Triumph of the will: Putin’s war against Russia’s last independent TV channel

Tikhon Dzyadko writes: Vladimir Putin won the war in Crimea without a bullet being fired. But to triumph in a very different war – that against independent Russian media – he didn’t even have to bring in the army. In today’s Russia, there are very different instruments for this kind of thing.

My colleagues and I know this from first-hand experience: the only Russian independent television station where we work, Dozhd, or “Rain”, has been operating on the edge of extinction for the past couple of months.

Dozhd first aired in Russia in 2010, when, after the first two tough presidencies of Putin, there was a strong demand for unbiased information and rigorous journalism. Thanks to this, within four years it became one of the main information resources in the country. We didn’t have to do anything particularly cunning to achieve this – we just filmed the kinds of things that had disappeared from Russian television over the previous 15 years: live broadcasts, cutting-edge interviews with politicians and public figures, live feeds from different parts of the world.

During the past four years we not only interviewed members of the opposition who have been in effect blacklisted by state-run media, but also representatives of the leadership who answered incisive and uncomfortable questions live that simply wouldn’t get asked on state television.

We interviewed the then president, Dmitry Medvedev, and Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov. In contrast to others, we covered the social protests in Russian cities during the winter of 2011-2012, just by installing cameras and broadcasting the demonstrations live. Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave his first interview on being freed from prison last December to us. And it was Dozhd, alone among Russian media outlets, that covered the riots in Kiev last winter live, giving airtime to opposition figures and the authorities.

Our audience has grown with every month: we broadcast on the internet and our channel is carried by the biggest Russian cable and satellite networks.

On the face of it, we weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary but for one fact: this is Russia, where the Kremlin’s media agenda does not presuppose the existence of independent media. And so it became essential for the Kremlin to find a reason to start a campaign against unwanted media. [Continue reading…]

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