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Q&A: Amnesty Calls Russian Legislation On Foreign Media 'Serious Blow' To Journalists

Amnesty International's Denis Krivosheev: "It seems the Russian authorities believe there can only be one message coming from the media in Russia." (file photo)

Russia's State Duma on November 15 passed legislation that would allow for the designation of foreign media organizations in the country as “foreign agents” and require them to declare full details about their funding, finances, and staffing. It still requires an upper-house vote and the signature of President Vladimir Putin.

Amnesty International has condemned the effort as “repressive legislation” that will tighten the Kremlin’s “stranglehold” on press freedom.

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz spoke about the legislation with Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

RFE/RL: Who is the Russian legislation on foreign-funded news organizations most likely to affect?

Denis Krivosheev: This is a piece of legislation which is intended to affect what essentially are the remaining few free media voices in Russia. Some of these tend to be foreign media with Russian services. Some of them were Russian media, initially, who had to relocate [outside of Russia] to be less affected by the restraints in Russia -- although those are now in the firing line, so to speak, under this legislation.

This legislation is intended as a measure of restraint on media. It does affect in a serious way those who will fall under its provisions.

RFE/RL: Why do you see this legislation as a serious blow to an already desperate situation for press freedom in Russia?

This legislation is a serious blow to media freedom in Russia for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is already a tried-and-tested measure. The purpose of this is to apply a toxic label on those who do independent work in Russia. We’ve seen this done with nongovernmental organizations.

Journalism has always been a dangerous profession in Russia. This [legislation] isn’t making it any easier, but makes it a whole lot worse."

For the purpose of what authorities did with the [2012] law on foreign agents, this was successful. NGOs have been smeared through the need to brand themselves as "foreign agents." It’s not a neutral term. It’s not a term which is about indicating where their funding comes from. It’s a term the purpose of which is to denigrate their work in the eyes of the Russian public. And now, the same measure will apply to media that is foreign registered.

RFE/RL: How else will this legislation restrain press freedoms in Russia?

Krivosheev: The other problem with this, although the legislation did not specifically restrict what follows -- in practice we have seen with NGOs that their access to state agencies, to officials, and to a number of platforms have been restricted once they found themselves on the "foreign agents" list. I imagine this will happen to media, as well. The access to key people and platforms and agencies will be restricted. And that will be a serious blow to journalists who try to do their work in Russia.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Russia Has Implemented Its 'Foreign Agent' Law (click to view)

I am sure there will be other consequences, financial and otherwise, from the onerous reporting obligations [about funding, finances, and staffing]. We will see a big change in practice after this.

RFE/RL: What earlier developments do you see that lead you to believe this legislation is part of a trend, a broader effort by Russia’s government, to create an echo chamber in the media where only the Kremlin’s point of view is presented to the Russian public?

Krivosheev: Over the last couple of years, perhaps even longer, we have seen very worrying trends. Journalism has always been a dangerous profession in Russia. This [legislation] isn’t making it any easier, but makes it a whole lot worse.

We’ve seen serious restrictions on the media. Those who didn’t support the government’s official position found themselves in difficult situations. Those who were independent became less so. Some had to change their editorial boards and go through other internal changes because the pressure can also be put on the owners, as well as the editors and the staff.

Russians React To 'Foreign Agent' Media Law
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We’ve seen restrictions, serious restrictions, in terms of space available to the media for broadcasting and reaching out to the general public. And this is just carrying on with the same work. It seems the Russian authorities believe there can only be one message coming from the media in Russia. And where the opportunities exist for alternative points of view, alternative media platforms, they are closing them one by one. And this [legislation] is another step [in this direction]. A big one.

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