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Will Russia Regulate Blogs Like Mass Media?

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Media & Journalism, Politics, Technology, RuNet Echo
Anonymous does not care. Images remixed by Andrey Tselikov.

Anonymous does not know or care. Images remixed by Andrey Tselikov.

On April 7, 2014 two Russian MPs announced [1][ru] they would be proposing yet anther law controlling the flow of information on the RuNet. According to Andrei Lugovoi and Vadim Dengin, both Liberal Democrats, under their proposal bloggers with an audience of more than 3,000 readers would face the same regulations as all Russian mass media. The regulations would require fact-checking, age restriction warnings, and obeying election laws, among other responsibilities.

As Vadim Dengin told the news portal TJournal [2] [ru], the number of readers would be determined from the number of unique visitors, and that all “bots” would be excluded from the numbers. According to Dengin, Roskomnadzor, Russia's media regulator, has the capacity to maintain such a registry of popular blogs. 

The announcement understandably incensed Russian bloggers, some of whom view this as simply another step in the Kremlin's steadily increasing control Russia's unruly and critical blogosphere. Oleg Kozyrev, journalist and blogger with over 8,000 “friends” on LiveJournal and over 46,000 followers on Twitter, wrote [3][ru] that the proposal would essentially negate blogger rights to free expression of their opinion. It is clear, said Kozyrev, that this silencing would be directed against “socio-political bloggers, civic and ecological projects.”

Art gallery owner and former political spin doctor Marat Guelman was also perturbed [4] [ru]:

Не смешно: Они действительно решили блоги у которых свыше 3000 читателей при равнять к СМИ. Я не понимал как это будет работать, а тут обьяснили. Получаешь предписание обязывающее зарегестрировать. А то понимаешь Все СМИ позакрывали, а журналисты, блядь, всё никак не кончаются. У меня в твиттере 63 000.

Not funny: They really decided to equate blogs with over 3000 readers to mass media. I didn't understand how it would work, but someone explained. You get an order that requires you to register [your blog]. Because, you understand, they've shut down all the [actual] mass media, but the f*cking journalists just won't stop writing. I have 63,000 [followers] on my Twitter.

Ivan Zassoursky, a professor of journalism at Moscow State University, wrote [5][ru] on his Facebook that the proposal has a different, more serious goal in mind. Because it would be impossible for Russia to regulate Twitter and Facebook, he believes that such a law would in effect block Russians “without access to VPN” from accessing major foreign social networks.

At least one blogger thinks [6][ru] that such a law, if passed, would prove to be a net positive. Unless you are planning to evade taxes, publish personal information, or libel, says Oleg Lurie, you have nothing to worry about. Furthermore, if the government wants to shut down a blog, it already has the power to do so. There are also positives — if bloggers become mass media, government agencies will be required to respond to information requests and cooperate with bloggers the same as they do with journalists.

Most people are not convinced, however, and feel that even if effective, a law that limits freedom of expression will cause more trouble than it is worth. As former banker and popular blogger Roman Avdeev put it [7] [ru]:

Я не хочу проводить никаких параллелей, но когда в Египте отключили Facebook и twitter, люди просто вышли на улицы… Нужно ли нам это?

I don't want to draw any parallels, but when in Egypt they turned off Facebook and Twitter, people just took to the streets… Do we need that?