The independent Russian television channel Dozhd (“Rain”), suspended last March by order of the Attorney General of Russia, will resume its programming from Latvia: Natalya Sindeyeva, the director of the channel, announced on Monday. Like other Russian independent media, Dozhd had been hit by the censorship imposed by President Vladimir Putin, which has intensified in recent months to control information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sindeyeva said Dozhd’s programming will resume in the fall, in time to equip and make the new channel headquarters fully operational; last June, the Latvian body that regulates media and television broadcasting had given the channel a license to operate in the country.
According to Reuters and the Moscow Times, Dozhd will also operate from three other European locations: one in Paris, one in Amsterdam and one in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where many critics of the Russian regime have moved since last February. Dozhd’s programming will also be visible on YouTube: the site has not yet been censored in Russia, and unless otherwise decided it will therefore be the only means by which Russians can resume watching the channel.
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Dozhd’s programming had been suspended due to the “new conditions” of the media in Russia, as Sindeyeva had said at the time, referring to the media law approved in those days by the Russian government. The law imposes up to 15 years in prison for anyone who spreads what Putin’s regime considers “fake news” about the war in Ukraine, that is, any version of events other than that proposed by his government.
Among other things, Dozhd had called the invasion of Ukraine a “war”: it is a term forbidden by the Putin regime, which continues to define it as a “special military operation” and obliges the media to do the same. Dozhd was therefore accused of “inciting extremism and insulting Russian citizens”. The day before the suspension of the channel, two of his journalists had decided to leave the country, worried about their safety: there are not many other details about it, but it is reasonable to think that, as in other cases, there had been threats coming from the Russian government.
Dozhd was one of the few independent media left in Russia, where Putin’s policies have progressively restricted freedom of information in recent years.
It was founded in 2010 by Sindeyeva and her husband Alexander Vinokurov, an entrepreneur: it started broadcasting from a rather shabby studio in the industrial area of Moscow, which over time became a trendy area frequented by young people. From the beginning, it dedicated its programming to issues neglected by Russian state television channels: among other things, in 2013 it hosted Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, part of Pussy Riot, a collective of feminist dissidents persecuted by Putin.
Dozhd also broadcast debates on politics, economics and culture: he was “light years away from the shouted moralism of brazen propaganda” of the two Russian state channels, the Guardian wrote in 2015.
Dozhd began to have problems with the Russian government already at that time. In 2014, the year of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the canal, for example, made an implicit comparison between the Russian and Nazi governments. Within days, all major cable service providers said they would stop broadcasting Dozhd’s programming, and he was also evicted from his Moscow office shortly thereafter. Masha Makeeva, then deputy director of the channel, said that as in so many other cases the Russian government was trying to “make their lives impossible”, to force them to close. Dozhd, however, continued to broadcast from a one-room apartment owned by Sindeyeva, and then moved to a new location.
There have been other episodes of pressure and intimidation, until last August the Russian government came to classify Dozhd as a “foreign agent”: it is a term that identifies the entities that in a country receive funds from abroad, but that the regime Putin has used on many occasions to limit freedom of expression and information.
With great difficulty, Dozhd and other independent Russian media still managed to withstand government pressure and continue to do their job. With the invasion of Ukraine, however, Putin has imposed a further – and in some cases definitive – restriction on freedom of information.
Among other things, Novaya Gazeta, the main Russian independent newspaper, for which Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist killed in 2006, wrote has been closed in recent months; and the activities of some international broadcasters were also suspended. Dozhd is not the only independent news channel to have moved its headquarters to Latvia: Meduza, an independent site with an English version, did so long ago.
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