‘This was bound to happen’ Russia designates Dozhd and iStories as ‘foreign agents’
On Friday, August 20, the Russian Justice Ministry designated the independent television channel Dozhd (TV Rain) and the investigative publication iStories as “foreign agents.” Both media outlets were apparently blacklisted following demands from obscure campaigners. According to Dozhd’s CEO, the television channel didn’t receive any notice about the Justice Ministry’s decision. At the same time, the designations aren’t entirely unexpected given this year’s long-running crackdown on civil society and independent media in Russia. The Russian Justice Ministry’s “foreign-agent media” registry currently includes 43 entries, 25 of which are individual journalists.
Russia has designated Dozhd (TV Rain) and iStories as “foreign agents.” On Friday, August 20, the Justice Ministry added the Dozhd TV Channel LLC to its “foreign-agent media” registry, as well as Istories fonds, the Latvia-based legal entity behind the investigative outlet iStories. Six journalists from iStories were also registered as “foreign agents” — editor-in-chief Roman Anin and reporters Roman Shleynov, Olesya Shmagun, Alesya Markhovskaya, Irina Dolinina, and Dmitry Velikovsky. In addition, the Justice Ministry registered an individual by the name of Stepan Petrov as a “foreign agent.” Presumably, this is the CEO of the public organization “Yakutia — Our Opinion,” which was liquidated on August 20.
Dozhd is the main independent television network in Russia. It has been under pressure for a long time. The channel began broadcasting in 2010. In 2014, a Dozhd survey about the Siege of Leningrad drew a wave of criticism. Most satellite and cable operators cut the channel from their networks, and it later lost the ability to place advertisements. This threatened Dozhd’s very existence and the channel switched to relying on funding from viewers rather than ad revenue. Dozhd has come under pressure on several occasions in recent years, as well: in June, the television channel was excluded from the Kremlin’s press pool due to its coverage of pro-Navalny protests, and its founder and CEO, Natalia Sindeeva, was summoned to the Investigative Committee.
iStories specializes in investigative journalism and has published major investigations about the likes of Russian oil giant Rosneft and Vladimir Putin’s presumed (now-ex) son-in-law. The outlet launched in April 2020, under the leadership of editor-in-chief Roman Anin, a former investigative journalist for the prominent independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. iStories has published major investigations into the wealth of Putin’s alleged former son-in-law Kirill Shamalov, the offshore dealings of the Russian president’s “friends,” and how Rosneft acquired a stake in the Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli (Rosneft took iStories to court over the Pirelli story and won).
In April, the Russian FSB raided the IStories newsroom, as well as Roman Anin’s apartment, in connection with a criminal case for violation of privacy. The case was opened back in 2016 over an article Anin wrote for Novaya Gazeta about a $100 million yacht belonging to the then-wife of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. Anin is currently considered a witness in the case.
Anti-globalization activist Alexander Ionov reported iStories to the Russian authorities in July. Meduza was designated as a “foreign agent” in April, also after getting denounced by Ionov. In a complaint to the Attorney General's Office, Ionov claimed that iStories is the recipient of foreign funding and argued that it should therefore be designated as “foreign-agent media.” Roman Anin replied that neither he nor the iStories editorial board were afraid of a “foreign agent” designation, and promised to take Ionov to court.
Members of the misogynistic far-right social media group known as “Male State” demanded that Dozhd be designated as a “foreign agent” back in July. Shortly beforehand, the television channel appealed to the Russian Investigative Committee after presenter Anna Mongayt began receiving threats from “Male State” followers. The threats came after Dozhd aired an interview where Mongayt spoke to a lesbian couple who appeared on the cover of the magazine Elle Russia. Back in 2019, the state-controlled television channel RT claimed that Dozhd was the recipient of EU funding.
“I don’t have anything to say yet except a bunch of obscenities,” Dozhd founder and CEO Natalia Sindeeva told Meduza following the “foreign agent” designation. Both she and Dozhd editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko said that they didn’t receive any notice from the Justice Ministry. Sindeeva added that the editorial board has no idea why Dozhd was labeled a “foreign agent.” “Of course, it’s not clear. But, obviously, this was bound to happen, sooner or later,” she said.
iStories released a statement, saying that it would be “simply indecent to be excluded” from the Justice Ministry’s “foreign-agent media” list. “Since the moment of our founding one year ago we haven’t hidden from our readers that we are registered abroad. We did this in order to be free. And so as not to turn into a government information service, like Russian state media, which barks when ordered to do so. As for the list of ‘foreign agents’ itself, there are so many decent people and outlets on it that it’s simply indecent to be excluded,” the statement said. iStories also teased a new investigation, set to be published next week.
The “foreign-agent media” registry maintained by the Russian Justice Ministry now includes 43 entries, including 25 individuals. Since April 2021, Russia has blacklisted Meduza (as a result, we lost nearly all of our ad revenue), PASMI (“First Anti-Corruption Media”), VTimes (which shut down after being labeled a “foreign agent”), and The Insider (whose editor-in-chief was declared a witness in a libel case shortly afterward). In addition, a number of journalists from Proekt, RFE/RL’s Russian Service, and Open Media have been labeled as “foreign agents.” Proekt itself was banned as an “undesirable organization.” As well, the news outlets Open Media and MBK Media shut down after the Russian authorities blocked their websites.
Translation by Eilish Hart