For the past 18 years, Russian journalist Tania Felgengauer has tried to expose the truth about Vladimir Putin and his administration, but last week the Moscow radio station she works for was silenced.
“First we lost our radio signal and that was with no warning, no papers, no nothing,” she told the ABC.
“It was a political decision by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin…he decided to close them because [with] many other professional and free media.”
Felgengauer is deputy editor and morning show presenter of the liberal Echo Moscow radio station.
Established in 1990, the station played a vital role in exposing the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, although it was shut down four times in three days.
Now he has been forced off the air again after refusing to follow Kremlin orders on how to report on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
After their signal cut off, the station attempted to continue operating online. But ultimately, the station’s board felt it had no choice but to go off the air to protect its reporters from sweeping new laws.
A bill passed by parliament on Friday imposes prison terms of up to 15 years for those who spread “fake news” about the Russian military.
“I did my best to stop this man”
Felgengauer is one of Moscow’s best-known and most fearless radio presenters. She nearly died in 2017 after being stabbed in the neck by an intruder who broke into the radio station.
Now, with her beloved workplace closed and new laws criminalizing journalism and free speech, she said she felt like she was facing a different kind of death.
“I feel like I’m dying, because right now I’m here in my office and I’ve come to get my stuff and my job papers, and I know that was my past and that’s my present and I was hoping it could be my future. But now it’s gone,” she said.
“And I’m really, really sorry about this situation because I know that, of course, it’s not my fault. I tried my best to stop this man who took my country. I really did tried my best to stop him, but I failed.”
Echo of Moscow and the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel were the first media targeted by this recent crackdown, but not the last.
Fears Ordinary Russians Will Be Jailed For Talking About ‘War’
One of the last independent Russian media outlets, Mediazona, was also shut down.
In a statement, Mediazona said: “Roskomnadzor (the media regulator) started blocking Mediazona because we honestly cover what is happening in Ukraine and call the invasion an invasion and the war a war.”
Meanwhile, the Russian government has imposed lockdowns on five foreign media outlets: the BBC, the US government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvian site Meduza.
Other organizations such as CNN, Bloomberg and CBS News have suspended reporting in Russia in light of the new laws.
Access to Twitter and Facebook was also restricted. The regulator cited the failure of social media companies to remove content banned by Russian authorities or alleged “discrimination” against Russian media and state information resources for its decision.
But there are fears that the new “fake news” laws could also impact the freedom of expression of ordinary Russians.
“[The laws are] it’s not just about journalism, it’s about everyone in Russia, because it’s not about media, it’s about any information you share on your social networks, or even if you send the message “, said Felgengauer.
“So, what do you do? Keep silent about this terrible war or go to prison? It’s very simple. So you just have to choose.”
While Mr Putin has silenced dissent over his war in Ukraine, many Russians are now wondering if they still have a future in the country.
Feared laws prevent Russians from accessing war information
On Friday, under cover of darkness, Alexey Kovalyov, Investigations Editor at the popular news site Meduzaleft Russia.
He crossed the border on foot, fearing that martial law was about to be imposed.
Despite the new laws, he didn’t want to leave his native country while he was still covering one of the biggest stories of his career.
“I probably would have stayed because as a journalist you don’t get a second chance to cover an event like this first hand…but my wife insisted,” he said.
“She was right because [the following day] there were no flights from Moscow, with European airspace closed and all remaining flights from Moscow diverted in-flight.”
He thinks new laws that threaten 15 years in prison for “fake news” about the armed forces will prevent many Russians from finding out what is really going on in the war in Ukraine.
“This law effectively criminalizes our work because this law effectively abolishes freedom of the press in Russia. Now you are legally only allowed to report on this war without calling it a war in the first place,” he said. -he declares.
“Furthermore, you are only allowed to report on it by essentially repeating what the Minister of Defense says and nothing else. So you cannot question reports on troop movements, on victims, on the civilian areas of Ukrainian cities bombarded by bombs and rockets.
Meduza’s original business model was undermined by the Kremlin last year when it declared the publication a “foreign agent”, making it virtually impossible to get Russian advertisers.
Now it depends on donations from readers, which are likely to be greatly reduced by Western sanctions targeting the banking system.
On Friday, Meduza received confirmation from Russia’s media regulator that it was forcing internet service providers to block access to its website.
The website has vowed to continue publishing and find a way to survive from its headquarters in Latvia.
Kovalyov said it was important that independent media continue to fight, to counter what he called “state media propaganda” and to hold Vladimir Putin to account.
“I’m doing this for the historical record. Because hopefully somewhere in the future someone will be held accountable for this and I’ll provide the evidence.”