On Monday, August 29, readers of and subscribers to The New Times, an independent Russian political magazine, will not be able to buy new issues of the publication in kiosks or receive it in their mail.
Last week, The New Times’s editor-in-chief and veteran investigative journalist, Yevgenia Albats, told Radio Echo Moskvy in a phone interview that the printing office “Pushkinskaya Ploshchad” (Pushkin Square), which has been printing the magazine for the last eight years, refused to print the upcoming issue. According to Albats, one of the publisher’s employees said the company did not have the capacity to print the magazine. Albats claimed she could not get a hold of Pushkinskaya Ploshchad’s leadership for more information. There has also been no official statement about the decision from the company itself.
Echo Moskvy commentator and journalist, Anton Oreh, believes this is another act of state censorship masquerading as a logistical problem. Oftentimes, to avoid explicit censorship, Russian authorities use economic and legal reasons to justify sudden changes in leadership, reporting policies, and editorial staff at media organizations.
Indeed, it hardly seems accidental that of all the numerous magazines, newspapers, and brochures the printing office produces, The New Times was the one it suddenly had no capacity to print. The lack of a clear official response underscores the likelihood that there is no real technical or logistical reason for Pushkinskaya Ploshchad’s refusal to print the magazine.
In the past two years, the Russian government has shut down a large number of independent and opposition news outlets. One of the largest news companies in Russia, RBC, remained independent until May of this year when it lost its three editors, allegedly as a result of political pressure from the Kremlin.
Before RBC’s editorial change, some well-known outlets, such as Grani.ru, the Tomsk-based TV station TV2, Lenta.ru, Kommersant, and Forbes, among others, were shut down or censored through removal of their independent editors. A number of these outlets, like Grani.ru, continue to publish political analysis and news stories through mirror sites, some of which are banned in Russia and/or blocked by Russian Internet providers.
Albats describes The New Times as “the last independent uncensored print magazine in Russia.” It is a rare combination given the country’s hostile political environment and the Kremlin’s repressive tactics towards government opposition. Dedicated to rigorous political analysis and independent investigations, The New Times is a government watchdog in every sense of the term.
Among the magazine’s top investigative stories this year is “The First Daughter,” which explores the life of President Vladimir Putin’s oldest daughter. Soon after the article’s publication, the magazine’s website came under a powerful DDoS attack on February 1. On the same day, the magazine received a warning from the federal media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, for failing to mention in one of its articles that the Right Sector, a Ukrainian nationalist organization, was banned in Russia. In April, the magazine and its editor-in-chief were fined for the violation. When mentioning organizations deemed “bad” by the government, Russian media outlets and journalists are required, by law, to note the organizations have been shut down or are banned in the country.
If The New Times is experiencing state censorship, the question arises as to whether this is the beginning of yet another onslaught on free Russian media.
UPDATE 8/29/2016 Despite Pushkinskaya Ploshchad’s refusal to print this week’s issue, The New Times found a small printing office in Moscow that printed 25 000 copies of the magazine over the weekend. The weekly magazine’s regular circulation is 50 000 copies.