Government, Politics and Regulation

Freedom of speech and press is a relatively new phenomenon in Russia, guaranteed by the Constitution adopted in 1993. According to the document, censorship is expressly prohibited and freedom of speech, thought and mass communications is warranted. Freedom of expression and the right to information can only be restricted by a federal act and only if such a measure is needed to protect fundamental principles of the constitutional system, morality, health, the rights and lawful interests of other people, for ensuring defense of the country and security of the State.

As a member of many international organizations Russia formally recognizes the supremacy of international law, but its officials and Members of Parliament have repeatedly tried to reconsider their obligations. Thus far, they have not succeeded.

Credit: Минеева Ю. (Julmin)

The main law governing mass media in Russia is Mass Media Law adopted in 1991. The few other national laws mandate how mass media must act in particular situations such as elections, emergency or when martial law is instated.

The Constitution and Mass Media Law are in line with how Europe defines freedom of speech and mass media. But law enforcement in practice often contradicts the spirit of law; and many legal provisions are not implemented.

Over the course of the last several years, a bevy of federal acts that are not intended to regulate mass media directly, but to indirectly restrict media freedom have been adopted. One such law was the Law on Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development adopted in 2012, which prohibits the distribution of “harmful” content among minors, including content that “may elicit fear, horror, or panic in children,” or that depicts violence, unlawful activities, substance abuse, or self-harm. Another law put forward a blacklist of websites that promote suicide, glorify use of illegal drugs, or feature child pornography. Authorities can add websites to this blacklist and block access to them without court order: they only need a decision of the Prosecutor Office. An amendment passed in 2013 added “propaganda” to “non-traditional sexual relationships,” a category of harmful content in the law.

Another law, passed in 2013, allows the Prosecutor Office to block without court order websites that feature riotous or extremist statements, or information about unsanctioned demonstrations. In yet another law, the amended Mass Media Law, media that receive foreign funding are categorized as a “foreign agent.” Such media are obliged by law to make public that they are foreign agents. Another law, adopted in 2016, limits the foreign capital in Russian media to 20%. Before 2016, there were caps on foreign ownership, but they only applied to television and were more relaxed (foreign companies could own up to 50% in broadcast operators).

And that is not all. These are just a few of the most relevant laws adopted in the past few years that have dramatically changed the media landscape in Russia.

All media in Russia, no matter whether TV, radio, print or internet, are regulated by the same regulator, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Федеральная служба по надзору в сфере связи, информационных технологий и массовых коммуникаций) or Roskomnadzor (Роскомнадзор).