Russian news site to close over 'foreign agent' designation

The space for independent journalism and dissenting voices has been shrinking dramatically in Russia. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - One of Russia's last remaining independent media outlets, VTimes, announced on Thursday (June 3) that it would cease publication later this month after it was branded a "foreign agent" by the authorities.

The statement from VTimes editors comes at a difficult time for Russian journalists and editors who do not work for state-run media, with space for independent journalism and dissenting voices shrinking dramatically.

Editors said in a statement that they had considered several ways to continue publication since the designation last month, but that each scenario rendered staff vulnerable to criminal prosecution or imprisonment.

"Essentially, VTimes is being pushed into the niche of opposition, political media. But we conceived of and made a completely different publication," management said in a statement.

"Therefore, we decided to stop publishing VTimes on June 12, the Independence Day of Russia."

The Justice Ministry explained in May that VTimes was being added to Russia's list of foreign agents because it is registered in the Netherlands.

The branding requires branded organisations to disclose sources of funding and label publications with a tag.

The designation is seen as a deterrent for advertisers, and staff of publications with the label say the stigma makes it more difficult to work, including quoting sources on the record.

VTimes was founded last year by the senior editors and journalists from Russia's respected Vedomosti business daily, who quit after the appointment of a Kremlin-friendly editor-in-chief.

Like the print and online editions of Vedomosti, VTimes is published in the same iconic salmon-coloured background as the Financial Times, and has a publishing agreement with the British paper.

The decision to brand VTimes a foreign agent came just weeks after Meduza, a popular Russian-language news website based in Latvia, also received the controversial label, forcing it to launch a crowdfunding campaign to survive the loss of advertising revenue.

Like VTimes, Meduza was founded by journalists who departed from another publication that was taken over by management sympathetic to the Kremlin's political narrative.

Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe - designated a "foreign agent" in 2017 - has recently faced a flurry of huge fines over non-compliance with the law.

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