Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Independent Russian TV channel probed for ‘extremism’

December 7, 2015

Russian prosecutors on Monday launched a probe into opposition television channel Dozhd for alleged “extremism” amid an intensifying crackdown on independent media outlets.

Dozhd’s owner Natalia Sindeyeva said on Facebook that local prosecutors had ordered the station to submit to checks on whether it was complying with anti-extremism legislation, as well as licensing and labour laws.

The notice, dated Friday, said the channel was being checked at the request of unnamed “citizens” but did not say what programming was deemed “extremist”.

Under Russian law, media outlets accused of broadcasting or publishing content that is deemed to incite or justify extremism can face a fine of up to one million rubles ($14,500).

The channel has been ordered to produce a number of legal documents as well as accounting records.

The network’s studio meanwhile was checked for compliance with fire safety regulations, said presenter Maria Makeyeva.

“I don’t think prosecutors waited for some kind of request (to launch the probe),” Makeyeva told the Open Russia pro-democracy foundation, suggesting they were following official instructions.

Representatives of Russia’s dwindling number of liberal-leaning media outlets were indignant at the probe, saying it upped pressure on the last independent voices in the country.

“It is clear that the probe against Dozhd is absolutely political in nature,” Alexey Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station, wrote on Twitter.

Dozhd, which gives airtime to opponents of President Vladimir Putin, has had previous run-ins with authorities.

Last year the channel was forced out of its headquarters, and had to temporarily move into a cramped apartment belonging to a staff member.

Dozhd lost 80 percent of its 15-million-strong audience in January 2014 after major cable providers dropped the station from their packages.

The ostensible reason was a poll run by the station asking whether Leningrad (modern-day Saint Petersburg) should have surrendered to Nazi Germany during World War II rather than hold out under siege for nearly two and a half years.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.