Popular broadcaster Dozhd and investigative website IStories labelled ‘foreign agents’ ahead of September's parliamentary elections.
This statement was originally published on ipi.media on 24 August 2021.
Authorities label popular broadcaster Dozhd and investigative website IStories ‘foreign agents’ ahead of parliamentary elections
The IPI global network today condemned what it called the biggest crackdown on independent media in Russia in several years and urged international condemnation of the escalating assault on media freedom by the Kremlin ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.
Pressure on media by authorities reached a new peak on Friday August 20 when the justice ministry listed the country’s largest independent online broadcaster, TV Rain (Dozhd), a “foreign agent”. Its chief editor, Tikhon Dzyadko, said it will appeal the decision.
The same day, investigative platform Vazhnye Istorii (IStories), its editor-in-chief and five journalists were also added to the growing list of “foreign agents”, a label which effectively blacklists the outlet, deters funding or advertising and leaves reporters facing possible jail time for their work.
On Saturday, several journalists who protested outside the headquarters of the FSB security agency in Moscow against the decision to label Dozhd TV as a foreign agent were detained by police. Some held placards with the messages: “Journalism is not a Crime” and “You are Afraid of the Truth”.
“The labelling of Dozhd TV and IStories represents the most outrageous use to date of this Soviet-style ‘foreign agent’ law by Russian authorities and another blatant attack on what remains of independent media within the country”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “While Russia says that media slapped with the ‘foreign agent’ moniker can continue working, the reality is that it can be a death sentence, as advertisers pull out and the outlet is slowly starved of financing. Numerous publications have been forced to close for fear their journalists will be prosecuted and more are likely to follow.
“As an organization committed to defending press freedom globally, IPI stands opposed to foreign agent laws used against the media by all governments, not just the law implemented by the Russian Federation. However, these most recent decisions show clearly that Russia’s foreign agent law is being weaponized beyond an international tit-for-tat and beyond any conceivable legitimate purpose to pressure media that publish critical content. Russia’s actions are in clear violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and place the future of independent media in the country in doubt. We strongly urge the Russian authorities to withdraw the ‘foreign agent’ label applied to Dozhd and IStories, and we call on the EU Commission and EU heads of state to raise media freedom with their Russian counterparts as a matter of priority.”
Weaponization of ‘foreign agent’ law
The law requires branded outlets to disclose sources of funding and put a disclaimer in capital letters above every text they publish, warning viewers they are about to read content from a “foreign agent”. If media do not comply, they face fines, criminal charges or even a complete publication ban.
Until now it has been used against smaller online publications and U.S.-funded media. The designation of Dozhd TV is the first time a broadcaster watched by millions has been targeted. The subscription-based channel, long critical of the government, was forced off the airwaves in 2014 after cable operators cancelled their contracts with the company following pressure by authorities.
Nadezda Azhgikhina, director of PEN Moscow, told IPI the addition of Dozhd TV to the list was the clearest illustration yet that “independent voices are not welcome”. “It is very bad for journalism in Russia and for journalists as a whole”, she said.
The designation of Latvia-based IStories, an OCCRP member, includes its editor-in-chief, Roman Anin, and five journalists: Roman Shleynov, Olesya Shmagun, Alesya Markhovskaya, Irina Dolinina, and Dmitry Velikovsky.
Sofia Rusova, co-chair of the Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union (JMWU) in Russia, told IPI that for such journalists being listed on the justice ministry’s register represented a de facto ban from the profession. The JMWU has submitted a request to the Moscow mayor’s office for permission to hold a protest rally against the foreign agent law on Saturday September 4; no response has yet been given by authorities.