December 14, 2020

DIGITAL SAMIZDAT: Russia’s New Guerilla Media Are Going After Putin.

Some remarkably audacious Russian-language investigations of President Vladimir Putin and his next of kin have hit the web in recent days. In the not-so-distant past, such explosive stuff would have, and did, cost editors their jobs and publications their livelihoods. The Kremlin considers these investigations part of an organized campaign. But if so, Putin himself is its unwitting number one organizer — not only because there’s plenty to investigate, but because his ostensibly successful campaign to control the Russian media is backfiring in a technological environment that has left Putin far behind. He must now contend with an emerging group of independent outlets that are both more nimble and less vulnerable to institutional pressure.

Up until recently, the private life of the Russian leader and his close relatives has been mostly a no-go zone for Russian media. Editors knew that entering it would have consequences. In 2008, the newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent was hastily closed down by its wealthy owner, Alexander Lebedev, after it published allegations that Putin was about to marry former rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabaeva and Putin himself angrily denounced the article as an “erotic fantasy.” In 2016, a series of stories about Katerina Tikhonova, who has been identified as Putin’s younger daughter by various media though the Kremlin has not confirmed her identity, and the Russia-related materials in the Panama Papers affair resulted in the dismissal of the top editors of RBC Daily, a leading Russian business newspaper. The paper’s owner, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, had his business premises searched by law enforcement agencies. After the editors were gone, the pressure ceased.

Now, the taboo has been broken spectacularly by two websites that have emerged in recent years — proekt.media and istories.media.

There’s a lesson in this for getting around Google, Facebook, and Twitter’s censors.

UPDATE (FROM GLENN): Richard Fernandez:

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