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Russia’s “foreign agent” reporter on tedious rules

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47-year-old Russian journalist Yelizaveta Mytnaya in her apartment in Moscow.

Moscow:

In her Moscow apartment, journalist Yelizaveta Mytnaya displayed on her laptop a message now notorious among independent Russian journalists.

“This news media/content was created and/or broadcast by a foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent and/or a Russian legal entity performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

Since being branded as a “foreign agent” by authorities this year, the 47-year-old has been obliged to add a disclaimer to every one of her social media posts, whether they were part of her reporting or a photo of her dog in Autumn Leaves. digging through.

It’s one of the tedious rules that she and dozens of other journalists have slapped with the label recently, learning to navigate a year that has seen walls close up on independent media.

Officials want “everybody to tire themselves out doing this, so there’s no time for anything else,” Maitnaya told AFP.

The label is a “form of repression”, he predicted would be used more and more to silence Kremlin critics.

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Russian journalist Yelizaveta Myatnaya shows a text message on her laptop that she has to write on each of her social media posts.

Russia first introduced the term in legislation passed in 2012, but it applied to non-governmental groups before expanding to media organizations in 2017 and individual journalists last year.

The position is reminiscent of the Soviet-era term “enemy of the people” and applied to people or groups who receive money from abroad and engage in “political activity” of any kind.

“Foreign Agent” organizations must disclose sources of funding and label publications with tags or pay fines.

Failing to properly mark a story or social media post could result in a journalist being fined up to 2,500 rubles ($36). The same offense can cost the company up to 50,000 rubles.

The branding has turned off advertisers, editors of news organizations say, putting financial pressure on some of the independent outlets that have been abandoned in Russia.

Maitnaya, who works for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL), and other journalists on the Pariah list say it also seriously hinders their work.

“People have refused to talk to me, saying: ‘It will end badly for us’,” Myatnaya told AFP.

The Kremlin says the measures are necessary because of increased “interference” from abroad with non-governmental groups and journalists who are exploited by outside actors to interfere in Russian affairs.

As a result, all eyes in Russia’s media scene are on the website of the Ministry of Justice on Friday evening, where new names appear almost weekly.

“Punishment”

In addition to the 24-word social media disclaimer, people branded “foreign agents” say they are subject to “absurd” bureaucracy, such as carefully reporting income and expenses.

Every three months they have to complete a financial audit.

Maria Zheleznova, a former reporter for ProAct Investigative Media, said: “The ministry not only wants to know where I send my money, but also from where people get the money I transfer.”

“Whenever I buy something, I always have to think about how I’m going to explain it in an audit,” she said.

Yulia Yarosh, former chief editor of the Open Media news project financed by exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said branding affects all aspects of her life.

“If friends ask me online where they can buy wardrobes, I tell them where to add and where, the message was published by a foreign agent,” said the 43-year-old.

“I feel like I’m living in some kind of fantasy, but this is reality.”

Siberian journalist Pyotr Manyakhin, who was dubbed a foreign agent when he was just 22, told AFP it was a “punishment”.

He mocked the audit, saying: “What can be found in my report on how much food I have bought?”

“Anyone who expresses an opinion on the news runs the risk of ending up on the list,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin also cautioned Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, a week after winning the Nobel Peace Prize that the award would not “shield” him from the label.

Like many of his colleagues at ProAct, Manyakhin has not been able to find work since the outlet closed.

And with one name not removed from the list, branded journalists say the future of independent journalism in Russia is bleak.

“This is not the end at all,” Zheleznova said on independent media outlets, warning of a “severe tightening” on the rules.

“I hope they have enough strength to survive,” she said.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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