Reviews | It’s time for the West to cultivate an alternative news ecosystem in Russia
This emerging dissident media sphere is extremely consequential. Since the start of its war on Ukraine, Putin’s Russia has become a much tougher target for Western messaging, with many American and European media expelled from the country. State propaganda, meanwhile, has escalated dramatically, as the Kremlin seeks to maintain domestic support for what has turned into a protracted war effort.
Even so, digital platforms like YouTube and Telegram remain operational inside the country, at least for now, and they still allow Russians to access information that is not controlled by the state. Russian dissident media is helping fill that need, sharing stories and creating engagement with the public inside Russia in ways that, over time, could advance the Russian president’s support for war. Vladimir Poutine.
However, to achieve this, Russian opposition journalists need help on at least three fronts.
The first is professionalization. As things stand, the emerging ecosystem of dissident media is far from impartial; Because of their strong anti-war and anti-Kremlin sentiment, these actors are closer to opinion journalists or activists. They therefore need professionalization courses, as well as engagement with established Western media institutions, to adapt their skills and focus to work outside of Russia. Such a step is important for their credibility as journalists operating in the West. It may also increase their cachet as faithful transmitters of Western ideas to audiences in Russia.
The second is funding. The emerging ecosystem is fragile in nature, with the outlets in question operating on shoestring budgets and scrambling for support. Admittedly, these actors can now seek funding directly from Western governments (which they avoided when they were active in Russia so as not to appear as purveyors of Western propaganda). But now that they are in exile, to remain viable they need independent and sustainable sources of funding to help them continue to function. For this, mechanisms like the global fund for exiled journalists recently proposed by Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov are needed.
The third is mobility. This fall, the European Council officially suspended a 2007 visa facilitation agreement between the EU and Russia, while a number of European countries banned Russians from entering their territory. Although designed to further increase the costs to the Kremlin of its war effort, these restrictions are a blunt instrument, which does not discriminate between Russians who support the war and those who actively oppose it. An unfortunate side effect is that many Russian dissident journalists have found themselves excluded from European nations and less well placed to do their job.
A more sophisticated approach would bring this cohort closer to the West while giving them better access to the information and personalities needed to make their reporting more engaging and impactful. This could be done by providing European travel permits to Russian media workers now accredited by EU member states, or by providing short-term mentoring opportunities with established media outlets headquartered in Central Europe. and western.
Whatever the details, the goal should be to make these outlets as effective and relevant as possible for their target audience. This constituency is not located in the West, but in Russia itself. Russian dissident media are important to Russian audiences, says Roman Anin, editor-in-chief of iStories: “The Russian public will not trust the Ukrainian media. And the Russian public will not trust Western media.
In other words, Russian media – even in exile – can provide authenticity and credibility that Western outreach simply cannot. But for it to survive and thrive, it must be actively nurtured by the West.