Russian Media and the Rule of Silence

Discussion on the current state of media in Russia
Participants of the online roundtable
Sergey Parkhomenko, Roman Anin, Pavel Chikov, Ivan Pavlov © Wilson Center 

The event “Rule of silence” was jointly organized by the Moscow office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Kennan Institute. It took place on the 10th of November, 2020. The event was a panel discussion on how the authorities in Russia are trying to silence independent media. There were three participants in the discussion: Pavel Chikov – a Russian lawyer, a human rights advocate and head of the Agora group; Ivan Pavlov* – a Team 29 representative, an informal association of lawyers and journalists aimed to counteract growing governmental closeness in Russia; Roman Anin* – investigative journalist, ex-partner of OCCRP and editor-in-chief of Important Stories* media. The discussion was hosted by a journalist and a Kennan Institute affiliate Sergey Parkhomenko.

Watch the full recording in Russian language below. Full transcript is available in English here

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© Wilson Center 

The complex, comprehensive approach of the authorities consists, among other things, in creating such a great number of traps that it is simply impossible to predict where you may get caught. We have a whole block of new articles in the Code of Administrative Violations.

Pavel Chikov

Pavel Chikov in his speech touched upon different topics. The general line is authorities are getting smarter in their actions towards media.

Newsmakers are afraid to write on some topics, which lead to the rise of Telegram channels and YouTube channels. The demand for direct information is rising. Legislative changes are bringing many problems, too.

We did a count, and of the first two hundred cases on fake information distribution—which was, of course, a provision adopted for coronavirus but is now being expanded and applied not just to coronavirus cases—half are cases filed against public figures and journalists. So, roughly speaking, professional information distributors—journalists or bloggers—risk the most.

Pavel Chikov

Another problem would be the growing danger of getting a terrorism justification case. Like Svetlana Prokopieva, who got sued just for voicing her opinion about why an anarchist blew himself up in the FSB office waiting room in Arkhangelsk in 2018.

Moreover, legal traps articles that generate cases against “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” are still actively used by authorities. It allows the imposition of administrative liability and large fines on anybody, including journalists, journalists based in the regions.

Ivan Pavlov* stressed that prosecuting journalists for high treason becomes a new tool of authorities. He also mentioned that in his opinion, the journalist community in Russia is one of the most powerful ones. seems to me that before 2014 it was peacetime and now we live in wartime. So during the peacetime, there were about three high treason sentences per year, whereas in 2015 there were already fifteen sentences of this kind. It is a fivefold increase. In Ivan Safronov’s case, which we are working on now, there is a high treason charge, and it is exactly a case of how the state security service has finally gotten to the most powerful professional body in Russia, the journalist community.

Ivan Pavlov*

Roman Anin* had another view of his professional community.

The journalist community is divided, like our society. It may be loud but isn’t effective.

Roman Anin*

Later during the event, he explored the topic of demand for quality journalism in Russia, rules that shouldn’t be broken and many other things. 

Speakers also touched upon the issue of FSB and its increasing role in controlling the press, and the internal mechanisms that led to it.  

It is important to add that on the night of the 10th of April FSB conducted a search in Roman Anin’s apartment. FSB stated that the search was over the case of the 2016 Novaya Gazeta article on Igor Sechin’s (head of Rosneft) ex-wife. As of the 13th of April Roman is a witness in the case. 

The full transcript in English is available here. 

*labeled "Foreign Agents" by Russian authorities. What is it?