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File updated in July 2011
Dmitry Medvedev showed signs of wanting to allow more freedom after being installed as president in 2008, but the Putin era’s political trends reaffirmed themselves. Centralized control of the regions, the creation of something close to a one-party system and draconian excesses in the course of combating terrorism are the main features of a government with little tolerance of criticism.
Although most of the Russian population gets its news from TV, there is a glaring lack of diversity in the broadcast media. As for the print media, just a few national newspapers led by Novaya Gazeta escape control and ensure a minimum of pluralism. Radio Ekho Moskvy and Radio Svoboda are other examples of independent news outlets.
At the local level, the situation is more varied. Some regions, such as Perm, enjoyed relatively free media while in other regions the media are entirely controlled by the local political authorities or powerful figures often linked to major energy or industrial groups. Despite intense pressure, a few media manage to do independent reporting in the Caucasus, where Dosh and Chernovik are examples of journalistic dedication.
Although lawsuits and prosecutions are common, violence continues to be the main problem. Physical attacks on journalists are frequent but usually go unpunished despite President Medvedev’s statements on the subject. According to the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a Reporters Without Borders partner organization, there were at least 58 physical attacks on journalists in 2010.
As many journalists constantly feel unsafe, they tend to censor themselves. Corrupt senior officials, abuses by the security forces and environmental issues continue to be sensitive subjects. Coverage of the protests against the destruction of Khimki forest, to the north of Moscow, has been accompanied by many physical attacks on journalists such as Mikhail Beketov.
After 2009, a black year in which five journalists were killed in connection with their work, the murders of Magomedsharif Sultanmagomedov in 2010 and Yakhya Magomedov in 2011 served as reminders that the North Caucasus continues to the most dangerous region for journalists.
President Kadyrov behaves like a tyrant in Chechnya but the lawlessness extends to other parts of the Caucasus, especially Dagestan, endangering the lives of the journalists who work there. A total of 26 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in Russia since 2000. The investigations into their murders are sluggish and rarely reach the presumably highly-placed or well-protected instigators.
Certain emblematic cases experienced significant progress in the second quarter of 2011. The presumed hit-man in Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was finally arrested and two people were convicted of Anastasia Baburova’s murder but it would be rash to assume that the era of impunity is over.
The Internet, a space where independent voices still find expression, is now being targeted by the authorities, who are trying to develop online filtering and surveillance. Bloggers are the victims of lawsuits and prosecutions, often under the “anti-extremism” law, which was amended in July 2007.
Cyber-attacks are also on the increase, targeting above all blogging platforms such as LiveJouranal and the websites of independent newspapers such as Novaya Gazeta. The growing frequency of website blocking and attacks on bloggers resulted in Russia being including in the countries “under surveillance” in the Enemies of the Internet report that Reporters Without Borders released on 12 March 2011.
Censorship of the Internet, like censorship of the media, is nowadays largely decentralized. But although strong leadership from the top in all areas of society is now a guiding principle for the authorities, admonishments about cyber-censorship have been strangely slow in coming.
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