WHAT KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS SAY:
One claim often made by pro-Kremlin media outlets is that ‘the mass media in Russia is free.’ They argue that people in Russia can speak freely and represent political movements. Kremlin sources refute the notion that journalists are not free to operate within Russia and that Russia kills journalists who are critical of Putin’s regime.
This narrative is often presented in direct contrast with the Western media, which Russia claims is controlled by the Western elites and promotes Western propaganda in policy areas such as the war in Ukraine. Political correctness is portrayed as a form of censorship taking place across the West, with certain topics ‘off limits’ for discussion, which can be debated freely in Russia.
Here’s some evidence:
“Our media, journalists and outlets report from the epicenters of world events, based on facts, encourage people to critically evaluate reality (as they should),” the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in April 2023. “Apparently, this goes against the plans that the American rulers have to ‘zombify’ their own population.” American television, Zakharova noted, presents a “a one-sided, practically sterilized, filtered and adjusted picture of the world,” having reached an “ideological dead end.”
The mass media in Russia is not free. In 2023, the Freedom House in the World report rated Russia as “not free” scoring 16/100 on the “freedom rating”, 5/40 for “political rights” and 11/60 for “civil liberties”. In their report, Freedom House described the state of the mass media in Russia: “Power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factions, the Kremlin manipulates elections and suppresses genuine dissent.”
Television remains a key source of news for citizens in Russia and a central mechanism through which Kremlin propagandists circulate disinformation narratives. 99 percent of Russian households have at least one TV-set, and about 94 percent of Russians watch TV daily. The three main channels - Perviy Kanal (Channel One), Rossiya 1 and NTV - have the highest audience reach: 14.2 percent, 13.7 percent, and 13.5 percent respectively. All three TV channels are controlled by the state. State-dominated media - especially television - remain a crucial tool for regime control in authoritarian societies.
Since the escalation of the war in February 2022, Russia has cracked down on international media organisations operating in Russia, making international news inaccessible in Russia. Additionally, independent news sites such as Meduza and Novaya Gazeta have also been blocked.
In March 2022, Roskomnadzor blocked Facebook and later also Twitter for users in Russia. This decision affected millions of users, as Facebook is a dominant platform in Russia. Twitter is also popular among business communities. Such a move is one more step taken to prevent citizens from accessing information from the West.
Journalists who operate in Russia are subject to laws which govern the kind of reporting that they can produce and operate under the threat of being labelled as a “foreign agent”. Short-term sentences and fines are used as a form of ‘systematic intimidation’ of journalists, alongside long-term sentences and even torture. Russia has used legislation to maintain control of the coverage of the war in Ukraine. In March 2022 Putin signed legislation which would impose a prison sentence of up to 15 years on journalists who referred to the conflict as a war, rather than a “special military operation”, for spreading ‘false information’.
Journalists have been on the front line ever since the Russian army invaded Ukraine on 24 February. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) registered 46 attacks on a total of more than 100 journalists targeted in the course of their work during the first 6 months of the invasion – attacks that therefore qualify as war crimes. Eight of them were killed by Russian forces, some of them deliberately.
VPNs are effectively banned in Russia: 42 providers have already been blocked, disrupted, or threatened by Russian censorship agency Roskomnadzor. The state is using more and more advanced ways to control internet traffic, but experts say it will be unable to completely block decentralised protocols. VPNs are the only way to access information outside Russian censorship.
Like so many of the disinformation narratives promoted by Kremlin propagandists, the notion that it is the Western media which is corrupt represents an attempt to deflect from the reality of the situation in Russia. This contrast serves to obscure the fact that the media in Russia is not free and imposes heavy punishment on those who speak out against Putin’s leadership.
Debunker is a series of disinformation-busting articles from Debunk.org which focus on dispelling the harmful lies and propaganda being pushed by pro-Kremlin sources. Check out the rest of the series at debunk.org/debunker.