Russian Media Scene: Controlled Content with Little Space for Foreign Media
Citizens in Russia receive dosed content, and censorship laws are in place, enacted by the newly adopted Law on March 4, which even provides for a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years “for knowingly spreading false news about the Russian military”. Leading Russian television “Channel 1” and “Russia 1” are state-controlled, and the third-largest TV network, NTV, is owned by state-owned energy giant Gazprom. There are more than 3,000 radio stations in the Russian Federation, and the state is the founder of the three main networks “Radio Rossii”, “Mayak” and “Vesti FM”. More than 16,000 registered newspapers are published in Russia, while only 22 can be purchased nationwide. Identical to television and newspapers, the most popular ones have a pro-government editorial policy
Author: Vesna Kolovska
A video poll among citizens of the Russian cities of Perm and Vladivostok showed that a larger percentage of respondents do not know and do not believe that the Russian army has entered Ukraine.
“No one is bombing Kyiv. I do not believe in that,” said one of the citizens on the street, when asked by a journalist, who also showed him photos from the bombings in Ukraine as evidence. Even an older man said they did not believe there was a war.
Putin could not do that. To occupy Ukraine?! Why? Our people also live there – both in Ukraine and in Belarus.
“But it happened,” the journalist told them in the video.
I do not know. They do not say that on the news, the man replied.
The video is the best illustration of the state of the media in Russia, which is heavily controlled by the Russian government. Citizens receive dosed content while censorship laws come into force, reinforced by the newly adopted Law on March 4, which even provides for a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years “for knowingly spreading false news about the Russian military.” Television, according to Reporters Without Borders, remains the most trusted medium in Russia, with most of the channels being state-owned or owned by companies with close ties to the Kremlin.
Media under the direct control of the Kremlin
Leading Russian television channels “Channel 1” and “Russia 1” are state-controlled, and the third-largest TV network, NTV, is owned by state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
These are the dominant domestic channels, while internationally, the main Russian TV broadcaster is the Russian-language satellite television station Russia Today (RT), which is funded by the federal budget. Founded in 2005, Russia Today broadcasts in Arabic, Spanish and French in addition to English.
There are more than 3,000 radio stations in the Russian Federation. The state is the founder of the three main networks “Radio Rossii”, “Mayak” and “Vesti FM”. There are a number of commercial stations, which are mainly music radios.
More than 16,000 registered newspapers are published in Russia, while only 22 can be purchased nationwide. Identical to television, the most popular newspapers have pro-government editorial policies, while several influential dailies are owned by companies with close ties to the Kremlin.
Media in Russia
Rossiya 1 – national network, operated by the Russian Broadcasting Company (VGTRK)
Channel 1 – national network, 51% owned by the state, 49% by private shareholders
NTV – national network, owned by the state giant “Gazprom”
Center TV – owned by the Moscow City Administration
Ren TV – a commercial station based in Moscow with a strong regional network, majority ownership of the media holding NMG
RT – state-funded international information satellite channel in English
Radio Rossii – a national network operated by the state broadcasting company (VGTRK)
News FM – state property
Moscow Echo – majority ownership of state-owned Gazprom
Mayak – state national network
Russian radio – a large private network, music radio
Komsomolskaya Pravda – a pro-government tabloid
Kommersant – daily, business-oriented, controlled by tycoon Alisher Usmanov, close to Putin
Moscow Komsomolets – a popular Moscow-owned privately owned daily newspaper
Izvestia – a popular pro-Kremlin daily, owned by media holding NMG
Rossiyskaya Gazeta – a government-owned daily newspaper
Nezavisimaya Gazeta – an influential privately owned daily newspaper
Arguments and Facts – a popular weekly owned by Promsvyazbank
Novaya Gazeta – publishes three times a week, known for its investigative journalism
RBC – business daily newspaper
Vedomosti – financial daily newspaper
News Agencies/ internet
TASS – state news agency, with English translation
Interfax – a private news agency with English translation
Lenta.ru – a popular online news source
Moscow Times – English-language news website, successor to now defunct newspaper
Rambler.ru – the main internet portal
Sputnik – state multimedia platform for international cooperation with multilingual service
Yandex.ru – the leading search engine
VKontakte – a leading social network
Raskomnadzor – the main censorship arm of the government
Russia ranks 150th out of 180 on Reporters without Borders’ media freedom list in 2021. State control of the media and the Internet is exercised through Roskomnadzor, a federal executive body responsible for ensuring that the media follow Russian law and issues warnings when violating these laws. Roskomnadzor may also restrict traffic to its social media site, which is its legal obligation. The Russian government in December 2020 passed a law increasing penalties for online platforms and ISPs, giving it the authority to restrict or completely block websites.
This powerful state censor withdrew the license of the German service “Deutsche Welle”, and placed the media in the group of foreign agents. The move was in response to the withdrawal of RT’s broadcasting license in Germany and on internet platforms. The European Union has banned “Sputnik” and “RT” on European soil, while the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, assessed that:
These are not independent media, but weapons in the Kremlin’s manipulation system.
