More independent media added to Russia's “foreign agent” roster

TV channel Dozhd displays the required "foreign agent" wording during their live broadcast on August 20, 2021. Screenshot from YouTube.

TV channel Dozhd displays the required “foreign agent” wording during their live broadcast on August 20, 2021. Screenshot from YouTube.

Prominent Russian television network Dozhd (TVRain) and investigative media outlet Vazhnye Istorii (iStories) have been designated as “foreign agents” by Russian officials. They join an already crowded roster of independent newsrooms, non-profit organisations and individuals in Russia that have been added to the multiple registries of those whom the state deems to be “involved in political activity” in the interests of “foreign entities” and “receiving assistance from abroad”.

Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent for Sky News, noted that the announcement came soon after President Vladimir Putin's meeting with outgoing German leader Angela Merkel in Russia's capital.

Dozhd and iStories’ designation comes just two days after the independent election monitoring group Golos was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry. Previously, the label had been bestowed upon news websites VTimes, Meduza and US-funded RFE/RL, investigative journalism project The Insider, and individual journalists.

Russian law requires organisations or individuals designated as foreign agents to register with the state or face sanctions, including fines and prison time. They are also required to regularly report on their activities and indicate their foreign agent status on any materials or content they distribute, including social media posts.

For media outlets in particular, being dubbed a foreign agent has meant difficulties in getting quotes from sources and a swift decline in advertising revenues. While some organisations have chosen to shut down their operations or move abroad, others are now relying on crowdsourced donations. But that space is becoming increasingly crowded.

While iStories was likely labelled a “foreign agent” due to the outlet being registered in Latvia, Dozhd is registered in Russia – and dependent on advertising revenue. As Jake Cordell, correspondent for The Moscow Times, noted on Twitter, in the first half of 2021, 40 percent of Dozhd's ad revenue came from YouTube.

In an interview with independent news outlet Meduza, Dozhd's founder Natalya Sindeeva said she did not have “anything to say yet except a bunch of obscenities” regarding the foreign agent designation, but that the channel would be “thinking hard now” about their next steps.

Roman Anin, editor-in-chief of iStories, whose home was raided by law enforcement this spring due to a high-profile corruption investigation, said the newsroom was prepared for the designation and understood the risks. Speaking to Meduza, Anin lamented the fact that it was impossible for an independent media outlet to be registered in Russia, be profitable, and survive.

The Russian authorities have left journalists with no choice. Our registration abroad and our work with such financing is out of necessity. In other circumstances, we’d gladly register in Russia.

iStories’ team said in a statement on their website that they were open with their audience about being registered abroad and did it “in order to remain free”:

А что касается самого списка иноагентов, то в нем уже столько приличных людей и изданий, что не находиться в нём просто неприлично.

As for the list of foreign agents, by now it has so many decent people and publications on it that not to be on this list is simply indecent.

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