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Putin Tightens Control over Internet

Reuters has reported that this week President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree which will merge the state media oversight body Rosokhrankultura, with the federal telecommunications and IT watchdog, Rossvyaznadzor, which many believe represents an attempt to extent the Kremlin’s strict media control to online sources, targeting bloggers and news websites. Both of these organizations have a history of harassing media outlets.

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Here’s what Reuters reported:

Under Putin’s rule, independent publishers have mostly been taken over by Kremlin-friendly businessmen. The domestic media are under heavy pressure not to criticize the government, making journalists suspicious of any official initiative. Raf Shakirov, who was dismissed as editor of the daily Izvestia after critical coverage of the 2004 Beslan school siege, said Putin’s decree could extend Soviet-style controls to Russia’s online media, which have been relatively free. “This is an attempt to put everything under control, not only electronic media but also personal data about people such as bloggers,” he said. Russians have increasingly turned to the Internet to find independent sources of information. But the authorities have already fired a warning shot across the bows of one leading news Web site, www.gazeta.ru, which got an official warning last year for “extremism” after writing about cartoons that satirized the Prophet Mohammad. Roman Bodanin, the political editor at gazeta.ru, said the new regulator could make it easier for the government to track and pressure independent media because the same agency would grant licenses and supervise content. Andrei Vasilyev, editor of the daily Kommersant, saw the move as part of a Kremlin drive to consolidate power before parliamentary and presidential elections in the next 12 months. “It’s very dangerous to scatter the ownership of broadcasting frequencies and licenses between different institutions,” he said about the Kremlin, saying he was speaking in a personal capacity. “There might be a loophole for some alternative information channel.” Government officials said Russia’s media would benefit from the new body, due to start work within three months. “The question of regulation will now be easier,” said Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for Rosokhrankultura. He dismissed fears about more control over the media as “journalists’ fantasies.”

Related: La Russophobe recently ran a lengthy series of translated articles about Russia’s internet watchdogs called Commissars of the Internet.