Russia’s Media Crackdown
Russia’s media sector is a murky business. Amid tight government control which is laced with a strict crackdown on anything anti-establishment, scribes are feeling the heat of their lifetime. Though times were not very supportive anytime before as well, the scenario has become more dangerous after Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.
As his terms increased, so did the media control. Since his first term, a major chunk of TV channels has slowly passed under media control leaving only the internet to the opposition leaders for their political discourse.
The situation became much tenser after the Ukraine conflict was triggered, resulting in both print and online media getting gagged proportionately.
As of the latest, three topmost editors of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov promoted RBC newspaper, the last of the independent dailies in the country that has been involved in serious and substantive investigative journalism, resigned.
The news outlet was constantly driving out investigative reports indicting Putin’s daughter and her husband. RBC wrote about business dealings by Putin’s youngest daughter Katerina in 2015 and later continued reporting about the wealth of her billionaire husband Kirill Shamalov.
Elizaveta Osetinskaya, editor-in-chief of the RBC media group, Maxim Solyus, editor of the RBC newspaper, and Roman Badanin, editor of the RBC newswire, have resigned from their respective posts.
However, the local journalists think otherwise and claim that the situation is similar to the 2001 takeover of tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV television, the largest independent channel, which was highly critical of the Kremlin.
Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s eighth richest man, ran for president in 2012 in an election that Putin ultimately won. Interestingly, just a week back, the police had opened a case against Prophorov’s company, which was formerly owned by the RBC, citing tax violations.
People familiar with the development state in media that the entire exercise was to send a strong message to Prophorov to either rein in RBC’s editorial policy or be ready to face the music. Shortly, the RBC announced that Osetinskaya would enter a sabbatical in May, four months earlier than planned.
Those following the slow debacle of Russian media articulate that the establishment can openly afford to blackmail media organizations since an independent judiciary doesn’t exist in Russia. Had it not been such, the situation could’ve been much better.
Although the government explains the departure of the RBC top editors due to losses at the media assets, the demise of media houses such as RBC will squeeze what is left of investigative journalism in Russia.
Journalism in the country is undoubtedly returning to the Soviet mold!