Disinfo: West falsely claims Russian media not free

Summary

In 2020 Russia ranks 149 on the World Press Freedom Index, annually published by Reporters Without Borders.

Many in the West will take this for a fact, because for decades their media have been hammering into their heads the Kremlin kills journalists. However, the numbers given by New York based Committee To Protect Journalists clearly indicate that under Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, things were much worse.

The same press freedom index ranks The Netherlands 5th globally, but this certainly does not mean that a Dutch journalist is better off than a Russian one. In Russia, it’s possible for the media to depict president Vladimir Putin as a dog, like The Moscow Times did. In the Netherlands, offending the king carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a 20,500 euro fine. 

Disproof

The article combines cherry-picking and outright falsehoods to support its central claim. 

The RSF Press Freedom Index is based on a detailed methodology which evaluates a given country’s media freedom based on 87 questions posed to “media professionals, lawyers, and sociologists” based within that country. Answers to these questions are then converted into six qualitative indicators, such as “pluralism,” “media independence,” self-censorship,” and “transparency,” which in turn form the basis of the country’s press freedom ranking.

The author attempts to deflect this by focusing exclusively on the numbers of murdered journalists, which were supposedly “much worse” under Yeltsin. However, even this claim is problematic.

The seventh, quantitative indicator (“abuses”) featured in the Press Freedom Index is determined by a separate team of RSF experts and used to calculate a separate score. RSF explains that “[a] country’s final score is the greater of these two scores. This method prevents an inappropriately low score (high ranking) being given to a country where few or no acts of violence against journalists take place because the provision of news and information is tightly controlled.” Nonetheless, Russia’s “abuse” score in 2020 (53.38) still exceeded its “underlying situation” score (47.20). The press kit accompanying RSF’s 2020 index also states that “[a]t least 37 Russian professional journalists have been killed in connection with their work since 2000,” compared with 40 reporters killed in 1992-9. This gives the lie to the author’s claim that the situation of Russian journalists has seen a marked improvement under Putin.

The author then dismisses The Netherlands’ 144-place lead over Russia in the RSF ranking by citing the extremely specific issue of Dutch lese-majeste laws on the one hand, and the supposedly progressive way the Russian state treats depictions of Putin on the other. 

Moreover, the argument itself is riddled with inaccuracies and relies on outdated sources. Since 2018, deliberately offending the monarch has carried a maximum sentence of four months (not 5 years). Even before the law was relaxed, the highest prison term issued under it was 5 months and concerned an individual charged with property damage and violent speech in the course of the same proceedings. The law is also more difficult to apply in cases where freedom speech is directly concerned including comedy, public debate, and journalism. 

Conversely, the Russian parliament passed a law in 2019 criminalizing “public insult of a representative of power” and stipulating up to one year of “corrective labour” (i.e. penal colony) upon conviction (Art. 319). Although the law does not exclusively criminalize insults directed at the Russian president, half of all cases (51 out of 100) and three-quarters of all convictions (38 out of 51) between March 2019 and March 2020 concerned individuals who criticized Putin (pp. 5-6), including at least two journalists (see here and here).

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 200
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 03/06/2020
  • Language/target audience: English
  • Country: Russia, The Netherlands
  • Keywords: Human rights, Russian superiority, Freedom of speech, Media
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Disproof

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Disproof

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Disproof

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