What price Freedom of Speech in Russia?

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In Russia, the opportunity for free expression is being thwarted.

Under Putin the content of mainstream media has become dispiritingly predictable. Fines and penalties are levied on media not conforming to the Kremlin’s political narrative. As a result independent outlets have either closed down due to lack of funds or been forced into self-censorship. The remaining mainstream media companies are either state controlled or funded by government loyalists, effectively silencing the voice of the opposition.

There are many examples. When the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections were on, the state run RIA media agency would often quote Alexei Navalny, the anti-government candidate, in its campaign news reports. Needless to say Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexei Gromov, contacted the agency’s editor-in-chief warning her that a state news agency must not work against the state’s own interests by promoting the opposition.

At the end of 2011, mass anti-government protests were organised through social media, highlighting the effectiveness of the internet as a tool for political mobilisation. In response to these demonstrations the government introduced new legislation allowing them to censor and block internet content.

Online space for the public debate of sensitive issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and LGBT rights, has begun to shrink and people have even been arrested for blogging. In the same way that media companies were forced into self-censorship, members of the public have now become increasingly insecure about limits of acceptable speech. Combine this with the spate of arrests during the 2017 anti-corruption protests and it becomes clear that the opportunity for public dialogue is being stifled in all areas.

Putin’s brand of authoritarianism treats freedom of expression not as a right but as an impediment. This ‘we-know-best’ policing of anti-government ideas reflects the insecurity of Putin’s government. 20th century political history tells you that fear mongering and the suppression of dialogue are the foundations on which oppressive governments are built. The Russian people must be granted their right to receive and disseminate opinions of all types.

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A Biased Media – Us vs Them?

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The tragic attack in Nice on Thursday 14th of June, Bastille Day, is one of utter heartbreak. Currently, 84 citizens are dead including 10 children, with 202 more civilians injured. Already the Western world is provoked and sympathetic towards the situation in France, with landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster to be lit up in the French colours to show the British people’s solidarity with the French, and the growing rise of Facebook’s “flagtivism’. This notion of solidarity is something which should be praised, as it highlights humanitarian support.

However, it must be noted that there was a considerable lack of solidarity, flagtivism and landmarks draped in national colours when just as horrendous bomb attacks occurred in places such as Turkey and Iraq. The most recent terrorist attacks in Iraq similarly happened on a national holiday, Eid, and during the holy month of Ramadan. Yet where was the media coverage? The bombings in the capital of Iraq killed over 200 people two weeks ago, but on the media it seemed to be less important than the terrorist attacks that happen here in the West. When media coverage has a greater focus and emphasis on what happens in the West it almost seems to suggest that the deaths of Westerners are far more significant than the deaths of those in Middle Eastern countries.

This is not to say that the tragic deaths of those in Nice are less important than those in the Middle East — they were equally as shocking and devastating. The media now needs to combat such acts of cowardly terror through pushing aside ancient orientalist notions of Us vs Them, and truly take up the belief of “#AllLivesMatter” by reporting with equal concern of those closer to home as well as further away. The only way we can fight such attacks is we support each other in solidarity — ethnicities aside.