The stand off between Ukraine and Russia has become this year’s most controversial dispute which has kept the people of the world on the edge. Not everyone may have paid attention to detail but a good number of the population has a fair idea regarding the on-going battle over Crimea. To make situation’s worse, people’s right to information has been hampered owing to the politics of higher authorities and their strong foothold over the media.
To give a brief over-view of the issue, protests had begun in Ukraine in November 2013 when the then president Victor Yanukovych chose not to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union hurting the sentiments of the pro- European citizens. During the same period, Russia was trying to gain influence over Ukraine by offering a larger amount by way of loans than what the European Union was offering. They also offered Ukraine cheaper gas prices trying to garner the support and preference of the president. Yanukovych is widely disliked in Ukraine’s west, but remains very popular in his native Russian-speaking east, as well as the south. The rallies were initially peaceful but eventually became violent in January 2014 after the parliament, dominated by Yanukovych’s supporters, passed laws intended to repress the protest which resulted in the subsequent fleeing of the president to Russia. This was followed by a mass invasion of the Russian Military with the aim of annexing Crimea and protecting the nationals residing over there who were pro-Russia. Russia’s involvement and acceptance of Crimea’s request to reunite with Russia is portrayed as a violation of international law by the European Union and the United States, though have failed to state exactly what international laws. Russia has been welcomed by a majority of the local population.
Amidst all the tensions, Russia’s media sector has been incurring even more severe pressure. The already repressive press freedom environment in Russia declined even further with Vladmir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 as authorities relied on both crude and sophisticated forms of media management to distract the public from terrorist attacks, economic troubles, and anti-government protests. The government maintained its grip on key television outlets and tightened controls over the internet during the year.
Lenta.ru, one of Russia’s most popular sources of independent news websites was the worst affected victim which suffered a major attack with Ukraine as pretext. Hours after Russia’s state media regulator accused the popular news website Lenta.ru of extremism over a recent interview with a paramilitary commander in the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist group Right Sector, Editor Galina Timchenko was fired and replaced with a man hailing from Kremlin’s mouthpiece, Vzglyad.ru. Most of Lenta’s reporters have resigned in protest, writing in a farewell letter, “The trouble is not that we’ve lost our jobs. The trouble is that you’ve got nothing to read.” There are hardly any objective, professional media outlets left in a nation. Lenta’s main competitor, Gazeta.ru, has already undergone a Kremlin-directed overhaul. The only independent TV station, Dozhd, was removed from all major cable networks in February and probably won’t survive long. Multiple sources claim that the semi-independent Ekho Moskvy radio station is doomed. Three other news websites were officially banned with the possibility of Facebook and twitter following the suit very soon
All is not well in Ukraine either. Ukranian channels are now replaced with Russian channels under the disguise of “technical problems”. Russia-backed Crimean Information Minister Dmitry Polonsky admitted on March 9 that the channels had been blocked. He said that because the region now considers itself a part of Russia, Ukrainian TV channels will have to reapply for new contracts. He cited moral reasons and also said that TV channels are rigidly censored by “illegitimate” authorities in Kyiv in violations of fundamental principles. These replaced Russian channels have been highly criticized by the pro- Ukranian activists. Ukrainian stations said through a press release on March 6 that it had been ordered by pro-Russian Crimean authorities to terminate its broadcasts and some Ukrainian journalists have been prevented from entering the Crimean peninsula. The most fearful outcome of the current situation is the missing of Ukranian activists and journalists in Crimea. Groups of journalists have either been detained in Crimean checkpoints or beaten which is a clear sign of prevailing of extremism.
People are speculating that Mr Putin is now starting to act on impulse and all these steps are in retaliation to the major protests of Ukraine. But with the freedom of press and media under threat, citizens of these countries and the rest of the world are being deprived of their basic right to information which is not only a clear cut example of modern day dictatorship but also a sign of a brewing storm which might have a lot of uncertain revelations in store.
About the Author
Shweta rath is a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She enjoys reading up on various important issues and is a keen learner who wants to work on enhancing her research skills. She is a big movie buff and loves interacting with new people.