Russia In The Information Blockade

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Russia blocks media websites and their social media pages. The independent media and the Russian sections of the major international media are under attack, many of which were previously vulnerable, being labeled as “foreign agents.”

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks are no longer available in Russia. In recent days, access to social networks had significantly slowed down and finally stopped on March 4.

As a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Russian state control bodies have massively blocked the media platforms that spread news about the military operations in Ukraine, the deaths of the residents, and also the soldiers of the Russian Federation.

On February 26, Roskomnadzor announced that access to some Internet resources would be restricted if they called what was happening in Ukraine a “war,” an “invasion” or an “attack.” The only acceptable option would be to officially call it a “special military operation.”

Otherwise, the information will be considered untrue and unreliable. And the media that spreads it must pay a large fine and be ready for its work to be blocked.

After that warning, Roskomnadzor wrote a letter to Google demanding that they stop spreading “fake information” on YouTube, which could distort reality and contain messages of participation in mass public rallies.

In the days of the real war, the cleansing of the information field was another military operation, and the Russian authorities quickly began to shut down, first of all, the websites of independent media and international media.

Moreover, not only the media but also individuals will be held criminally liable for spreading unofficial information about the Russian army (by law, “fake”) and can be imprisoned for up to 15 years. That law was adopted in an expedited manner on March 3 and left no doubt that there already is the strictest censorship in Russia.

Or rather, a clean field, where the propaganda platforms (obvious or hidden) and media will remain. And the media field is almost completely under the control of the state.

The law prohibits any positive attitude towards sanctions against Russia.

Russia does not rule out that the article on “high treason” will be more widely used.

The list of blocked media is being updated, at the moment it looks like this:

The saddest fate on the list was the old independent Russian radio station “Echo of Moscow,” the owners of which decided to dissolve the media outlet altogether.

Gazprom Media, the owner of Echo of Moscow (and Gazprom has been severely punished), did not find it expedient to spend power and money to keep the media.

On March 3, the “Dozhd” TV channel stopped working, the broadcasting of which was banned. The general director of the channel Natalya Sindeeva said that the media outlet has also suspended broadcasts on YouTube and other social networks.

“We need strength to breathe and understand how to work in the future,” he said.

The decision to leave Russia temporarily was made by various employees of the channel, including the editor-in-chief. The reason was threats and concerns about personal security.

To work or not to work?

In this situation, the media have two options. Either to work in conditions of military censorship, satisfying all official requirements. Or, stop working temporarily and wait for better days to come.

“Novaya Gazeta,” which is still working and remains one of the few independent Russian media outlets, decided that it was necessary to work anyway. Even under the pressure of censorship and having to use euphemisms. “Novaya Gazeta” has already removed from its website any articles which, according to the state control bodies, are not allowed.

The Bell also decided to continue working under censorship, saying that it at least helps the reader not to drown in the news.

Other media outlets considered it impossible to work in such conditions and took a break. For example, Colta.ru considered it more honest to be silent than to speak in a low voice. Znak.com also voluntarily decided to remain silent. Many international media outlets did the same.

The response of international media managers

CNN reported on the temporary suspension of broadcasting in Russia, and BBC and Bloomberg will no longer have correspondents in Russia. Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Mickletvet said that the new Russian laws make any independent journalist a criminal and even in these conditions it will not be possible to pretend that there is normal journalism inside the country.

The BBC Director-General Tim Davey also considered it impossible to work in this situation, saying that independent journalism is criminalized in Russia.

The website of RFE/RL’s Russian service was also blocked in Russia. The president of the radio station, Jamie Fly, stated that Putin “feeds Russians with lies about the real volume and price of the Ukrainian war.”

Western countries, in turn, have blocked or reduced access to a number of Russian state-funded media outlets and agencies considered as propaganda including RT, Sputnik, Zvezda.ru, Gazeta.ru, Lenta.ru, Ria.ru.

Based on this, Roskomnadzor completely shut down Facebook and Twitter in Russia.

The blockade of the independent press and the decisions of large media outlets to leave the market, as well as the disconnection of Russians from social networks, mean that an information vacuum is being created, which will create a favorable environment for propaganda. Only for propaganda.

Because only those promoting propaganda and not journalists feel good in a desolate media environment.

And it will be difficult for Russian citizens to do internet searches as well, as Russia is going to force big browsers – Google, Chrome, Mozilla, Safari, to switch to national coding licenses. How this will take place is still unknown.

And as long as there are small windows of network freedom, and the App Store and Google Play applications are still working in Russia, steps to bypass these blockages with VPNs are becoming necessary.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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