You Won’t Rain on Our Parade

TV Rain general director Natalia Sindeeva, courtesy of her Facebook page. The slogan on her t-shirt – Ne dozhdyotes’ – means “fat chance,” “hold your breath,” that ain’t going to happen,” “in your dreams” – but here it’s also a play on the channel’s name in Russian, dozhd‘.

Natalia Sindeeva
Facebook
August 26, 2021

I have just gathered my thoughts and reflected on what has happened to us. I have written a letter to our viewers that I have also posted below.

[ _________ ]

I am Natasha Sindeeva, general director of TV Rain. And I’m not a foreign agent.

I am a patriot. I live in Russia, I love my country, I’m not going to leave and I’ve never had plans to leave.

Nor is Rain a foreign agent. Rain is almost 200 people who, just like me, love their country, cheer for it and want Russia to become better — more humane, safer, fairer, more honest, richer, freer. All we want is to be happy, live in peace and be proud of our country. And I’m sure the approximately 20 million people who watch and read us on different platforms every month want the same thing as we do.

A lot has happened to Rain over eleven years. We were disconnected from cable networks. Attempts were made to kill our business. We broadcast from an apartment, not knowing what would happen next. But we always continued to engage in honest journalism and tell the truth to our viewers. And we will continue to do it, even if someone doesn’t like it.

Of course, you can joke as much as you like about the status of foreign agent and call it a “seal of excellence.” But, in fact, all this is terrible. It is quite awful when the state divides people into “friends” and “strangers.”

A foreign agent, in fact, is a person or organization that acts in the interests of another country. We don’t have another country. We live, work and earn enough to keep our business going only in Russia. We act in the interests of our fellow Russian citizens who, according to the Constitution, have freedom of speech.

Here’s what I think is important.

The law on foreign agents is not only a dirty trick that stigmatizes dissidents and free people, and sicks our country’s citizens on each other, it is also a completely absurd law. Because any media outlet whatsoever can become a foreign agent today. For this to happen to you, you need to meet only two criteria: quoting other “foreign agents”, such as Meduza, Radio Liberty or Lev Ponomarev, and receiving money from abroad.

Even before the law on foreign agents was passed, like all media outlets we reported any foreign financing we received to Roskomnadzor [the Russian media regulator]. Today we went to the Roskomnadzor website to see who else besides us was in this report. And lo and behold! In addition to Rain, the report lists several dozen different media outlets, from knitting magazines to state-owned Russian companies such as RT, TASS and others.

Each of these media outlets, if it quotes a “foreign agent” at least once, can also be labeled a “foreign agent media outlet.” Think about it. And moreover, they do quote “foreign agents,” but they have not been labeled “foreign agents” themselves.

Is this stupid? Of course it’s stupid. Does it surprise me that Rain was labeled a foreign agent? No, it doesn’t surprise me. But it does not cow me either.

TV Rain subscribers now see the following obligatory warning message when they turn on the channel’s livestream: “This message (content) was created and (or) distributed by a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent and (or) a Russian legal entity functioning as a foreign agent.”

We will defend the interests of Rain and other media outlets labeled foreign agents, and the interests of Russians. We will defend the right of our viewers to get information about what is really happening around them.

In an ideal world, I would dream of operating without ads that distract from our main content, without any funding other than the money paid by our subscribers.

Someday, I hope, that perfect time will come. But we are alive today, and we don’t live in an ideal world. In the current circumstances, the departure of any advertiser will be painful for us.

It is very expensive to make programs and run a TV channel . We have no curators, we have no state support, we aren’t owned by oligarchs or anyone else. We are a Russian independent media outlet, which the state once again wants to destroy simply because we are independent.

And we are also honest. First of all, to our viewers. We have never made compromises, even when physically threatened. We have never censored our work, either due to external pressure or out of our own fears. And we aren’t ashamed to look ourselves and you in the eye.

Thank you for your support and your faith in us. We will do everything in our power.

Rain is not a foreign agent, Rain is an agent of Russian citizens.

Rain is love!

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you speak Russian and have a PayPal account you can subscribe to TV Rain and/or make a donation to them. For more information and reflection on the Putin regime’s war on the country’s independent media and “foreign agents,” see “The Kremlin Is Coming for Media One By One — and Society Is Helpless to Stop It” (Moscow Times), and “Who Might Russia Declare A ‘Foreign Agent’ Journalist? Pretty Much Anyone, Really” (RFE/RL).

