Russia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2010

2010 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

Russian media freedom continued to decline in 2009, with the Kremlin relying on alternatively crude and sophisticated media management to distract the public from widespread corruption and the country’s economic crisis. Most state and private media engaged in blatant propaganda that glorified the country’s national leaders and fostered an image of political pluralism—claiming that President Dmitry Medvedev was leading the process of Russian modernization while Prime Minister Putin was working to maintain stability.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, officials used the country’s politicized and corrupt court system—including dozens of criminal cases and hundreds of civil cases—to harass and prosecute the few remaining independent journalists who dared to criticize widespread abuses committed by authorities. In February, police in the city of Samara raided the office of the newspaper Samarskaya Gazeta, seizing nine computers that allegedly contained pirated software, the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) reported. In April, a court in Moscow convicted a journalist from the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Vyacheslav Izmaylov, of libel for an article about abductions in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya. He was ordered to pay 110,000 rubles (US$3,640) in damages to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, the U.S. State Department reported. Authorities have used “extremism” charges against a number of government critics, including journalists. In June, media regulators tried to close the weekly newspaper Chernovik in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan by filing an extremism case at a local court. The case appeared to be retaliation for the paper’s criticism of abuses committed by police and Federal Security Service (FSB) officers during counterinsurgency operations in the republic, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the U.S. State Department.
Journalists remained unable to cover the news freely, particularly with regard to contentious topics like human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, government corruption, organized crime, police torture, the activities of opposition parties, and the country’s economic crisis. In February, police in the northern city of Yekaterinburg seized 150,000 copies of the local Communist Party newspaper Pravda Primorya, which contained articles about the local legislative elections, according to the U.S. State Department. In March, police reportedly detained journalists from the Associated Press, the ITAR-TASS news agency, Kommersant newspaper, and TV Center, as well as the online news sites and, for attempting to cover an opposition rally in Moscow. In August, prosecutors in the Khakassia region of Siberia briefly opened a libel case against the editor of the news website New Focus, Mikhail Afanasyev, after he raised questions about the death toll and rescue efforts stemming from a major accident at a local hydroelectric facility. The case was closed amid criticism from human rights activists, but in early September two men attacked and beat Afanasyev, leaving him unconscious.
International journalists and press freedom advocates were occasionally denied entry into the country during the year. In October, the Russian embassy in Paris refused to issue visas to two representatives of the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders, preventing them from traveling to Moscow to participate in a press conference with the newspaper Novaya Gazeta on the third anniversary of the murder of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. Authorities also worked aggressively to restrict coverage of human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. In October, a television crew from the Moscow-based station REN-TV was reporting on corruption allegations against the former president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov, but they were forced to flee after being attacked by local police in their hotel room and threatened by Zyazikov’s brother.
Russia remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the media due to widespread lawlessness that allows politicians, security agents, and criminals to silence journalists with impunity. The nonprofit Glasnost Defense Foundation reported a total of 59 attacks on journalists in 2009, leading to eight deaths. According to CPJ, at least three journalists were murdered in retaliation for their reporting, one more than in the previous year. Two of the murders occurred in Russia’s politically unstable North Caucasus region, and all remained unsolved at year’s end, though suspects were arrested in one of the cases. In January, Anastasiya Baburova, a 25-year-old freelancer for Novaya Gazeta who specialized in reporting on neo-Nazi groups, was shot and killed in central Moscow while walking down the street with a prominent human rights lawyer, who was also killed. In July, Natalya Estemirova, a human rights activist who reported on abuses in Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta and for the human rights news website Kavkazsky Uzel, was abducted by several men in a car in broad daylight in the Chechen capital of Grozny and found dead later that day in a neighboring region with several gunshot wounds. In August, Abdulmalik Akhmedilov, the editor of the Dagestan political monthly Sogratl and deputy editor of the newspaper Hakikat, was shot and killed in his car in the regional capital of Makhachkala. Akhmedilov was known for criticizing the government’s human rights abuses. In November, Olga Kotovskaya, the former editor in chief and creative director of an independent broadcaster, Kaskad, fell to her death from a 14th-storey window in Kaliningrad. The day before, she had won a legal dispute over Kaskad’s ownership with the Kaliningrad region’s former vice governor, and journalists and opposition politicians denounced her death as a political murder. In another case, Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, editor in chief of the Rostov-on-Don newspaper Korruptsiya i Prestupnost, died in June of head wounds suffered in an apparent attack that left him unconscious at the entrance to his apartment building. Yaroshenko’s colleagues and press freedom groups called for an investigation into his death, but local authorities declined to open one, arguing that he died of an accidental fall.
Authorities’ failure to investigate or solve the vast majority of crimes against journalists has created an atmosphere of impunity. Suspects who are identified rarely receive serious punishments. In December, the relatives of Magomed Yevloyev, an influential internet journalist in Ingushetia who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2008, were outraged when a court sentenced the officer to two years at a minimum-security prison for negligent homicide. Several journalists were forced into exile as a result of aggressive harassment by authorities during the year. In May, a journalist for the Volgograd-based newspaper Svobodnoye Slovo, Yelena Maglevannaya, fled to Finland after she was convicted of “spreading disinformation” and threatened with psychiatric detention in retaliation for reporting on the torture of a Chechen prisoner, Agence France-Presse reported. High rates of murder and impunity, as well as a range on ongoing abuses, have all encouraged widespread self-censorship.
Authorities continued to exert significant influence on media outlets and news content through a vast state-owned media empire. The government owns, in whole or in part, two of the 14 national newspapers, more than 60 percent of the more than 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals, all six national television networks, and two national radio networks. This allowed the government to ensure that the media were filled with pro-Kremlin propaganda and avoided coverage of rising unemployment, bank failures, declining industrial production, and the falling value of the ruble. International radio and television broadcasting is generally restricted. Most private FM radio stations have been pressured to stop rebroadcasting news programs by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America, relegating those services to less accessible short- and medium-wave frequencies. Diversity continued to decline in 2009, as private companies loyal to the Kremlin and regional authorities purchased influential private newspapers, and most media outlets remained dependent on state subsidies as well as government printing, distribution, and transmission facilities. The economic crisis also led to a drastic decline in advertising revenue for the country’s few remaining independent media outlets, according to IREX. Government-controlled television was the primary source of news for most Russians, while lively but cautious political debate was increasingly limited to glossy weekly magazines and news websites that were accessible mostly to urban, educated, and affluent audiences. Nevertheless, internet access in rural areas has improved, as connections have reportedly been established at most of Russia’s schools.

Online media have developed rapidly and an estimated 30 percent of the population is now online, and the internet remains relatively freer than other news media in Russia, with most websites remaining available and a wide range of views being expressed. However, the authorities have increasingly engaged in intentional content removal and manipulation of online expression. Kremlin allies have purchased several independent online newspapers or created their own progovernment news websites, and they are reportedly cultivating a network of bloggers who are paid to produce pro-Kremlin propaganda. The FSB continued widespread monitoring of e-mail and web posts during 2009, while government officials harassed some news websites and bloggers. In September, freelance journalist and human rights activist Aleksandr Podrabinek was forced into hiding after receiving numerous threats and having his Moscow apartment building picketed by members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi in retaliation for an online article criticizing veterans for ignoring Soviet crimes committed during World War II.