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Opinion: Is now the press in Russia freer than in the West?

Russian media, Opinion: Is now the press in Russia freer than in the West?

By Thomas Röper

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – (Opinion) The EU and other states in the West are currently censoring Russian media, while Western media are still allowed to operate unhindered in Russia.

The West claims to stand for freedom of the press.

This could be aptly denied, at least since the beginning of the pandemic, but now the masks are falling and it is becoming obvious that the press in the West is no longer free.

Russian media, Opinion: Is now the press in Russia freer than in the West?

While the West is currently quite openly and officially censoring and banning media that express a dissenting opinion in the Ukraine conflict, Russia continues to allow and broadcast the opinions of the opposite side.

PRO-WESTERN MEDIA IN RUSSIA

Anyone who has followed the Western media closely in recent years has noticed something absurd: It is always reported in the West that censorship prevails and that oppositional or Kremlin-critical media are banned or censored in Russia.

But whenever a scandal broke in that country, Western media reported with enthusiasm that the Russian opposition newspaper XY had uncovered that very scandal.

So what is it? Are the opposition media banned and censored in Russia? Or do they exist and thrive so much that they even expose uncomfortable truths about the regime?

The Russian opposition media most often cited in the West are:

  • the Russia-wide radio station “Echo Moskvy,”
  • the TV station “TV Rain” (TV-Doshd) and
  • the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” (whose editor-in-chief Muratov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021),

They all report explicitly pro-Western, think NATO is great, are USA-friendly, fight for neoliberal values up to LGBT and gender, criticize the Russian government and also Putin personally, and so on.

And they all have one thing in common: they are allowed to work in Russia, they are not censored and they publish and broadcast in Russia.

And even now, during the military operation in Ukraine, their work is not restricted, although they oppose the Russian military operation and massively represent the pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian point of view.

The same applies to Western state media such as the BBC or Voice of America. They are all still active in Russia.

PRO-RUSSIAN MEDIA IN THE WEST

On February 26, Australian cable operators took RT off the air; in Australia, RT can now be received neither on cable nor via satellite.

On February 27, EU Commission chief von der Leyen announced plans to ban RT and Sputnik in the EU. Von der Leyen said:

“We will ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU. The state-owned ‘Russia Today’ and Sputnik and their affiliates will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war.
We are working on tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”

On Feb. 28, Canada followed suit and banned RT from its cable network. On the same day, Lithuania banned two Russian TV channels, having already banned six Russian and Belarusian TV channels on Feb. 25.

On March 1, Latvia banned two Russian television channels, having already banned three Russian television channels on February 24 and one Belarusian and two Latvian Russian-language television channels on February 25.

INTERNET COMPANIES

The role of Internet companies is particularly interesting. Officially, they are normal, for-profit corporations, but they do not behave like such.

Let me explain: Coca-Cola or BMW would never think of stopping offering their products in Russia or China simply because they don’t like their governments. They want to make money and only stop working in a country if they are forced to do so by sanctions.

Internet companies are completely different because they put politics above profits. They would rather forgo billions in profits from the Chinese market than acknowledge the political realities there.

The same is true of Russia, where they constantly block accounts for political reasons and thus risk being completely blocked themselves in Russia at some point and losing billions in profits.

The basis is a fairly recent Russian law that any social network that censors Russian media or users and fails to comply with a request to reverse that censorship can be punished. The penalties range from fines to slowing down Internet traffic to total blocking of the social network in Russia.

However, that doesn’t bother Big Tech. Facebook’s parent company Meta has deleted the accounts of Russian media and Facebook has already been curbed in Russia. In Russia, a complete blocking not only of Facebook but also of YouTube is being discussed. TikTok has blocked RT and Sputnik in the EU.

The media regulator in Russia is currently deciding how to proceed with the Internet groups. On Russian TV, one of the members was asked about this, and particularly noteworthy was his answer to the question of what should happen to Telegram, because Telegram is known to spread a lot of fake news and Ukrainian propaganda in Russia.

The answer was astonishing, because he confirmed that there were certainly many questionable channels on Telegram that spread anti-Russian propaganda and fake news, but since Telegram had taken a clear position and declared that it would not delete any channels in connection with the events in Ukraine, Telegram would not be prevented from doing its job.

So the Russians really only seem to care that Russian channels and accounts are not censored. Until that happens, no action will be taken against social media and anti-government or pro-Western media. And Russia even allows the dissemination of “enemy propaganda” in its own country.

CONCLUSION

The West, the supposed stronghold of press freedom, is increasingly restricting freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Russia, the alleged dictatorship with a supposedly censored and homogenized press, does not.

Do you remember that in the 1930s Germany first banned the broadcasting of “enemy channels” and then even criminalized the clandestine consumption of these media?

So one wonders when the EU will make it a criminal offense for anyone to obtain information from Russian media on the Internet.

Apparently, it won’t be long before this happens.

Thomas Röper is the publisher of the German-language website www.anti-spiegel.ru has held executive and supervisory board positions as an expert for Eastern Europe in financial services companies in Eastern Europe and Russia. Today, he lives in his adopted home of St. Petersburg. He has lived in Russia for over 15 years and speaks fluent Russian. 

This article has first been published at www.anti-spiegel.ru in German language and has been mirrored by The Rio Times in English

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