This week, Russian authorities banned TV Rain, a prominent independent online broadcaster, as “undesirable,” accusing it of spreading false information about Russia’s war on Ukraine, “discrediting” the military and government, and quoting other banned outlets.
Since 2015, Russia’s “undesirables” law has allowed the country’s prosecutor general to ban any foreign organization that allegedly undermines Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. Russian citizens who continue to be involved with such “undesirables” face a criminal penalty of up to six years in prison. TV Rain, like several others designated “undesirable,” is not foreign. But its team of Russian journalists has been working from abroad since the spring of 2022, when the Russian parliament adopted draconian war-censorship legislation, making any criticism of the war in Ukraine a prosecutable offense. TV Rain became the 101st organization on the “undesirable” register.
TV Rain’s chief editor, Tikhon Dzyadko, told me that the “undesirable” designation aims to intimidate the outlet’s audiences, discourage experts from giving their comments, and prevent Russia-based supporters from sharing their content and funding their work through private donations. He believed the key reason behind the ban was to stifle independent reporting.
In recent years, the Russian government has attempted to eviscerate critical voices, with a particular focus on media outlets. TV Rain, which had 13 million Russia-based viewers on YouTube last month, joins the ranks of other leading Russia-focused independent media, which the Kremlin has banned as “undesirable,” such as Meduza, IStories, The Insider, The Project, and Novaya Gazeta Europe. Their journalists have been reporting on Russian war crimes in Ukraine as well as repression and corruption inside Russia.
The government had labeled them “foreign agents” to smear them as traitors and blocked their websites. The risk of imprisonment for fact-based reporting forced entire media teams to leave Russia. When they continued their work, the authorities banned them altogether, making it dangerous for anyone to cooperate with them or even share or openly comment on their publications. Court data shows that between 2022 and 2023, at least 5 people were convicted for reposting publications by “undesirable” media, and two more cases are pending.
To protect their Russia-based audiences, TV Rain has urged people to refrain from reposting the outlet’s material and shut down its crowdfunding link for Russian accounts. But they also hope their audiences remain, because today Russians need independent broadcasting like never before.