Russia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Russia

Russia

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

72

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

32

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

24

Press freedom was further constricted in 2005 as President Vladimir Putin's government obstructed journalists from reporting on sensitive topics and tightened control over news sources. Although the Russian constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, authorities are able to use the judicial system to harass and prosecute journalists for independent reporting. In 2005, courts charged several journalists with criminal defamation for printing and broadcasting statements public officials found unfavorable-among them Eduard Abrosimov for writing about the sexual orientation of the State Duma deputy speaker, and Nikolai Goshko for accusing top Smolensk officials of organizing the killing of the former owner of Radio Vesna. Authorities also took advantage of legislation like the Law Against Extremist Activities, which prohibits the dissemination of information supporting "extremist activities" and allows authorities to shut down media outlets after three warnings. Such legislation would restrict coverage of contentious areas like Chechnya where the Kremlin wants the public to believe it maintains control. At the end of the year, Russia's Parliament considered a new bill requiring stricter registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), thus asserting greater government control over civil society and potentially clamping down on the freedom of speech of NGOs. 

Authorities continued to exert direct influence on media outlets and determine news content, as the state owns or controls the country's three main national television networks-Channel One, RTR, and NTV. The authorities waged a campaign against both local and foreign journalists to bar them from accessing and publishing contentious information, namely regarding Chechnya. During the course of 2005, the Office of the Prosecutor criminally charged Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, editor in chief of the monthly newspaper Pravo-Zaschchita, for publishing statements by Chechen rebels; a warning was issued to the independent Moscow daily Kommersant for publishing an interview with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov; the Foreign Ministry criticized an independent Swedish news agency for publishing an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev; police and secret service agents detained three journalists from the Polish state television station TVP who were producing a documentary about Chechnya and pressured them to leave Russia; and authorities denied access to government officials and renewal of accreditation to reporters from the American network ABC after it broadcast an interview with Basayev. In addition, television networks all but ignored the wave of pensioners' protests that took place all over the country in January. Leveling massive damages against newspapers, including Kommersant for its reporting on the banking crisis in Russia, was another tactic used to intimidate independent press outlets.

In 2005, there were numerous cases of journalists being detained or attacked, likely related to stories they had covered on topics such as corruption or anti-government protests. Such abuses have led to increased self-censorship. Official censorship also persists in Russia, as in the case of the privately owned Ren-TV news anchor Olga Romanova, who was taken off the air at the end of 2005 because of her critical comments related to the defense minister. Several journalists were killed during the year. After filming an illegal drag race competition, cameraman Pavel Makeev was found dead, as was journalist Magomedzarid Varisov after sharply criticizing the opposition. Other murders remained unsolved: The authorities reopened their investigation into the 2003 murder of journalist Alexei Sidorov; the Military Collegium of Russia's Supreme Court upheld a 2004 acquittal of six military officers accused of murdering Dmitry Kholodov in 1994; and a trial against two Chechens accused of killing Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov in 2004 and extradited to Russia began behind closed doors at the end of 2005.

Much print media at the national level are privately owned, so some diversity of viewpoints exists. Ownership of regional print media is less diverse and is often concentrated in the hands of local authorities. Private owners of print and electronic media outlets are generally oligarchs and large businesses-such as the energy company Gazprom, which has a majority of shares in the newspaper Izvestia and uses them to advance personal and political interests. The law requires little transparency in media ownership. Russia Today, an English-language satellite news channel funded by the Kremlin, was launched in late 2005. The number of independent voices in media decreased for financial reasons in 2005, as privately owned newspapers like Russky Kurier were closed and the self-exiled Boris Berezovsky's Nezavisimaya Gazeta was restructured. Furthermore, the government continued to disadvantage private media by allocating subsidies to state-controlled outlets and controlling the means of production and distribution. Online media, an area not yet regulated by the government, are also developing. Although the government generally does not restrict internet access for the 16 percent of the population able to afford it, internet service providers must make it possible for police to monitor traffic.