Russia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


In 2004, press freedom in Russia remained restricted as the government continued to control mass media and to obstruct the reporting of independent journalists. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the Kremlin, having secured the country's main national television networks-Channel One, RTR, and NTV-and most radio stations, limits these rights in practice. Authorities abuse a weak judicial system and use it for arbitrary arrests and lawsuits. Throughout 2004, parliamentarians also considered a proposal, seen by many as a violation of the people's right to information, to adopt media law amendments banning any television or video information on terror acts, except information allowed for publication by law enforcement agencies. The parliament voted against these amendments until the tragic rebel takeover of a school in Beslan, South Ossetia, in September 2004, after which the Duma passed draft antiterrorism legislation permitting the suspension of media outlet activities for up to 60 days under the imposition of an "immediate terror threat regime." Crimes against journalists generally remain unsolved, fostering a climate of impunity. The Moscow Circuit Military Court acquitted all the suspects accused of organizing the murder of a journalist in 1994. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 11 journalists have been murdered in contract-style killings since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999.

Authorities exert direct influence on state-owned media, where journalists receive "guidelines" on editorial content prepared by the government. Often, journalists at these outlets are required to obtain approval for reports. Of the national television stations, the government owns two and controls the third, NTV, whose independence dwindled this year with reports and critical shows taken off the air. During the March 2004 presidential election campaign, Russian media coverage was unbalanced and biased, with media outlets giving the majority of airtime and newspaper space to President Putin. National television channels prevented equal access of the candidates to the media through censorship and the refusal to broadcast political advertising clips from Putin's opponents, while opponents' attempts to file complaints with the Central Election Commission and Supreme Court failed. Believing that the elections were predetermined and the media was nothing but an instrument, many journalists practice self-censorship and keep away from electoral issues. During the Beslan hostage crisis, local and foreign reporters were also detained and arrested arbitrarily to bar them from traveling to Beslan to cover the story. Journalists, particularly those who work outside major urban areas, continue to be fined and punished under the penal code, brought up on libel charges, and fired and harassed for reporting on certain topics, such as Chechnya or government corruption. In 2004, numerous journalists were threatened and attacked, and two journalists were killed. Paul Klebnikov, the Russian-American editor of Forbes Russia, was gunned down on July 9 as he left his Moscow office. Payl Peloyan, editor in chief of Armyanski Pereulok, a Russian-language arts and literature magazine serving the Armenian community, was stabbed and beaten on the side of a road outside Moscow on July 17.

Most print media are privately owned. Some diversity of viewpoints exists in the Russia media, as oligarchs own various electronic and print media outlets and use them to advance personal interests. The government allows the existence of a few independent, critical media outlets, but these have very limited coverage. The majority of private media remain dependent on the government for access to printing and distribution services and are disadvantaged by subsidies that the state gives to government-controlled media. The state can also penalize government-controlled media for independent editorial judgment by withholding subsidies. The government generally does not restrict Internet use, and President Putin has thus far not supported Duma proposals to regulate the Internet. However, Internet service providers are required to cooperate with security services and allow the tracking of e-mail and Internet activities.