Staunton, March 21 – Independent media outlets in small markets far from the Russian capital are at particular risk of being forced to close when officials impose unjustified fines against them that they have neither the resources to pay or to hire lawyers to defend against them. In that event, the powers that be can force them to shut down.
What has just happened in Magadan, almost as far as one can get from Moscow and still be within the current borders of the Russian Federation is a case in point. The authorities fined Govorit Magadan (“Magadan Speaks”) for supposedly disseminating fake news about the coronavirus.
In fact, the independent Internet news agency did nothing of the kind. It reported about a “suspected” rather than “confirmed” there but the authorities failed to see the difference and demanded that the agency face criminal charges and pay a fine of as much as 500,000 rubles (8,000 US dollars).
Such a fine or even defending against the charge in court is far beyond the capacity of this shoestring operation, and its editors and writers expected that they might be shuttered, thus eliminating what is the last independent voice in that region. Fortunately, in contrast to similar cases elsewhere, this history has a happy ending.
Unlike in many such cases, the independent Moscow media, including Ekho Moskvy, which had been charged with the same “crime,” reported what was going on in the Russian Far East. As a result, Govorit Magadan says, several people have now offered to provide free legal aid (govoritmagadan.ru/redakciya-govorit-magadan-blagodarit-ryad-federalnyh-smi-za-podderzhku-internet-gazety-v-situacii-proizvola-i-nezakonnyh-sankcij/