The Message Of Shame Suffocating The Uncomfortable Press In Russia: "This Content Is From a Foreign Agent"

“This message (content) has been created or distributed by a foreign media outlet acting as a foreign agent or by a Russian legal entity acting as a foreign agent.” This is the text that should appear on all pages of Meduza, one of the most popular and influential media in Russia.

Since the medium was included in the list of “foreign agents“On April 23, by the Russian authorities, the message should appear large and in the center of all the pages of the web, also under the advertisements that finance the newspaper and in all the publications of social networks. In fact, the Twitter character limit obliges them to publish only the message imposed by the authorities accompanied by the link of the news they want to share. In addition, any other medium that mentions Meduza in its information is also obliged to indicate its status as a “foreign agent “.

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“Regulation prohibits us from reducing the font size or putting the message at the end of the story. The notice has to be big, bold, top and centered. It also has to appear in our ads. As you can imagine, few companies will pay. for promoting their products under a warning message stating that the content is “created by foreign agents,” the outlet noted in a publication in which you ask for the support of readers for the survival of the organization.

According to the legislation, the text has to be twice the size of the font used for the headline of the article. In the case of videos, the message must occupy 20% of the screen and must appear for at least 15 seconds.

Meduza advertisers have already fled. The medium has had to close its offices in Riga and Moscow, stop working with collaborators freelance and cut the salary of its workers, sometimes up to 50%.

“They have the stamp of the enemy of the people. It is a slab that they endorse any annoying media,” Edith Carchera, vice president of Reporters without Borders Spain, tells elDiario.es. “Economic suffocation is a classic of countries without press freedom like Turkey.”

“One of the scenarios that we had envisioned has come true,” Galina Timchenko, founder and director of Meduza, tells elDiario.es. “There has been no explanation and we do not want to assume why it has happened now, but we have seen how the situation in Russia has changed in 2021. Not only activists, but journalists are also now being persecuted with criminal cases. There is a horrible context In 2021 and in that context, everything seems logical, but we do not know the exact reasons for the decision. “

“We will try to survive,” says Timchenko. “We started Meduza in 2014, when independent journalism in Russia was already practically destroyed. It’s great that we survived seven years under these circumstances.”

There are other media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe or WABNEWS – funded by the US – that have also been described as foreign agents, but they can afford not to publish the message marked by Russia. In fact, last month Russia fined Radio Free Europe with almost one million euros (RFE / RL) for not publishing the text that is now suffocating Meduza. The organization calculates that if the rate of fines continues as it has been up to now, by the end of the year they could reach 27.5 million euros.

“Unlike these publications, Meduza does not have state funding or a Cold War legacy. An organization like Radio Free Europe can probably afford to ignore Russia’s media laws, even if it puts all media at risk of being blocked on the internet. in Russia. If that happened to us, it would be the end. We don’t have a safety net, “explains Meduza. Although the medium is registered in Latvia, its readers are Russian, its advertisers are Russian, and if it does not comply with the legislation there, it fears that Russia will block its access on the network.

Next week is the deadline set by the Russian regulatory body, Roskomnadzor, for the payment of some of the fines imposed on RFE / RL, which refuses to pay the money and which has denounced the situation to the European Court of Human Rights. The American media risks being blocked on the internet and even physically intervened. The legislation provides up to five years in prison for those who do not comply with the norm.

“If the Russian authorities think that we are going to leave the country in a preventive way, they are wrong. We are going to stay in Moscow,” said Jamie Fly, director of the chain.

What has happened to Meduza is part of the tension between Russia and the United States, which accelerated in 2017, when Washington forced Russia Today (RT) to register under the Foreign Agents Act, which forces the chain to communicate its financial information to the authorities. For its part, Russia responded shortly after doing the same with RFE / RL and WABNEWS.

The conflict has escalated especially as a result of a modification of the Russian legislation on foreign agents approved on December 30, 2020. The amendment toughens the fines and forces the publication of the warning message in the media included in the registry.

“Russia is at the tail of the freedom of the press in the world. It is in the third of hell. Comparing its actions with the measures against its propaganda media is a cheap excuse,” says Carchera. RSF ranks Russia 150 out of 180 in press freedom. “The issue of Russian disinformation is proven and recognized at the community level, but it is true that there is a lot of confusion surrounding how to fight it.”

However, the organization also denounced the fact that Latvia and Lithuania to use EU sanctions against Russia to ban RT channels in July 2020 and called it “abuse of the sanctions regime”. Months earlier, Estonia had forced the closure of the local Sputnik office also claiming that it was complying with the sanctions regime.

“Apart from the aggressiveness of Russian propaganda, the EU sanctions are not a legitimate or appropriate tool to combat it,” denounced RSF, which recommends applying measures to guarantee editorial independence to all media regardless of their country of origin ” which allows to avoid measures in retaliation of the countries that carry out information wars “.

Meduza’s classification as a foreign agent came days after Latvia, where the outlet is based, interrogated five journalists collaborating with Sputnik and Baltnews in April for allegedly violating the sanctions regime.

“The criminal prosecution of journalists in Latvia is a clear violation of international laws on freedom of expression and the principle of pluralism”, then said Maria Zakharova, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.

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