News by and for the Authorities

By
Christopher Walker
05 Apr 2013

(The New York Times) (Co-author: Christopher Walker)When Russian tax and law enforcement authorities recently raided the Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch, they invited a television crew from one of the country’s key state-controlled broadcast networks, NTV, to film the proceedings. State news television cameras similarly tagged along when government inspectors staged raids of other NGOs, including Amnesty International and the human rights group Memorial.

While President Vladimir Putin has described these raids as “routine measures linked to the desire of the law enforcement agencies to bring the activities of organizations in line with the law,” the question must be asked: Why the need to film and then feature in prime time news broadcasts if these measures are simply “routine”?

The answer lies in state media’s crucial role in shaping its audiences’ perception of the world. The selective use of tax audits and safety inspections, as well as arbitrarily applied laws and regulations, are burdensome and deeply disruptive to NGO activities. State media’s place in the authoritarian arsenal is of a different order because its attacks are designed to discredit — and delegitimize — civil society. [...]

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