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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: October 21, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Journalist Kseniya Babich Searched in Right Sector Case
Kseniya Babich, a journalist and press secretary of the Rights Initiative, was searched today at dawn in connection with the case of Right Sector press secretary Artyom Skoropadsky, her classmate at Moscow State University, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Ilya Shelepin, another journalist, reported the searches of Babich's home on his Facebook page, noting that the Investigative Committee was "organizing yet another trial with defendants who are absent." Yarosh is in Ukraine, and Skoropadsky is now not likely to return to Russia, he said.

He added that investigators seized Babich's computer, telephone and other devices as "material evidence". As she was trying to write a post about the search on Facebook, an officer grabbed the cell phone from her hand and erased it.

Ukraine's TV 112, where Babich worked as a freelance reporter, said she had been summoned to the interrogator's office at 11:00 am today Moscow time.

Later, Babich told 112 that interrogators had asked her about her work at Ukrainian television and her relationship to Skoropadsky. 

Skorpadsky himself said in a statement on 112 that Babich had nothing to do with either Right Sector or politics. 

Babich, who is a Russian citizen, was born in Crimea. 

In September, the Investigative Committee opened a case on charges of "extremism" against Dmytro Yarosh, the head of the Ukrainian ultra-right group Right Sector banned in Russia. Also named in the case were Skoropadsky, Andrei Tarasenko, Andrei Stempitsky, and Valery Voronov.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Search Engine Yandex Announces That Unregistered Media Will Disappear From Search Results
Yandex announced yesterday, October 20, that media that is not registered with Roskomnadzor, the state media monitoring agency, will see its stories disappear from the front page of Yandex News as well as regional and subject pages, Meduza reported.

In compliance with a new law on news aggregators that will go into effect on January 1, 2017, media aggregators such as Russia's search engine Yandex are essentially treated as media themselves, and therefore can only publish material from other authorized publications.

Yandex said that its partners will have to sign a new agreement of cooperation and submit a copy of proof of their media registration.

Those previous partners who are unable to register will still find their news in search results of the "news" box at yandex.ru, but they will not be displayed in the feed on the front and subject pages. 

In a notice sent out to media, Yandex writes (translation by The Interpreter):

"The company has warned that the latest redaction of the law on news aggregators will allow for the preservation of Yandex.News, but the terms of cooperation with the service may change since an automatic news aggregator in principle cannot check hundreds of thousands of reports from external editorial offices."

To see how this is already working given the censorship laws and procedures in place, we can take the search terms from a recent post by anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, whose blog was censored and blocked in Russia, and is maintained now at navalny.com on an external server. Under the Russian media law, bloggers with more than 3,000 views must register with Roskomnadzor, the media oversight agency, in the same way as online news media. 

Today, Navalny posted about gates at the luxury home in Toksovo, Leningrad Region, belonging to Boris Rotenberg, an oligarch and childhood friend of President Vladimir Putin, which are blocking a waterway, and causing local people to protest.

If we post the name "Boris Rotenberg" today in Yandex.News, we won't get Navalny's blog, but we will get the returns from sites that are registered and happened to write about Navalny's post.

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That might lead us to conclude that if approved media go on being brave enough to write about what Navalny said, then the censorship of sites like his will not appear so blanketing.

But we can't count on media continuing to be brave (or simply commercially interested in increased traffic from hits by readers interested in the topics Navalny covers). The Russian media has increasingly come under pressure and even editors fired for covering the Kremlin, Putin personally and his relatives and close associates critically.

And not every story will be covered as top news and therefore show up in search results. 

To see how censorship becomes more thorough if a writer is less likely to be covered than Navalny, or covers topics outside his realm, we can just take a look, at random, at the top post today by Vitaly Portnikov on grani.ru titled "Untrustworthy Management" comparing Putin and Qaddafi, another site blocked by the censor for its critical coverage and commentary. 

Let's say you had heard that Portnikov had written an article with this title and tried to find it. If you plug the Russian-language search terms into Yandex.ru ("Недоверительное управление and "Виталий Портников") the results page will tell you "news on your inquiry has not been found". All you will see are two paid ads, one for "Russian newspapers abroad" and another for a show with an emigre Russian economist. 
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Rambler, another Russian service, also says "Unfortunately, nothing was found for your inquiry" and posts ads for Russian business degrees and a Russian TV show about America.

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What's shocking is not only that Russia's Yandex produces this result for a blocked site; Google Russia also returns the notice "No document found for the inquiry", as does Yahoo Russia.
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It's not clear if these services have agreed to block the sites indicated by the Russian government from their search results on those foreign-language versions of their services.

If we go over to Google.com, however, we will have no trouble finding Portnikov's article in the very first search return.

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Yahoo.com also shows Portnikov's piece in the very first search return, and interestingly, also shows a newsru.com link that wasn't shown by Yandex or Google.ru, although newsru.com is a registered news service.
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Search services can return different results depending on the user, as algorithms are set up to monitor the user's preferences. So others may get different results; try for yourself.

There's no question that Yandex News has suffered from this law, however, as a number of searches indicate. Yandex itself as well as other Internet service providers opposed the law, but lost the battle. Yandex's very existence as a company is at stake; when Putin criticized Yandex in a speech in 2014, accusing it of foreign sympathies because of foreign members of its board, its stock plunged.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

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