Putin tightens control of independent media with Russian blogging law

M. Scott Brauer - Russian opposition political activist and blogger Alexey Navalny prepares to be arrested during an unsanctioned anti-Putin demonstration in Lubyanka Square in central Moscow, Russia. Moments after this photo, police grabbed Navalny from the crowd and arrested him.  He was later released.  The protests come a year after protests in 2011 calling for fair elections and an end to corruption in Russia.  Navalny, a lawyer and political and economic activist, is known for his political blog on livejournal, which he has used to organize anti-corruption and anti-Putin demonstrations.
M. Scott Brauer – Russian opposition political activist and blogger Alexey Navalny prepares to be arrested during an unsanctioned anti-Putin demonstration in Lubyanka Square in central Moscow, Russia. Moments after this photo, police grabbed Navalny from the crowd and arrested him. He was later released. The protests come a year after protests in 2011 calling for fair elections and an end to corruption in Russia. Navalny, a lawyer and political and economic activist, is known for his political blog on livejournal, which he has used to organize anti-corruption and anti-Putin demonstrations.

After my participation in the US-Russia Young Media Professionals Exchange in late 2012, I’ve been keeping an eye on news regarding media and journalism in Russia. The latest development is a new law requiring bloggers to register with the state if they have more than 3000 visitors daily. Taking a page from other internet-censoring countries such as China and Iran, Russian bloggers with an audience that size (which is remarkably small…dvafoto frequently hits that number through our various outlets) cannot operate anonymously and must maintain an archive of their previous 6 months of posts on Russian soil. The law is widely seen as a move to stifle dissent.

Another Russian internet law, which went into effect on Feb. 1, 2014, was immediately used to shut down the blogs of well-known dissidents Alexei Navalny (seen in my image above; blog link) and Garry Kasparov (wiki). And these laws led Pavel Durov, founder of Russian Facebook-clone VKontakte, to leave the country rather than comply with orders to turn over information about political activists in Russia and Ukraine.

This follows 6 months or so of efforts to shut down or marginalize independent media in Russia. One of the biggest independent voices in Russia media, Telekanal Dozhd (TV Rain), was dropped by almost all cable providers around the country. Moscow City Court revoked the license of independent online news agency Rosbalt. Lenta.ru‘s progressive editor-in-chief was fired, and almost half of the staff lost jobs as new editors friendly to the Kremlin were brought in. The long-time director of prominent liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy was forced out and replaced with a Kremlin supporter. Putin dissolved state news agency RIA Novosti, which had been known for semi-independent reporting. I could go on, but the Committee to Protect Journalists page on Russia is a good resource to learn more.

On the subject, here’s a great overview of newspaper culture in Russia that includes a timeline of major events in the history of the Russian newspapers.

And at Wired’s Raw File blog, by the way, you can see my photo essay focusing on state-run media in Russia.

American government keeps files on “suspicious” photographers

(pdf link) - Suspicious Activity Reports from Joint Regional Intelligence Center Los Angeles Region - released by the American Civil Liberties Union
(pdf link) – Suspicious Activity Reports from Joint Regional Intelligence Center Los Angeles Region – released by the American Civil Liberties Union

We’ve covered the war on cameras many times before. In some cases, police harass photographers for taking pictures of police action. In other cases, photographers are reported or stopped for taking pictures of buildings and bridges in plain view (previously, and also here). In the US, it’s not illegal to take pictures of people, places, and things visible while standing on public property, but that doesn’t stop security guards and policemen from interfering with photographers using their cameras. In a security awareness poster, in fact, the Transportation Safety Administration has equated photographers with terrorists.

The ACLU has just released a slew of “Suspicious Activity Reports” (← pdf link) from the FBI’s Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles. An NPR report about the documents’ release details the case of photographer Hal Bergman, who has been questioned both in person and over the phone multiple times by FBI agents. Bergman likes to photograph industrial scenes, and that’s enough to raise the suspicion of the federal government. In the screenshot of one of the reports above, a report describes the investigation of a pair of photographers who were photographing empty lots and streets around a manufacturing plant.

Many of the incidents and investigations contained in these “Suspicious Activity Reports” end, as above, with a line similar to “No further police action/investigation was taken.” However, the reports show that individuals are being targeted for being unfriendly, taking pictures for an art class, or buying water. It’s a waste of resources and potentially quite harmful to the people whose actions are being investigated. In a recent unrelated case, a dark-skinned man was pulled aside for additional screening by the TSA while passing through airport security. Though TSA and the NYPD cleared him after several hours of questioning, Jet Blue refused to allow him to board his plane. Sometimes having a record of being investigated, regardless of whether a crime was committed or not, is enough to make ordinary activities inconvenient or impossible.

Here are some resources to help photographers know their rights in the US:

Journalist James Foley remains missing after being kidnapped in Syria in Nov. 2012

James Foley, Aleppo, Syria - 11/12 (photo by Nicole Tung) - Foley was kidnapped in Syria while reporting and last seen Nov. 22, 2012
James Foley, Aleppo, Syria – 11/12 (photo by Nicole Tung) – Foley was kidnapped in Syria while reporting and last seen Nov. 22, 2012

“Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a US journalist on Thanksgiving Day [2012]. More than a month later, he remains missing. American James Foley, 39, was last seen on Nov. 22 in Idlib Province. Idlib has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent months between Syrian rebels and government forces.” -Global Post, US journalist missing in Syria

2012 was a bad year to be a journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 70 journalists were killed as a result of their job, while Reporters Without Borders has the number at 89, and the International Press Institute reports a record year at 133 journalists killed on the job or as a consequence of their reporting. All of these organizations report that Syria was the most dangerous country for journalists, media workers, and citizen journalists last year. And last week we learned that American journalist James Foley, a writer and videographer, was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in Idlib Province, Syria.

His condition and whereabouts are still unknown 48 days (as of this writing) after his disappearance. Foley’s family decided to spread word of his kidnapping in January 2013 with a public appeal asking for his safe return. You can keep up to date with the case at FreeJamesFoley.org‘s latest news page.

Add your name to the appeal for James Foley’s safety and return or, if you know anything about his whereabouts, please send information to the family.

In the time since Foley’s kidnapping, many other journalists have been killed or faced violence or other repercussions as a result of their reporting. Keep up to date with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ news alerts.