Sunday, September 28, 2014

Russia's Restriction of Foreign-owned Media: A Political Maneuvering or Tit for Tat for Sanctions?

Rabin Man Shakya

When the Press which is referred to as the Fourth Estate is more and more polarized, it may be used as a vehicle for political maneuvering and that is what exactly is happening in Russia when Russia decided to clamp down on Western involvement in its media with new legislation limiting foreign ownership of media to 20 percent. The new legislation prohibits the news organizations being funded or run by foreign groups or individuals including Russians with dual nationality.

According to latest news stories, top business daily newspaper Vedomosti, the Russian edition of Forbes and dozens of other news, society and fashion magazines would fall under the purview of the bill, which would force the publications to change ownership or close by 2017. It is to be noted that Vedomosti founded in 1999 is a joint venture of The Financial Times, Dow Jones and Sanoma, a Finnish media group.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, the bill's cross-party authors said in an accompanying note that its aim was to prevent foreigners from "having an influence on the taking of strategic decisions."

"The Cold War, namely the information war, which is being unleashed against the Russian Federation, requires us to apply its rules," said Vadim Dengin, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill. (The New York Times. Russia Moves to Extend Control of Media. Sept 24, 2014).

An influential Russian journalist even went on to the extent of asserting "the hastily drawn up law as a form of revenge for Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

The latest Russian move to limit foreign ownership of media outlets is an attempt to fish in troubled waters at a time when Russia is still in a painful transition.In terms of press freedom, Russia is still going through a painful period of prolonged transition after the downfall of the former USSR in 1992. It is to be noted that 29 journalists were killed in Russia from 1995 to 2005, thereby making Russia one of the most dangerous and vulnerable country for journalists in the last decade.

Although the press in Russia has enjoyed freedom in principle, the job of the Russian journalists is still hazardous because Russian journalists still continue to be assaulted, intimidated and even killed for writing and reporting truths and facts. In press freedom sector, because of harassment and legal entangling of journalists, Russia has slipped from a ranking of "partly free" to "not free" (ranking by Freedom House). And it is to be noted that the largest media outlets in Russia are owned by the state or controlled by business tycoons close to President Putin.

There is no doubt that Russia should take several measures to improve the press freedom scenario. True, improving press freedom especially in a volatile country like Russia (because of troubles in Chechnya-Daghestan) is a daunting task and  cannot be carried out overnight.

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