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Russian Media Watchdog Claims It’s Not A Censor


Aleksandr Zharov

Aleksandr Zharov

head of Russia’s state media regulator, Roskomnadzor

“I’m opposed to censorship. Russian law forbids censorship. Those who call Roskomnadzor the main censor of the [the Russian-language Internet] don’t really understand what [censorship] is.”

Questionable
...some of its actions look like censorship

In an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia published on July 29, Aleksandr Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, the agency responsible for regulating the media and the Internet in Russia, denied that his agency engages in censorship. It only blocks material that violates Russian law, he said. But Russia’s law on “extremism” is so broad that it places critics of the war in Ukraine and supporters of the Islamic State (IS) group in the same basket and is often used to indiscriminately target online content regardless of context. Rozkomnadzor has blocked sites that have published what the agency deems objectionable material and denied such targeted sites the chance to remove the material in question. Roskomnadzor does in fact block entire sites from future publication after objectionable material appears without giving the owners the chance to remove materials, based on rejection of only some content. It has repeatedly demonstrated that its notion of “extremism” can include content about opposition activism and other politically charged topics, as well as actual violent activity.

Banned websites include the political news portal Grani.ru and the satirical site Lukomorya/Lurkmore. In January 2015, Roskomnadzor issued a reprimand to the respected news site RBC.ru for publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons after terrorists murdered employees of the French satirical magazine, and it also sent warnings to other state and independent media outlets.

Roskomnadzor also blocked the website of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny for three days in January 2015 on orders from prosecutors due to a post calling for an unsanctioned rally. A Moscow court ruled the following month that Roskomnadzor’s blocking of Navalny’s site was lawful. The agency later unblocked the site after the offending post was removed.

In August 2015, Roskomnadzor issued a warning to Wikipedia demanding the removal of an entry on cannabis and rescinded the order after the entry was edited.

In August 2016, Roskomnadzor blocked Wikipedia and Wikisource pages, including a page on the Protocols Of The Elders of Zion, based on a 2010 court ruling that deemed the document “extremist.” Although the Wikisource/Wikiteka page that included excerpts from the Protocols put them in context, explaining that they were a conspiracy theory and had historical value as a study of antisemitism in the Russian Empire, the page was nevertheless blocked.

In its report for the first half of 2016, Twitter reported that Roskomnadzor trailed only Turkey in the number of requests for tweets to be removed (1,599). Using a system that enables it to remove content from view in a given country, Twitter withheld 10 accounts and 182 individual tweets in Russia, including materials reported for promoting suicide and content from the Ukrainian paramilitary group Right Sector.

Roskomsvoboda [Russian Committee for Freedom], a group that monitors and protests the actions of Roskomnadzor, maintains a database of sites blocked by the agency that currently contains 42,202 entries.

While many of the bans concern issues such as copyright violation, pornography, and gambling, many of the targeted sites feature independent news or commentary, including vulgar names for President Vladimir Putin. One such site, putinhuylo.com, currently shows only a page announcing its closure with clips of ballerinas dancing to "Swan Lake" -- the show that Soviet authorities would place on TV during emergencies.

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