In response, the list of “foreign agents”, which includes more than 100 foreign and domestic media organizations and individuals, compiled by the Russian Ministry of Justice, has grown. The law dates back to 2012 and at that time it referred to non-governmental organizations that received funds from abroad. Its scope was expanded in 2019 to individuals or organizations that receive any amount of foreign funding and publish “print, audio, audio-visual or other reports and materials.”
In 2014, a law was passed that restricts the freedom of online media. The “Lugovoy Law” – named after one of its authors, State Duma MP Andrey Lugovoy – allows news sites to be blocked without a court order if required by the prosecution.
Before and after the invasion of Ukraine, a number of foreign media outlets, which had their own Russian-language newsrooms and broadcasts in Russian, were forced to withdraw or restrict their publications.
The latest in a series of stopping work is that of Radio Free Europe (RFE / RL), funded by the US Congress, which has said it is suspending operations in Russia after local tax authorities filed for bankruptcy against the Russian branch of 4 March. RFE / RL reports that police have stepped up pressure on journalists. This came after the Russian Duma passed a law that any journalist who deviates from the Kremlin’s stance on the war in Ukraine could face up to 15 years in prison.
The RFE / RL’s announcement is part of a series to shut down or reduce the work of independent media. In just a few days, several domestic media outlets shut down or announced that they would be operating online, and some of the journalists decided to leave the country. Among them is the editor of TV Dozhd, Tikhon Dzyadko, who left Russia with several of his colleagues after the television station was shut down.
After the blocking of the “Rain” website, the “Rain” orders on the social networks and the threat to some employees, it is obvious that the personal safety of some of us is endangered, wrote the editor Dzyadko on Telegram.
The closure of TV “Dozhd” was immediately after the entry into force of the Law with the envisaged draconian penalties.
The television, while broadcasting its latest news, played Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet, as a reminder of the 1991 coup attempt against the government of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. While the coup was taking place in the field, the ballet was constantly broadcast on state television, which was an indication to the viewers that something was wrong. TV “Rain” from August 2021 was on the list of “foreign agents” along with the independent channel “Medusa”, based in Latvia, popular in Russia. The register of foreign agents includes media, journalists and activists. In addition to “Medusa” and “TV Dozhd”, the list also includes the research publications iStories and Insider, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL), and veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev co-founder of the human rights organization Memorial.
Moscow Echo Radio said it had shut down its radio channel and website, while the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, known for its investigative journalism as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, announced that it was removing articles about the Ukraine war with the explanation that the Russian censors ordered those materials to be removed. Raskomnadzor issued a statement informing the Russian media that:
They are obliged to use only the information and data they have received from official Russian sources.
The statement also warned that unnamed media outlets were spreading “unverified and unreliable information”.
The BBC, whose service is also restricted by the Russian government, has announced that it will remain on the ground and report on the incident.
Access to accurate, independent information is a fundamental human right that should not be denied to the people of Russia, millions of whom rely on BBC news every week, the BBC Press Service reported shortly after Russian authorities restricted access to its website.
The restriction, according to the British service, is counterproductive. Weekly visits to the BBC’s Russian-language website, the company said, had more than tripled to 10.7 million. Traffic from Russia to the BBC English-language website increased by 252 percent.
Russian media presence in Macedonia
There are no registered Russian media in North Macedonia, which broadcast their program in the Macedonian language. Russian media influence comes from the Serbian edition of Sputnik, a state-owned multimedia platform for international co-operation with services in multiple languages, including Serbian. Some of the Macedonian media, and especially some of the users of the social networks occasionally broadcast content from the Serbian “Sputnik”. The web platform “Russia Beyond” is also present, which is a rebranded edition of “Russian Word”, which is published in 14 languages, including Macedonian. The platform was created, as stated in the explanation, to spread Russian culture. When reviewing the contents, almost every second or third article is about Russian President Vladimir Putin, his character and work, and there are also content from Russian cities and Russian achievements.
For years, two networks of magazines, originating from Serbia, have been published on the Macedonian market through the publishing house “Color Media Press”. The most famous editions are “Russian Doctor” and “Russian Travar” by the publishing house “Novosti”, which are distributed through direct exports to Bosnia and Montenegro and/or through localized editions in North Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia in the local languages.
Two years ago, the Meta News Agency published an analysis in which it assessed that “these magazines continue to commercially exploit the positive perceptions of Russia and its culture, which were previously present in part of the Balkan population, further contributing to the strengthening of propaganda positions of the Putin regime.”
For example, in the latest, January issue of the Macedonian edition of “Russian Doctor”, the headline on the front page is the “exclusive” article about “Putin’s 10 secrets to health” which presents as “secret” the proper diet, the morning gymnastics, but also engaging in sports such as skiing, hockey, horseback riding and fishing, which are largely beyond the financial capabilities of the target (retired) audience, writes “Meta.mk” in January 2020.
In the list of registered newspapers and magazines of AAAMS (updated on March 21, 2022), “Color Media Plus” is registered as a publisher of “Good Food” and “Russian Doctor”.