How “offshore journalists” challenge Vladimir Putin’s empire of lies

From The Economist:

The Kremlin banned them, branded them “foreign agents”, criminalised them and chased them out of the country. It cut off their finances and tried to isolate them from their audiences. But they have regrouped, rebuilt and come back stronger. Never in the past 30 years have Russian journalists been under such assault and never have they fought back with such vigour, calling out the Kremlin’s lies, exposing its corruption and unearthing evidence of its war crimes.

Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship does not leave much scope for street protests, but independent reporters have formed a virtual resistance movement, lobbing explosive stories at his war machine and supplying news and opinions to those who look for them. Most are doing so from outside Russia, something they call “offshore journalism”. At least 500 journalists have left Russia since the invasion, according to Proekt Media, an investigative outlet.

Scattered across Europe, in cities such as Riga, Tbilisi, Vilnius, Berlin and Amsterdam, such journalists reach a large audience, most of them under the age of 40. “Our job today is to survive and not let our readers suffocate,” says Ivan Kolpakov, the editor-in-chief of Meduza, a news website.

Meduza has reported on the massacre of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, and the extraordinary number of convicts being pressed to join Wagner, a mercenary group run by a crony of Mr Putin. Mediazona, an online outlet founded by two members of Pussy Riot, a punk band, is trying to count the true number of Russian casualties. It has also found an ingenious way to work out how many Russians have been conscripted, by analysing open-source data on the unusually high number of marriages since mobilisation began. (Draftees are allowed to register their marriage on the same day as they are enlisted, and often do, since they don’t know when they will see their partners again.) Mediazona estimates that half a million people have already been drafted—far more than the 300,000 the Kremlin said would be.

For the Kremlin, suppressing real news is an important part of its war effort. Some outlets remain in Russia that are not propaganda organs, such as Kommersant, a private newspaper. But they are highly constrained—they cannot call the war a war, for example. Since Mr Putin invaded Ukraine he has muzzled most independent voices, lest they sow doubt among citizens or induce a split within the elite.

tv Rain, Russia’s best known independent television channel, went dark eight days after the war started. Echo of Moscow, a radio station with 5m listeners, went silent on the same day. Soon after that Novaya Gazeta, the most outspoken newspaper, stopped printing. Alexei Venediktov, the editor of Echo, and Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel prize-winning editor of Novaya Gazeta, stayed in Russia while some of their former colleagues set up operations offshore. tv Rain is back on air, now based in Latvia and broadcasting via YouTube to 20m viewers a month, most of them inside Russia. Echo is in Berlin, streaming news and talk-shows live via a new smartphone app, which the Kremlin tried but failed to block.

A dozen new digital outlets, most of them set up since Mr Putin first started grabbing chunks of Ukraine in 2014, are publishing investigative journalism. A recent probe by The Insider, an online outlet, working with Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence group, unmasked dozens of engineers and programmers who have been directing Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities. “Investigative journalism, which is declining in many countries, is flourishing in Russia,” says Roman Dobrokhotov, who runs The Insider. “There is plenty of demand for it, there are people who know how to do it and there is no shortage of subjects to investigate.”

Russians find real news via apps and virtual private network (vpn) services, which can help them bypass censorship. Before the war Russia was the 40th-largest user of vpns; now it is the largest in the world. Nearly half of young Russians use one, according to gwi, a market-research firm. Most are well-educated urbanites. But even in rural areas, a fifth of people use vpns.

Remote working during covid was a good preparation for offshore journalism. “I am physically located in Berlin, but I live in the Russian information field,” says Maxim Kurnikov, the editor of Echo.

Link to the rest at The Economist

3 thoughts on “How “offshore journalists” challenge Vladimir Putin’s empire of lies”

  1. Wishing them that this might be their time.

    Their opponents have access to torture and imprisonment and Siberia and use that and random medical confinement and poison threats to keep the population in line.

    Just as I wish the young of Iran that this might be their time – while knowing who controls the police.

    Terror is a good substitute for unpalatable truth, in the hands of those in charge. Especially where the population is used to that.

    We haven’t even made the full transition to democracy in the States. Roughly half of voters picked the former guy. And not that many more than half picked the current one who immediately set about righting all the overturned garbage cans, and has much yet to do. Gilead is THAT close.

    • In Iran, the mullahs this week started killing protestors.
      They have more Revolutionary Guards than there are would-be martyrs to freedom.
      No change any time soon.
      If anything, they are getting strong enough to attack oil tankers in the gulf with their drones.

      As to russia, try this:

      The federation will break apart before ever democratizing. And iy won’t afterwards, either.

      The media types think too highly of themselves. Peddling narratives is not going to overthrow anybody.

      Closer to home, US democracy is in no danger and hasn’t been since FDR failed to pack the court.
      Interfering in the competition’s primaries to support the worst wannabes over the competent ones worked but its a one-time trick. And a game two can play.

      IdiotPolitician™ fearmongering isn’t going to prevent the end of the gerontocracy no matter how often their media cronies repeat the claim. As slick Willie used to say “It’s the economy…”
      And the economy isn’t getting better until ’25 or later.

      Until then it’ll be muddling through and sniping at each other until the next Oklahoma City.


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