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Does the Russian Government Only Support Media Freedom Outside of Russia?

April 10, 2014

The U.S. Embassy is disturbed by the latest Russian effort to decrease space for independent and free media in this country. On Friday, media network Voice of America’s parent organization, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), announced that Russian authorities have decided to cut off the only remaining radio transmissions by U.S. media in Russia. Please see the BBG’s press release detailing this unfortunate decision below.

It is particularly ironic that the decision came the same week that Russian authorities denounced a district court in Kyiv for temporarily allowing the suspension of Russian broadcasts in Ukraine, a decision that Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights Envoy called “an infringement on democratic freedoms and a violation of Ukraine’s international obligations.”

In the last year, the Russian Government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications. In the past few months alone it has blocked independent websites and blogs; turned the respected news wire service Ria Novosti into a propaganda service; denied visas and accreditation to foreign professional journalists; and forced leadership changes at several media outlets simply because those outlets dared to challenge the Kremlin’s extremist policies. Not only has the Russian Government ignored harassment, attacks, death threats and kidnappings of journalists in Russia and Crimea, it has made no progress in prosecuting the murderers of several other journalists, including American journalist Paul Klebnikov and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom advocacy group, noted its own concerns about recent steps to restrict Russia's independent media in an open letter to President Putin on March 20. Freedom House has also noted with concern the rapidly restricting space for free media in Russia.

An independent and unfettered media is essential in fostering and protecting freedom of expression. The United States continues to support the rights of all Russians to exercise their freedoms of expression and assembly, regardless of their political views, both on and off-line. These rights are enshrined in the Russian Constitution as well as in international agreements to which Russia is a party. We call on the Russian government to allow the same access to information for their people that it insists other nations provide.

Broadcasting Board of Governors Press Release April 4, 2014

Russia Clamps Down Further On U.S. International Media

The Broadcasting Board of Governors has condemned a recent decision by Russian authorities to cut off all remaining radio transmissions by U.S. international media in Russia.

In a one-sentence letter dated March 21, Dmitry Kiselev, the director of the information agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), stated that “we are not going to cooperate” with the BBG’s request to continue a long-standing contract for broadcasting on Russian soil.

Effective at the end of March, this decision removes the last vestige of Voice of America programming – including news in Russian and English-language lessons – from a local frequency in Moscow (810 AM).

“Moscow has chosen to do the wrong thing and restrict free speech,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “This is a fundamental value shared by many countries around the world. The BBG will continue to reach audiences in Russia through digital platforms and via satellite transmissions.”

Distribution of VOA and RFE/RL programming in Russia reached a high point in 2005, when VOA Russian programming was distributed on a nationwide television network and both VOA and RFE/RL had extensive partnerships with domestic Russian radio stations. But starting in that year, the Russian government turned greater attention to these stations and asked them all to re-apply for their licenses. And beginning in 2006, by denying the licenses of the stations that re-applied and intimidating the others, Russian authorities systematically eliminated domestic radio distribution of BBG-supported programs and almost all television distribution. In 2012, Russian authorities forced RFE/RL off its last remaining domestic radio outlet, an AM frequency in Moscow.

“We urge Mr. Kiselev and other Russian authorities to open Russian airwaves to more of our programs and those of other international broadcasters,” Shell added. “We’re asking for an even playing field: As Moscow’s media crackdown deepens, Russian media – including Russia Today television, which is under Mr. Kiselev’s authority – enjoy open access to the airwaves in the United States and around the world. The Russian people deserve the same freedom to access information.”

Kiselev, known for his strident anti-Western and homophobic views on Russian state television, was appointed in December 2013 to lead Russia Today. At the same time the Voice of Russia and the RIA Novosti news agency were merged into Russia Today.

The move also comes amid a fast-moving campaign to target opposition and independent media. Lists of “traitors” have been circulating in Moscow, and pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov recently added RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Radio Liberty to his “list of traitors” on Facebook. In the same vein, politonline.ru, a part of the Pravda.ru media holding, has created Russia’s first top-20 list of the most “anti-Russian” news outlets. This list, which places Radio Liberty sixth, is being shared by influential Russian political advisors such as Alexander Dugin, who wrote on his Facebook page that “this is the order in which Russia’s most contemptible media outlets will be closed or blocked.”

Russians are increasingly turning to the Internet and social media for their news. VOA’s digital strategy incorporates content across platforms. In addition to live interactives with domestic television channels, such as Russian Business Channel, VOA’s web-TV show, Podelis, allows users to connect and engage with the content in real time using social media. Podelis, which means “share” in Russian, provides a unique opportunity to engage in discussions about current events, Russian politics and U.S.-Russia relations. VOA’s social media following in Russia has grown significantly and visits to VOA’s website have doubled every year since 2008.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian Service provides 24 hours of radio programming via the Internet and satellite, a website that was visited more than 6.5 million times in March, and a strong presence on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. RFE/RL has started a multi-hour, daily video stream for Russia consisting of coverage of the most important events with reactions from Russian citizens as well as opinions from the West. The stream also includes live roundtable ​discussions and expert interviews on Russia.

This release is online at http://www.bbg.gov/blog/2014/04/04/russia-clamps-down-further-on-u-s-international-media/.