Saturday, 17 April 2010

Web under scrutiny

Over the last decade, the ability of Russia's TV, radio and print media to pursue independent editorial policies has largely been curtailed by state control and self-censorship. Freedom House now ranks Russia 78th out of 100 in its Freedom of the Press index. Meanwhile, Internet use has been spreading like wildfire among those Russians who seek alternative news content.

Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's chief political strategist, recently proposed setting up a national search engine, akin to Google but financed strictly by Russian investors, RBK Daily reported.
Whether this idea is just part of Surkov's grand proposal to align Russia's science and technology industries with those of the West and whether this project can indeed be implemented is unclear. But Yevgeny Morozov, a politics and technology researcher, wrote: "We should not underestimate the Kremlin's capacity to adapt to digital realities: it has cultivated a sprawling community of Internet gurus who work or consult for the government."

In 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin encouraged many of his acolytes to set up blogs and news web sites. A 2009 report by the Washington-based Freedom House found that this period was marked by an emergence of Kremlin-affiliated propaganda and blogging sites.

Pavel Danilin, who runs the pro-government page on LiveJournal, said the initiative to use the blogosphere to mobilise supporters "came primarily from Dmitry Medvedev himself".
Following Medvedev's election as president, proselytising for an Internet revolution became one of his signature undertakings.

In March Medvedev, an avid blogger, berated his colleagues for their lack of Internet know-how, urging them to start their own blogs and noting that only "Those who know [how to use the Internet] can be called modern managers." But Iosif Dzyaloshinsky of the Higher School of Economics said that such efforts were merely an attempt to improve the government's image, and were not that effective: "We've done the research - these public websites and blogs are not popular... particularly the regional ones, where people scarcely know of them."

Now Medvedev is reportedly planning to start his own Twitter account. Over the past year, this social networking and microblogging service had amassed more than 180,000 Russian-speaking users, which is some 26 times more than the previous year.

In the hours following the March 29 metro bombings, Twitter also became one of the top sources of information, delivering firsthand accounts and bringing worldwide attention to the situation. Ekho Moskvy radio even quoted one of its users, comparing the rate of 40 tweets per second to the four television reports broadcast live that morning - a statistic that has prompted some to hail the medium as a possible substitute for Russia's ailing journalism.

Pyotr Polonitsky, a spokesman for the Russian Union of Journalists, insisted that a cyber platform that merely provides space to exchange information cannot compete with officially licenced and professionally-run media, adding: "It is like comparing a bicycle to a motorbike."

Alexey Sidorenko, co-editor of the Echo on Global Voices blogging site, said that LiveJournal was "a lot better at fostering political debates and creating stimulating discussion forums."
But in March 2008 a LiveJournal blogger, Dmitry Solovyov, was accused of "inciting hatred against the police and the FSB." According to Sidorenko, Solovyov had been "invited" to the regional FSB office several times because of posts that criticised the state. "Just like the KGB," Sidorenko said.

The charges against Solovyov were eventually dropped, but his vociferous writing was significantly toned down. Solovyov's case was included in the report on Internet censorship issued in March by the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The report highlighted six more similar cases of bloggers being persecuted and one journalist, the owner of Magomed Yevloyev, being murdered. The organisation listed Russia as a country "under surveillance", citing government propaganda and blocking of independent sites as additional considerations.

1 comment:

RunetWatch said...

You should probably give a link to the original article at Russia Profile.

Without mentioning original authors this looks a lot like plagiarism.