By Candice Norwood
The Washington Post reported Oct. 17, that Russian President Vladimir Putin, passed a law that will prevent foreigners from owning more than 20 percent of Russian media assets. Russian lawmakers say this decision is a response to what they perceive to be anti-Russian bias in Western media.
“We understand very well that those who own information own the world,” said Vadim Dengin, the author of the bill, according to the Post. “When foreigners come here to make money and then actively influence the media market and use it for their own benefit, at this moment, I want to say that I am ready to close down Russia and ensure its security.”
The law will mostly affect independent Russian media companies, many of which have Western-based financiers. Russia’s leading independent broadcast company CTC Media, was established by American entrepreneur Peter Gerwe. Similarly, Vedomosti, Russia’s leading independent newspaper, is a joint venture between the Financial Times Group, Dow Jones and Sanoma, the Finnish publisher of The Moscow Times.
This legislation is the latest in a series of Kremlin attempts to increase its control over Russian media. In May of this year, Putin also enacted the “Bloggers Law,” which requires all websites with more than 3,000 daily followers to register with the government and become subject to review or censorship.
In addition to registering with the government, the Bloggers Law also prevents popular bloggers from remaining anonymous and requires organizations that assist with blog distribution to maintain computer records on Russian soil, The New York Times reports.
The Russian government has a history of exerting extensive control over its media institutions, much to the dismay of independent services. It is no secret that the Soviet Union era was plagued by extreme censorship and restriction on free speech. Epp Lauk, a journalism professor at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, discussed the structure of Soviet media in her 1999 article “Practice of Soviet Censorship in the Press.”
“When investigating Soviet censorship system, we find a complicated network of special instructions and institutions that limited access to information on the one hand, and restricted access to the distribution channels on the other,” Lauk said in the article.
During this time ordinary citizens were not permitted to publish anything. The Russian government only extended that freedom to specific pre-approved groups. This led to the rise of “samizdat,” a Russian word for self-publishing, according to the BBC.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russians enjoyed almost 10 years of free speech before Putin’s first presidential term began in 2000. Putin’s next move to further limit dissenting viewpoints in Russian media is still unknown. But as more independent outlets become strapped for finances and resources, state-funded institutions become more powerful. With this power they are further able to contradict Western perspectives and bolster Russia’s image.
Image: WikiCommons/Russian newspapers