Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 171

Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was revealed this week, put his signature on the “information security doctrine” developed by his advisory Security Council. While the doctrine declares support for freedom of speech and the free flow of information, it also identifies what its authors see as threats to Russia’s security in the information area, including the spread of false information on the policy of the Russian Federation, activities of federal power structures, events in this country and abroad” and “the aspirations of a number of countries to infringe upon Russia’s interests and dominate in the global sphere of information, along with forcing Russia out of domestic and international information markets.” In connection with this latter point, the document says that the government must “clarify” the status of foreign media and foreign journalists working in Russia, and Anatoly Streltsov, a Security Council official and the document’s author, said this week that government is aiming to “create equal working conditions for Western and Russian media working in Russia” (Noviye Izvestia, Moscow Times, September 14).

While the document does not include explicit threats to restrict press freedom in Russia, some of its critics believe that it represents a potential threat to press freedom. Aleksei Simonov, who heads the Glasnost Defense Foundation, wrote this week that the doctrine was part of a general trend toward increased state control over the dissemination of information in Russia. Simonov noted that this trend was evident during the tenure of President Boris Yeltsin, with the establishment of a single holding company for state-controlled electronic media (VGTRK, or state tele-radio) and a Press Ministry. Simonov wrote that Putin’s rise to power “cannot improve the situation with free access to information” given that his attitudes toward the free flow of information and press freedom “have been molded by a career in the secret services, with their traditional secretiveness, fear of open information and (what really counts) fear of acknowledging that information should not be divided into what is given to the leaders and what should be fed to the masses” (Noviye Izvestia, Sept 14). Likewise, Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, warned that the new information security doctrine could herald the “return of a Soviet-style propaganda machine” (Moscow Times, September 14). The doctrine could particularly represent a threat to the activities of media operating in Russia that have foreign ownership. The Smi.ru website, in what appeared to be a favorable editorial on the doctrine, claimed this week that “Russian media controlled by foreign capital as often as not take part in propaganda campaigns that infringe upon the interests of the Russian State,” concluding that the doctrine “will inevitably entail certain restrictions and toughening of control over them, as well as a certain kind of protectionism for the Russian media” (Russian agencies, September 13).

Putin’s adopting the information security doctrine comes on the heels of a controversy surrounding the fact that an article in the government’s draft federal budget for 2001 includes an article marked “top secret” for funding the mass media. Some observers fear that these funds will be used to finance politically reliable private media, to provide “special loans” for state media or even to finance measures against foreign media (see the Monitor, September 7).