After the presidential election, the state reasserted its control over the media in Russia. Preoccupied by other issues, the EU did little to help and had almost no impact.
At the beginning of 2012, Russia relaxed state controls of the media: between January and March opposition figures were invited to participate in talk shows, and state-controlled media reported protests and asked presidential candidate Vladimir Putin inconvenient questions (although this may have actually had the effect of legitimising the state-controlled channels). However, after the March presidential election, the state once again reasserted its control over the media: several media outlets scaled back criticism of the regime; critically minded journalists lost their jobs or resigned, citing unacceptable demands and conditions; and owners of independent media outlets faced pressure and the offices of critical websites were raided.
In the summer, a series of illiberal laws (see component 15) were adopted – often badly or vaguely drafted and therefore vulnerable to arbitrary interpretation – that have implications for media freedom as well. In addition, anti-extremism laws and the new law protecting children “from information harmful to their health and environment” will affect the media. In November, a law came into force that bans more than 48 percent foreign-owned radio stations. The new government also asked for more control over the internet and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a degree to block access to a list of “harmful” websites. The State Duma is also preparing a bill that would ban journalists who have foreign or dual citizenship from working on state television if they criticise Russia.
Preoccupied by wider human-rights issues, Europeans paid little attention to the specific issue of media freedom in Russia in 2012. A few member states such as Sweden did continue to make internet freedom their priority and Estonia gave asylum to a Russian blogger who was facing a jail sentence for criticising the Russian Orthodox Church. But Europeans could take a more hands-on approach to supporting media freedom in Russia by offering financial and other support to independent media organisations, engaging with the possibilities offered by social media and other internet-based media, and training Russian journalists.