Important Stories

A screen shot of the front page of the IStories website

Telegram banned Roman Anin’s account the day before journalist was labeled “foreign agent media outlet”
Maria Efimova
Novaya Gazeta
August 20, 2021

Telegram has banned the account of Roman Anin,* editor-in-chief of iStories [in Russian, Vazhnye istorii — “Important Stories”].* He reported the incident to Novaya Gazeta himself.

“I couldn’t log in to Telegram yesterday, because my account was deleted, and it says in English that my account is banned. I haven’t been able to restore it yet,” Anin said.

Anin doesn’t know why his account was deleted. Although he has contacted the messenger service’s support team, they have not replied.

Today, the Russian Justice Ministry placed iStories, Anin and several of the publication’s journalists on its register of “foreign agent media outlets.” TV Rain* and the journalist Stepan Petrov* were also added to the list.

Earlier this week, iStories journalists Irina Dolinina* and Alesya Marokhovskaya* reported that persons unknown had mounted a spam attack on their phone numbers. “SMS messages from shops, banks and other places with different codes [were] being sent non-stop,” Dolinina said, also complaining about the incessant “dead calls.” Before that, persons unknown tried to hack and organize a spam attack on the phone of Irina Pankratova, a journalist with The Bell.

Late last year, after iStories published an investigative report about businessman Kirill Shamalov, Vladimir Putin’s [former son-in-law], there were attempts to hack the Telegram accounts of Anin and the other authors of the report. There were attempts to hack their Facebook accounts as well.

* Placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its register of mass media outlets functioning as foreign agents.

Translated by the Russian Reader. As I just discovered, you can easily support iStories by going to the donations page on their website. I was able to donate 3,000 rubles (approx. 35 euros) in a matter of seconds. And you can read some of their investigative reports in English while you’re at it.

“On the evening of April 9, 2021, the FSB searched the home of iStories editor-in-chief Roman Anin. The search lasted almost seven hours. At the same time, a search was also carried out in the publication’s editorial offices.”

Russian Justice Ministry Adds Five New “Foreign Agents” to Its List

“The register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent has been updated. On December 28, 2020, in compliance with the requirements of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, Darya Apahonchich, Denis Kamalyagin, Sergey Markelov, Lev Ponomarev, and Lyudmila Savitskaya were included in the register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Screenshot of Russian Justice Ministry website, 28 December 2020

Human Rights Activists Lev Ponomaryov and Four Other People Added to List of “Foreign Agents”
OVD Info
December 28, 2020

For the first time, the Russian Ministry of Justice has placed individuals, including journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, on its registry of “[foreign] mass media acting as foreign agents,” as reflected on the ministry’s website.

Lev Ponomaryov, head of the movement For Human Rights, Radio Svoboda and MBKh Media journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya, 7×7 journalist Sergei Markelov, Pskovskaya Guberniya editor-in-chief Denis Kamalyagin, and grassroots activist and performance artist Darya Apahonchich.

Savitskaya, Markelov and Kamalyagin were probably placed on the registry of “foreign agents” due to their work with Radio Svoboda, which was placed on the registry of “foreign agents” in 2017.

In late December, the State Duma introduced and partly considered bills that would tighten the law on “foreign agents.” Thus, repeated violations of accountability under the law can now result in five years in prison. According to the new clarifications, the status of “foreign agent” can be granted to individuals engaged in political activities and receiving money for this work from abroad. Another bill would prohibit the dissemination of information in the media produced by foreign agents unless it is specially labelled.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Stopping Foreign Agents, Killing Russian Education

“Entry is prohibited”

Control, Censorship and Foreign Agents: How the Amendments to the Law “On Education” Will Affect All of Us
Ella Rossman
Mel
December 24, 2020

On December 23, the State Duma passed in its first reading a bill that would amend the law “On Education.” After the bill is passed into law, “anti-Russian forces” will no longer be able to “freely conduct a wide range of propaganda activities among schoolchildren and university students.” Tatyana Glushkova, a lawyer at the Memorial Human Rights Center, joined us to figure out what is happening.

Regulation International Cooperation
On November 18, 2020, fifteen Russian MPs proposed amendments to the law “On Education” that would regulate international cooperation on the part of educational organizations, as well as all educational activities in Russia itself.

The law would regulate interactions between educational organizations (i.e. licensed organizations) and foreigners. If the law is adopted, schools and universities would, in fact, be banned from engaging in all types of international cooperation without the approval of federal authorities. In this case, any interaction by an educational organization with foreign organizations or individuals would fall under the definition of “international cooperation.”

