In Russia, the “red lines” which define the limits to what journalists can write or say, are often referred to as the “double white lines”. Like in traffic, if media outlets cross the double white lines, they put themselves in danger and may be punished.
Novaya Gazeta vs. the trolls
Two weeks ago, we described how the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was targeted with harassment and intimidation ahead of its publication of an investigation into a series of poison attacks and the killing of a Kremlin-critical blogger.
According to the newspaper’s sources, these attacks were carried out by a special team in the security service of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the owner of the “troll factory”, and popularly known as “Putin’s chef”.
The lines Novaya Gazeta in this case had crossed were in other words not the government’s, but those of a privately owned organisation with close ties to the Russian authorities, and which is already known for supporting the government’s disinformation agenda with online trolling.
Slander and fake news
The punishment for Novaya Gazeta’s crossing the lines took the form of a funeral wreath with the name of the journalist behind the investigation and a severed goat’s head delivered to Novaya Gazeta’s newsroom.
The newspaper issued a statement after it received these threats and after the wave of harassment it had experienced following reporting about Russian military involvement in Syria.
The newspaper’s statement clearly identifies disinformation, trolling and harassment of journalists as parts of one cluster of problems.
Disinformation and intimidation outsourced
As the case of Novaya Gazeta suggests, the sanctions imposed on Russian journalists that disrespect the narrative and cross “double white lines” can also be carried out by private actors.
Novaya Gazeta’s statement reminds us that the fight against disinformation is also a fight for free and independent media.
This article was originally published by EU vs Disinfo.