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Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2017



Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
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Freedom of the Press Scores

(0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Internet Penetration Rate: 

Key Developments in 2016:

  • Legal amendments that were signed into law in July gave the state security services greater access to communications data and increased penalties for promoting “extremism” and other offenses.
  • Top editors at the independent RBC media group were dismissed in May after its coverage of the Panama Papers—leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm that revealed possible corruption among President Vladimir Putin’s associates—apparently prompted increased legal and political pressure on the group’s owner. Other RBC journalists subsequently resigned, and new chief editors were hired from the state-owned news agency TASS in July.
  • Media outlets favored the ruling United Russia party in their coverage of the September parliamentary elections.
  • Throughout the year there were reports of attacks, threats, censorship, arrests, and prison sentences against both journalists and ordinary citizens who had posted or shared politically sensitive information online. Among other cases, two bloggers were sentenced to prison for commentary on Ukraine and Syria, and an online journalist was jailed in Chechnya on dubious drug-possession charges.

Executive Summary

Russia remains a country with a large array of media outlets, but limited access to critical or independent coverage and diverse political viewpoints. Television, which is still the leading source of news and information, often functions as a propaganda tool for the government. The mainstream media showed significant bias toward the ruling United Russia party in their reporting on the September 2016 parliamentary elections. The media are also expected to conform to official narratives on issues like Russia’s occupation of Crimea and military intervention in Syria, and the dissemination of critical views on those topics can result in website blocking or prison sentences.

While some independent broadcasters, publications, and online news sources continue to operate, their market share is not extensive and they regularly face pressure from the government. Such pressure, including aggressive tax inspections and criminal investigations, apparently led to the ouster of top editors at the RBC media group in May.

The legal framework gives the government broad, discretionary powers to regulate media content. This includes the so-called Yarovaya laws, a package of antiterrorism legislation signed in July that increased prison sentences for promoting terrorism or extremism online and requires internet service providers to retain and allow decryption of communications data for possible inspection by security agencies.

Violence against journalists remained common in 2016. There were widespread reports of attacks, arrests, and threats against both professional journalists and social media users. The risk of violence or prosecution was particularly high in Chechnya, an insurgency-prone Russian republic governed by pro-Kremlin strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. A group of Russian and foreign journalists and human rights workers were attacked and beaten by masked assailants as their bus approached the Chechen border in March.


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