- The freedom of the press is safeguarded by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The 1991 law “On Mass Media” ensures the democratic character of the Russian press, including the freedom of speech and the right to publish in ethnic languages. Though censorship is constitutionally banned in Russia, many journalists apply self-censorship. This is done in order to avoid persecution, which is applied through a variety of measures including selective prosecution on charges of libel, disclosing of state secrets, and/or tax evasion, as well as physical intimidation and harassment by agents acting on behalf of the state. The failure of the judicial system to adequately investigate murders of journalists, the use of “black PR” and “compromising materials” (kompromat) against editors and reporters, and the subsidization of pro-state media outlets also negatively impacts press freedom in contemporary Russia. Journalists were instrumental in the glasnost debates and it will not be an exaggeration to suggest that the press precipitated many political, social, and economic changes in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, reporters emerged as an important player in postindependence politics, and the press one of the country’s most respected institutions (alongside the Russian Orthodox Church). However, the image and importance of the press diminished with the rise of television in the mid-1990s, which—as an industry—was controlled by the oligarchs. Since 2000, the emergence of online journalism and the establishment of Internet publications, which do not suffer the same restrictions or limitations as television-, radio-, or print-based mediums, has helped to rehabilitate the professional press, particularly in contrast with state-influenced television journalists. However, new laws passed by the Vladimir Putin administration have made critical coverage of politics increasingly difficult, particularly after the Nord-Ost theater siege of 2004. Russian journalists work independently; however, they also may choose to join the Russian Union of Journalists, a professional organization that aims to safeguard the interests of the profession in the Russian Federation. This is especially important in a climate where assaults on journalists are not infrequent. Since the early 1990s, reporters who have been vocally critical of the government, and especially of the war operations in Chechnya, have been subject to various assaults, including murder, kidnapping, threats, and blackmail. Over 50 journalists, including the independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov, and Kommersant’s military affairs reporter Ivan Safronov, have been killed since 1991, making Russia one of the most unsafe countries in the world for journalists; the situation is particularly dire in the North Caucasus and Kalmykiya, where media freedom is largely unknown. Though criminal investigations are always launched, it is extremely rare that the perpetrators are found and prosecuted. In 2009, President Dmitry Medvyedev, as part of his anti-corruption campaign, passed a new law providing journalists investigating government and corporate malfeasance in Russia with more protection.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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