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Russia's Independent Media All But Silenced


It is growing harder for Russians to hear other points of view these days on the government's involvement in Ukraine or any other issue. State-run media present only President Putin's point of view. And this week he signed a law requiring bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors to register with the Russian government. Meanwhile, the country's last independent television station is struggling to stay on the air. For months now, the Kremlin has been trying to silence Russia's Dozhd - or Rain - TV. Its chief editor Mikhail Zygar joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.

MIKHAIL ZYGAR: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: What do you have to do to keep yourself on the air?

ZYGAR: Actually we're still trying to overcome the attack against us that started in January when we lost something like 80 percent of our audience because most of our cable operators decided to switch us off. But we still continue what we're doing because we have live stream on our website and we still have some couple of hundreds of local cable operators.

SIMON: Mr. Zygar, do you consider yourself the voice of Russian opposition?

ZYGAR: No, actually not. We consider ourselves a normal TV channel. Probably the only normal TV channel because - as we usually quote Vaclav Havel - we used to say that in the society where the lies rule, every piece of truth becomes opposition because we're not oppositional TV channel, we are inviting representatives of all possible movements and all points of view of oppositional figures and state officials as well.

SIMON: You mentioned events in January - we should explain you - it was an anniversary of the siege of Leningrad. You asked your viewers a question about the conduct of the then Soviet government - just a poll. And that apparently set off a reaction from the Russian government.

ZYGAR: Actually that wasn't a reaction from the government - at least officially. Officially there was no response, but we know that the Kremlin called to most of our cable providers and demanded them to switch us off. So it was indirect interference from the government, not a direct one. But, yes, you're absolutely right, that question about the seizure of Leningrad was used as a pretext for the attack, that was not the reason. The reason was probably all what we've done, before most of our investigations about corruption or probably coverage of events in Ukraine.

SIMON: Have advertisers stayed with you?

ZYGAR: No, unfortunately all the advertisers are gone since February. First, there was some kind of official statement of State Duma, of Russian parliament, that condemned the question. Then there was some kind of campaign in the official state Russian media who called us traitors and even fascists. And that was perceived as a signal by most of our advertisers.

SIMON: Now, you recently launched a fund-raising campaign, we know about that at our network.

ZYGAR: Yeah, yeah, we have very successful actually fundraising campaign. And that's the only reason we still exist. We've got enormous help from our viewers, and actually that's the record-breaking fund-raising campaign for all Russian media - we got something like $2 million during only one week. So that's the only reason for our existence.

SIMON: Two million dollars in one week - that's excellent. Mr. Zygar, do - are you or any of your personnel concerned, if I may, about being jailed or harmed?

ZYGAR: About being jailed? No. But Russian society is pretty much polarized now and the level of propaganda on state TV channels is enormously high. And we had a series of personal threats from some anonymous people in January and February. Now it's a bit calmer, but still, it's very tense and many people started hating each other on personal level as well.

SIMON: Mikail Zygar, who is chief editor of a Dozhd - or Rain - TV in Moscow. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

ZYGAR: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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