“International cooperation is when a Russian educational organization develops and implements joint educational programs with an organization or individual, sends pupils, students and instructors abroad (and they receive scholarships there), accepts foreign students and instructors to study and work in Russian organizations, conducts joint scholarly research, organizes international conferences and participates in them, and simply exchanges educational or scholarly literature with an entity or individual. After the law is adopted, all these activities, except for the admission of foreign students, would be possible only with permission from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education or the Ministry of Education.”
—Tatyana Glushkova, lawyer

According to Glushkova, the procedure for issuing permits would  be established by the government. “How would this affect international cooperation on the part of educational organizations? Obviously, negatively.”

“This is actually a revival of the idea that instructors should have to obtain permission to take part in international conferences, not to mention more meaningful interactions with foreign colleagues. Moreover, these permits would not even be issued by university administrations, but by a ministry.

“Given such conditions, universities and schools would engage in much less international cooperation. Obtaining any permission is a bureaucratic process that requires resources. It would be easier for some organizations to cancel international events than to get approval for them,” Glushkova says.

According to Glushkova, it is currently unclear what conditions would need to be met in order to obtain permissions. This would be established by new Russian government regulations, and so far we can only guess what they would look like.

Control of All “Educational Activities”
As the bill’s authors write in an explanatory note, the new bill must be adopted, since without it, “anti-Russian forces” can almost freely conduct a “wide range of propaganda activities” among schoolchildren and university students.

The Russian MPs argue that many such events are “aimed at discrediting Russian state policy,” as well as at revising attitudes toward history and “undermining the constitutional order.”

The amendments would affect both official educational organizations in Russia (schools and universities) and those engaged in “educational activities” outside of these institutions. At the same time, the proposed law defines the concept of “educational activities” as broadly as possible—in fact, it encompasses all activities in which new skills, knowledge, values or experiences are taught “outside the framework of educational programs.”

Anyone from tutors to bloggers could fall into this category.

The bill gives the authorities the right to regulate the entire sphere of educational activities. It not yet clear of how this would be organized: the details of what would be controlled and how it would be controlled are not spelled out in the bill.

Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Center, dubbed the amendments “revolutionary in the sad sense of the word,” as they would allow the government to declare the exchange of almost any type of information as “education” and therefore subject to regulation, that is, to what amounts to censorship.

Glushkova outlined the context in the new bill has emerged.

The bill was submitted to the State Duma at the same time as a whole package of other bills that, formally, would significantly limit the activities of different civil society organizations in Russia.

To put it simply, they would simply crush the remnants of Russian civil society that haven’t been killed off yet.

One of these bills would institute full government control over NGOs listed in the register of “foreign agents.” It would give the Ministry of Justice the right to suspend (in whole or in part) the activities of such organizations at any time. Another bill introduces the concept of “unregistered foreign-agent organizations,” and also expands the scope for designating individuals as “foreign agents.”

If an unregistered organization or individual is included in the register of foreign agents, they would be required to report to the Ministry of Justice, including their expenses. At the same time, all founders, members, managers and employees of foreign-agent organizations (whether registered or not) would be required to declare their status as “foreign agents” when making any public statement concerning the government.

For example, if a cleaning lady who works for an NGO wanted to write on her social network page that her apartment is poorly heated, she would have to indicate that she is affiliated with a “foreign agent.” Naturally, sanctions are provided for violations of all these regulations, and in some cases they include criminal liability.

In my opinion, these bills are not a reaction on the part of the authorities to any actual foreign or domestic political events. They are just another round of “tightening the screws” and attacking civil society.

The regime’s ultimate goal is the ability to do anything, however lawless, without suffering the consequences and without having to endure even critical feedback from society. This process has been going on since 2012 at least.

In order to achieve this goal, the regime seeks, first, to declare everything that has at least some connection with foreign countries (which, in its opinion, are the main source of criticism of events in our country) suspicious, unreliable and harmful. Second, it is trying to take maximum control of all public activities related to the dissemination of information and the expression of civic stances.

The amendments to the law “On Education” would affect not only all educators, but also people who probably have never considered themselves educators. For example, if I publish an article on the internet on what to do if you buy a defective product, I am engaged in “activities aimed at disseminating knowledge.”

If I do a master class on embroidery, that would be deemed “an activity aimed at disseminating skills.”

Both activities would fall under the definition of educational activities. In fact, any dissemination of information could be declared an “educational activity.” All educational activities, according to the bill, would now have to be implemented on the terms established by Russian federal government and under its control.

We still do not know what the rules will be. They could be quite mild, or they could be harsh. Don’t forget that an indulgent regime can be tightened at any time. You merely need to adopt a regulation—not a law, whose approval entails a complex procedure, but only a government decree.

Thanks to Valentina Koganzon for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader