A bill to limit foreign shareholding in Russian media to 20% passed its third and final reading at the State Duma last Friday with a landslide vote of 430 to two. The law will ban foreign nationals and international organisations from founding or owning more than 20% of any media organisation in Russia, and is widely considered to be the Kremlin’s latest attempt to muzzle media freedom in the country.
Designed by politicians from the Fair Russia, Communist and Liberal Democratic Parties, the law was put forward to strengthen national security and satisfy the need to protect Russian media from western influence. Fair Russia politician Vladimir Parakhin, one of the architects of the law, told Izvestia: “If we are talking about a higher percentage, like 25% for example, then this is actually a blocking stake which would allow you to significantly influence the information policy of any publication. We have seen examples of this with the events in Ukraine, which have been presented in ways not entirely accurate by the Russian press.”
On Rain TV, Vedomosti’s editor-in-chief Tatiana Lysova spoke of the “utter paranoia” that lies behind the new law, which “is itself groundless, harmful and demonstrates a mistrust of us. It, of course, creates uncertainty. We don’t know where our publication will be in a year and who it will belong to. In such circumstances, it is difficult to remain enthusiastic, hopeful, or positive.”
Until now, legislation has allowed foreign shareholders to own up to 50% of a radio or TV station in Russia, with unlimited foreign shareholding in print media. Some of Russia's leading independent news outlets currently owned partially or entirely by foreign shareholders, including Vedomosti and The Moscow Times, as well as glossy magazines like GQ and Russian Forbes, will be affected by the law.
Russia's media landscape has struggled to survive the slew of new legislation introduced since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis earlier this year, which has seen the Kremlin tighten its grip over information distribution in the country.
The law will come into effect at the start of 2016, with media organisations given until February 2017 to implement the necessary changes to their company, after which Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog, will be licensed to suspend the activities of media organisations who violate the law.