Campaign to label Russian journalists and media as ‘foreign agents’ gathers pace after election · Global Voices

Sonia Groisman, a journalist declared “foreign agent”, demonstrates in front of the FSB headquarters in Moscow. Image from Avtozak Live on Telegram CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

This ODR Editors article appeared on Open Democracy on September 30, 2021. It is republished as part of a content sharing partnership and has been edited to fit the GV style.


The above post is what journalists at independent media outlets Mediazona and OVD-Info must now place on their websites and social media feeds every time they publish an article.

Mediazona has documented hundreds of cases of torture and police brutality, drug forgery and political accusations, and systemic violence inside the country’s prison system. OVD-Info is a human rights media project that covers all political arrests and prosecutions – there are now dozens across Russia every week – and provides legal assistance to those detained at protests or just at the outside their home. Over the past few years, openDemocracy has translated and published dozens of articles through both outlets to emphasize their importance.

On September 29, these media outlets, along with Mediazona publisher and editor-in-chief Sergey Smirnov, were declared “foreign agents” by the Russian Ministry of Justice. Staff working for Golos, the election observer, were also placed on the list of “foreign agents”.

They are not the first.

The effects of Russian “foreign agents” legislation against the media and civil society have been direct and deeply troubling. Indeed, the label “foreign agent” marks a medium as undesirable for the sources, the advertisers, the supporters and the readers. They are indeed considered “enemies of the people”, to use the Soviet term. This makes the daily work of journalists incredibly difficult.

Meduza, an independent organization specializing in hard-hitting investigation and news reporting, was added to the list of “foreign agents” in May and has since reported the loss of advertising revenue, resulting in the loss of high-quality journalists. . VTimes, which was born from the ashes of the high-quality business daily Vedomosti, decided to shut down entirely the same month after it was also added to the list.

These are just two examples. The Justice Department has now declared more than 20 media outlets and dozens of individuals “foreign agents,” and it’s clear that is not slowing down. While it was hoped that the targeting of independent media this summer would ease after the parliamentary elections this month, it seems clear that the Russian authorities intend to clear the ground for independent media.

This means that the pressing issues that concern Russian citizens – law and justice, socio-economic rights, democracy and, more recently, military activity – do not have to be reported in detail, care and independence. Instead, attempts to do so independently must be closed and isolated under the rubric of “foreign influence” – of which there is no evidence. When the media ask for proof of their “foreign funding”, Russian prosecutors refuse to disclose it.

Ironically, like Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Mediazona, underline after the decision, it is the officials of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party and their elite supporters who hold property, money and assets in the West – but it is the media and civil society people who continue to work in Russia who are “foreign agents”.

It was not possible for everyone to continue working. On September 30, it was reported that Russian security services had raided the home of Roman Dobrokhotov, editor-in-chief of The Insider, a media outlet central to the investigations into the poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and other public figures. It turned out that Dobrokhotov apparently left Russia in August. Others, like journalist Ivan Safronov, have been jailed for months on charges of treason.

Russian journalists have sought to consolidate their protests and efforts in response to these constant and unpredictable threats, including picketing against the use of the “foreign agent” legislation and a new petition calling on authorities to revoke it – and readers to financially support these media in whatever way they can. One hundred and fifty thousand people have already signed the petition.

Tweet from journalist Katya Arenina with screenshots from several Russian and international media websites with the campaign slogan “There are no foreign agents, there are journalists”.

Media workers called on supporters inside and outside the country to help disseminate information about the situation facing their Russian colleagues. Earlier in September, independent Russian media launched an online solidarity campaign against the country’s “foreign agents” law, under the slogan “There are no foreign agents, there are journalists” .

Following the announcement of their appointment, the Mediazona team said in a statement on its website:

егодня государство хочет, чтобы независимые рналисты исчезли. – хотим елать нашу работу и честно рассказывать о России.

сли этого же хотят наши читатели, то вместе у нас все олучится.

Today, the state wants the disappearance of independent journalists. We want to do our job and tell honest stories about Russia.

If our readers want the same thing, together we should be able to make it work.

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About Charles D. Goolsby

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