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.

Book recommendation: The Sochi Project’s An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus

An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus - Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen (Aperture)
An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus – Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen (Aperture)

With only a few days left of the Sochi Olympics, I can’t say that I’ve been impressed by American television coverage of the games. The sports coverage has been on par with NBC’s usual broadcasting. But I knew the other coverage (looking at Russia’s culture, politics, economy, etc.) would be bad when an NBC commentator didn’t explain symbolism during the opening ceremonies and instead told viewers to “google it.” I loved the opening ceremonies (having been a student of Russian history and culture), but there were serious omissions.

One of the most comprehensive resources I’ve found on everything surrounding the games, from what Sochi was to what it has become to what’s going on in nearby regions, is The Sochi Project‘s An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, published by Aperture. They’ve just posted on Facebook that the first edition is 85% sold out. That’s no small feat for a huge art book with 4500 copies. The book is available (alongside other publications by the pair) in The Sochi Project’s online store or through the Aperture website. The cheapest price to be had is through Amazon ($57 as of this writing), where only a handful of copies remain in stock, though more are on the way.

Don’t let the book cover fool you (my girlfriend hates it!). This is a serious document, the end product of 7 years documenting the region. There are great bite-sized briefs on many of the surrounding regions and histories interspersed among excellent and incisive photography and writing of Hornstra and van Bruggen. For a centuries-old conflict (and the current rat’s nest of corruption and crime), the book is an astonishing accomplishment. At over 400 pages, it isn’t easy to digest. I’ve taken to working through short sections day by day in addition to just leafing through it. Don’t take my word for it, though. Joerg Colberg called it “Highly recommended” in his review, or see what the New York Review of Books had to say, or Slate, or Fast Company, or Mother Jones, or the Guardian, among others.

Make sure to also spend time with the entire Sochi Project website. I find the book to be a more accessible way of viewing this project, but the website has a lot that isn’t included in An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus. By the way, both Hornstra and van Bruggen have been banned from Russia, which we wrote about previously.

You might also be interested in previous posts about Hornstra and the Sochi Project on dvafoto, going back to 2008:

And on the subject of Sochi, my favorite reporting on the games has been by The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe (link to author; link to TNR’s Sochi reporting, which includes other authors). Check out: Evgeni Plushenko Pulls Out of the Olympics, Proving That Corruption Is Bad or The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists or Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. or Why Did Someone Put a Giant Wooden Cock on a Kremlin Critic’s Car? And be sure to check out the New York Times’ An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone and Sochi or Bust: Have Niva, Need Hammer. I’ve also enjoyed the Guardian’s coverage of the sports themselves, including Sochi 2014: 10 high contrast shots at the Winter Olympics – in pictures.

By the way, if you click through our links to buy anything here, we get a small cut of the sale. It’s a way for us to keep the lights on here at dvafoto. Thanks to those of you who have clicked through us in the past! Consider bookmarking this link to Amazon. It doesn’t change prices for you and gives a small portion of the sale to dvafoto.

First-world problems or real problems? Western journalists are whining about Sochi Olympics hotels (updated)


I’ve spent about 10 months in Russia over the past eight or nine years, in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but also in more remote cities such as Vorkuta, Ufa, Petrozavodsk, and Voronezh. Even in Moscow, where the hotel stood next to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the rooms was listed at about $175/night, there were substantial issues with water and heat.

Travel in Russia is not easy, and that’s why some of the viral complaints by journalists at the Sochi Olympics seem naive and privileged. Much of the world can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. Much of the world can’t depend on clean water. Much of the world doesn’t have American breakfast food in the morning.

But there are valid issues coming through in the reports from the media village in Sochi. There are security issues. Some of the water is unfit even for bathing (West Virginia knows about that all too well). Much of the infrastructure is unfinished. There are stray dogs in hotels. By connecting to wifi in the Olympic village, you can be assured that your computer will be hacked and your data will be stolen. (See Update II below)

The Washington Post has the largest collection of journalists’ complaints about their hotels, calling the experiences “hilarious and gross.” Deadspin got in on the act, saying “Staying in Sochi is a Hilarious Adventure.” The Wire has a wonderful analysis of some of these complaints, classifying them either as “real problem” or “first-world problem.” Can’t flush the toilet paper? First-world problem. Water unfit for bathing? Real problem. Margaret Coker, blogging for the Wall Street Journal, tells journalists to stop complaining, offering a good read on the scope of these complaints.

In fact, many of the images purported to be from the Sochi Olympics site are not from Sochi or Russia at all. The Telegraph leads their story about these complaints with a picture of three office chairs facing a toilet. Gizmodo busts some of these photos, finding that many of them have been passed around online for a year or more. The Wire has a similar analysis.

As usual, BagNews has a deeper read on what these reports mean, warning that by saturating news sites with “hilarious” (and sometimes fake) complaints about hotel conditions, readers and viewers lose sight of the real issues surrounding these Olympic Games. Real infrastructure problems need to be reported, but so does the conflict in areas close to the Olympics, Russia’s abuse of human rights, corruption in the construction and production of the Sochi Olympics, and anti-gay legislation and sentiment in the country. These issues deserve the media attention now being diverted to pictures of toilets.

UPDATE: Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, told the Wall Street Journal that they have surveillance footage of shower usage in journalists’ hotel rooms. A spokesman for Kozak quickly said they don’t have footage of anyone in showers or hotel rooms.

UPDATE II: The reports about Sochi wifi hacking seem to be exaggerated. Vice’s Motherboard site has a deeper look at NBC’s report, which served as the basis for the Yahoo piece linked above. The device infection demonstrations were done in Moscow and required the user to click on malware on a website, just as would happen anywhere in the world. The Trend Micro security expert in the NBC piece has a blog post and white paper detailing the method of infection used in his demonstrations.