By Chihiro Miya, O’Niel Barrington Blair and Sanzana Syed
The freedom of press is the human right of journalists to publish the current news and information, and report the political or economic factors in the country.
It depends on country, but Russia seems like stricter limitations for freedom of press.
In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that allows authorities to classify foreign journalists and media outlets as “foreign agents”. The legislation is to prohibit access to proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
At the same time, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) reported a list of deceased Russian journalists, prepared by Glasnost Defense Foundation, was presented to the international professional community. It was the first time after an assassination in 2006 of a female journalist Anna Polotkovskaya who was known for the criticism of President Putin and Chechen conflict. The report consisted more than 350 names since 1990s.
In the past seven years, five opposition activists, bloggers and journalists were jailed or killed in Russia.
EFJ has fought for social and professional rights of journalists working in all sectors of the media through strong trade unions and associations across Europe, including Russia.
EFJ promotes and defends the rights to freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European convention on human rights, accruing to EFJ.
Russian journalist Nadezda Azhgikhina works as a vice president of EFJ, and a member of the Russian Writers Union, Russian PEN, and the Gender Council of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
According to The Nation, she has coordinated international projects on journalists’ rights and freedom of the media, as well as culture and gender, under the auspices of UNESCO, UN WOMEN, ILO, WHO, OSCE, and other institutions.
Azhgikhina says there are the limitations for press freedom and freedom of expression in Russia, especially in recent three to four years.
“The censorship is prohibited by law, but in practice censorship of course exists,” Azhgikhina says
She also says it exists from market, from economy, from different political and economical groups as well as self-censorship is spread.
There is a special limitation, new amendments and the illegal initiatives devoted to protection from terrorism and extremism.
Azhgikhina says there are media supported directly by government. There are newspapers supported by regional governments. Most of national TV channels are sponsored by the government or by businesses associated with the government.
“There is anti-extremist legislation and its definition is very weak, so those people who are critical, they could be targeted as responsible for some extremist statements. There is banning of Internet recently. Telegram channel was banned because they didn’t agree to give the keys to authorities,” she says.
Azhgikhina says there are approximately 22 new legal initiatives devoted to restrictions of activities of the media and journalists. Mostly, the idea of those few initiatives is associated with protection from terrorists.
“But practically it is a tool to restrict critical voices,” Azhgikhina says. “The problem is that almost all of those initiatives have never been discussed with journalists, with publishers and with the audience.”
According to Azhgikhina, the history of press freedom in Russia was very long. Russian journalism was born 300 years ago, but not like in the West with press market practices. It was born with a short decree of Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who established the first Russian newspaper, Saint Petersburg. In 1703, just to publish his decrees to his officials.
At the same time, more independent publications began to appear and umbrella of universities, first of Moscow State University. There is a three-century struggle for freedom of expression and freedom of the press between official censorship and liberal mind that tried to journal the same publishers.
Censorship was eradicated and was prohibited in 1990 during the Perestroika after the collapse of Soviet Union. Since then censorship is officially prohibited, freedom of the press is written in Russian Constitution and the official principle of Russian State.
As Azhgikhina says, there is still a fight. There are still independent voices and free thinkers, Russia is a big country. People have been attacked for having different media practices.