12 August 2020
Galina Arapova, Director of the Centre for the Protection of Media Rights, media lawyer, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize
At the official level, in Russia there has not yet been any reaction to the concerns of the American authorities about the innovations planned by Roskomnadzor, which infringe on the activities of Voice of America and other projects of RFE/RL corporation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted in his recent statement that the forthcoming decree provides for yet more onerous requirements that will further restrict the activities of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Russia, exacerbating the already difficult conditions in which these organizations work.
“We remain concerned about the continued harassment of the independent press in Russia and call on Russia to abide by its international and OSCE commitments regarding freedom of expression,” Pompeo said. “We urge the Russian government to reconsider these actions, which will cause additional damage to bilateral relations.”
The Russian authorities argue that the new legislative measures affect the administrative and technical parameters of the work of editorial offices, but do not limit journalists’ creative freedom. The management of the RFE/RL media corporation, on the contrary, is convinced that the initiative of the supervisory authority is motivated by the interests of censorship and infringes upon the rights of journalists.
Galina Arapova, director and chief lawyer of the Media Rights Defence Centre, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize, agrees that the draft Roskomnadzor order does in fact raise legitimate concerns.
In her opinion, in the form in which it is proposed, the required annotation will not allow foreign media recognized as “foreign agents” to work in a normal format that meets generally accepted world standards.
“The demands put forward by Roskomnadzor violate the basic norms of media activity,” she says in an interview with the Voice of America Russian service. “The implementation of the requirements of the law on mass media – regarding ‘foreign agents’ – can, no matter how terrible it may be in itself, also be done in different ways. In my opinion, the option chosen by Roskomnadzor is extremely strange, to put it mildly. “
As Arapova sees it, the project was developed in a hurry. Therefore, she says, the officials simply took part of an article from the law (about 30 words) and used it for the regulation: “In the supervisory office they did not even try adapt their requirements to realities, to the established canons of the work of journalists, in an elementary way. According to the proposals, the required annotation should be twice as large as the title of the text. It is clear that it will look monstrous. The annotation will simply squeeze out subheadings or announcements. And this contradicts the officially declared goal of the initiative. You don’t need to transcribe a chapter from War and Peace to warn the reader about who owns the content. “
The Director of the Media Rights Defence Centre says she has a strong feeling that the draft order was not at all intended to warn readers about the source of the information, but to ensure that no one would read the marked material at all.
“Anyway, even if some restrictive goals are written into the law, it is necessary to carry out the ideas in a civilized manner so that it doesn’t all just look like a mockery of common sense,” she reasons. “And here is an annotation – at the bottom of the screen. No normal state should use its laws in such a way as to simply break the basic rules of work in an industry. Now everything is being done in order to break the format in which particular media work.”
Galina Arapova is convinced this is a very poor quality regulation: “Any regulatory law is the face of the state. The wording of the document must be extremely clear and precise. And here everything was done for the sake of a tick in the report. It seems that the project was written by some second assistant to the third deputy of the fourth lawyer in the Roskomnadzor team. “
At the same time, the Director of the Media Rights Defence Centre believes the document can still be corrected: “Our common task is to draw attention to the poor quality of this order. Because when the act is passed, the disgrace will be a fait accompli.”
In summary, Galina Arapova said that they the draft would be approved in any case, but that it might be done with different wording.
Translated by Anna Bowles