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Russia shuts down news site for embedding videos with swear words

The move is the first time the country has enforced new anti-cursing laws.


Curt Hopkins

Internet Culture

Talking about homosexuality online was made illegal in Russia this year. Then, cursing online was made illegal. Soon, one must presume, talking at all will be made illegal.

In the meantime, the first news organization to be prosecuted under the cursing statute has been closed and delicensed, according to German publication Der Spiegel.

Rosbalt, an online news agency, was closed not because it was critical of the Putin government or of its financial or religious supporters. It was closed because it carried two embedded videos on its site that allegedly had naughty words in them. Which were beeped.

Rosbalt has one month to appeal the court’s decision, which was made in response to a request by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media.

The videos in question were both YouTube clips, one of a car accident and one of a Pussy Riot tribute band. Pussy Riot is the activist rock group whose members were arrested for protesting in a church.

Rosbalt was a baffling target for the law. Employing 60 editors and an unknown number of freelance writers, it is a substantial organization and it has extremely good connections to the country’s security agencies. Its chief editor, Natalia Cherkesova, is married to a former general. Viktor Cherkesova started his career, like Putin in the Soviet-era KGB and ended it running its successor, the FSB.

Rosbalt’s closure is an object lesson in the problems with enforcing legally murky statutes in countries with a shaky governing infrastructure.

But another explanation that harmonizes with the state of affairs in modern Russia is that Cherkesova has fallen afoul of the country’s strongman president and he has used the poorly-thought-out law to take his revenge.

When Putin gained the country’s most powerful office in 2000, he made Cherkesov his proxy in the northwest region, and then named him the head of the powerful Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation. But Cherkesov fell out with Putin in 2007 when he spoke publicly about a “war between the security agencies.”

H/T Der Spiegel | Photo by e_chaya/Flickr


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