Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about a newly adopted law in Russia that will hold major news aggregators accountable for the information they distribute, thereby establishing a principle that violates the freedom to inform.
Known as the “news aggregators law,” it consists of a series of amendments to the law on information and information technology that were introduced by opposition legislators. Adopted unanimously by the Duma on 10 June and approved by the Federation Council (the upper house) on 15 June, its promulgation is now just a formality and it will take effect in January.
Russian-language news aggregators with more than 1 million visitors a day will henceforth be held responsible for the veracity of the news reports they distribute if the reports do not come from media outlets registered in Russia.
The aggregators will be required to store all news stories and the details of the originating media outlets for six months after publication and ensure their availability to Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications).
If the authorities dispute the veracity of information of “public importance,” the relevant news report will have to be removed within 24 hours, failing which the owners of the aggregator will be subject to a fine that could as much as 3 million rubles (41,000 euros) for repeat offenders.
One of the law’s paragraphs stipulates that only Russian citizens or companies may own such news aggregators.
The law’s undeclared but obvious aim is to deter aggregators from distributing news reports from independent media outlets with views that may be at variance with the Kremlin’s.
Few aggregators are affected by the new law in its current form. Google News and Yahoo News get few visits in Russia so they are not concerned. The main news aggregators currently affected, such as Yandex and Mail.ru, are already so much under the government’s thumb that they will not have to change their practices.
Nonetheless, the government has established a disturbing legislative framework. Lowering the law’s threshold of 1 million visitors a day, for example, would suffice to make it apply to all news aggregators.
“Even if this law, when it takes effect, fails to radically change the way aggregators currently operate, a new tool for controlling news and information has been created,” RSF said.
“One of the Russian government’s characteristics is a constant concern to control news content. We are very worried about how this legislation may evolve, especially as other governments in Russia’s sphere of influence often base their own legislation on Russia’s.”
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.