyday basis.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Alexei,

Thank you for your comment! I really hope that you are right, but I would not bet on it.

However, if it turns out well, this administrative reform will be hampered by the traditional interbureaucratic rivalries and feuds that so often characterise reforms and mergers of this kind.

Still, this is a classic example where the principle of separation of powers is put aside, granting a superagency such powers that would never be allowed in a legally regulated society.

A comparison might be that of merging the judiciary functions of police, prosecutor and judge, as the new agency, as it now appears, would investigate, accuse, and pass judgement on those who are, perceivably, in breach of "laws and regulations."

This is simply not the way things should be run in a state governed by law, and if the new agency is not in contradiction to the letter of the Russian constitution, it is so in terms of it spirit.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Dee said...

Putin's an old KGB man and a control freak from way back, isn't he? If he can kill that spy, he certainly can't be liking any blogosphere insolence. I applaud your courage in exposing what could be on the horizon there in Russia. I wonder if it could be a harbinger for what's coming in the West. We're becoming more and more socialized here in Australia, in the US and over in Western Europe as well. Maybe all bloggers only have limited time to get the word out.
Keep up the good fight!

Ali Bsharat said...

I wouldn't worry too much about it right now because it's yet unclear if the new agency will have greater legal authority than its two predecessors combined. We'll see how it works out when we're close enough to the election.

The Kremlin is more likely to buy up influential bloggers and manipulate the Russia blogosphere though a team of dedicated pro-Putin bloggers.