17 March 2007

Putin Cracks Down On The Internet

Even though I am having one hell of a hectic week, some news, by virtue of its urgent nature, brooks no delay. According to the Daily Mail, the Putin administration is still unabashedly assaulting all sorts of freedom in Russia and has recently decided to focus its attention on the Internet:

Russia's creation of a super agency to regulate the media and Internet has led to fears of a return to Soviet-style repression.

President Vladimir Putin has decided to merge two authorities to license and oversee the editorial content of broadcasters, newspapers and websites.

Officials claim this will improve efficiency but some of Russia’s top journalists are uneasy.

Under Putin’s rule, domestic media are under heavy pressure not to criticise the government.

Raf Shakirov, who was dismissed as editor of the Izvestiya daily after critical coverage of the 2004 Beslan school siege, said Putin’s decree could extend Soviet-style controls to Russia’s online media.

‘This is an attempt to put everything under control, including personal data about people such as bloggers,’ he said.

Roman Bodanin, political editor of news website gazeta.ru, said the superregulator could make it easier for the government to pressure the media because it would also control the granting of licences.

It is crucially important to take into consideration the present-day climate in Russia in order to fully grasp the sheer evil of this decision. The vast majority of TV channels in Russia are owned by the State and thus too impotent and scared to criticize, even mildly, the government. They, put bluntly, have no official permission to indulge in this decidedly unwholesome activity.

It will no doubt be a tall order for westerners to create a mental picture of this mind-boggling situation, but there is absolutely no criticism of the top echelons of the government on TV and in the most widely circulated newspapers. In essence, the media has been tacitly allowed to carp only at minor players and undesirables, and strictly in small doses to boot.

Needless to say, not all people are willing to put up with with glaring information vacuum. Many have turned to the Internet as the only unregulated medium where they are at liberty to air their grievances with abandon and freely exchange their forbidden ideas with other dissenters. Bloggers have largely become a pain in the neck for governmental officials, who wish to stifle all debate, and, it appears, they are firmly on their way to take ruthless action.

Few in the Russian blogging circles have fallen for the reassurances that the motion is not a veiled infringement on freedom of speech. Of course, equally few are paranoid enough to believe that they will be swiftly rounded up and sent to Siberia to labor camps, but there is a widespread consensus that this announcement will create an atmosphere of fear, and the most outspoken bloggers will have to either tone down or shut up shop of their own volition. There is no need to sully the good name of the emergent Russian democracy, for the Russians are a learned people, capable of getting the drift of their leaders in a jiffy.

It seems as though an evil spell has been cast upon this country, and there is no escape from this vicious circle.

P.S. And, lest I forget, Berl Lazar, one of the chief rabbis of Russia, is still gladly licking Putin's ass.