Russia’s blogger law stifles freedom of speech

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Happy to be an American journalist

By Shelley Spillman

For those keeping up with world news, you might have noticed this interesting new “blogger law” passed in Russia.

The law dictates that any blogger with more than 3,000 readers must register with Russia’s media oversight agency.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the bloggers will be responsible for fact-checking any information they post and removing any inaccurate comments, and they are prohibited from harming the reputation of a person or group or using their platform to “hide or falsify information of general interest.”

Individual violators of this law could face a $280-$850 fine.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Russia has a long history of suppressing media, including a 2012 bill that filters Web postings through the government.

It’s hard for me to imagine that journalists and citizen journalists doing exactly what we do in America could be fined, imprisoned or killed in other countries. But it happens.

While in college pursuing my journalism degree, I conducted my senior capstone project on countries where the government controls the media.

I had the opportunity to interview Tom Rhodes, journalist with the Committee to Protect journalists, in 2011. Rhodes, who is CPJ’s east African correspondent and founder of southern Sudan’s first independent newspaper, spoke about how the government works to suppress the media through intimidation.

Many journalists hide out in underground blogs under a pseudonym to protect their identity for fear of being arrested or worse.

If discovered, it wasn’t uncommon for journalists to have to flee Rwanda to protect themselves and their families.

A particular touchy subject in Rwanda is the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu, a government led organization.

It’s uncertain how many Tutsi were killed but it’s estimated to around 500,000 to 1 million. Any journalist writing about the genocide and critical of the government’s involvement is likely to be charged with “genocide denial” and imprisoned.

One journalist, in particular, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi, was sentenced to serve a 17-year prison sentence for “genocide denial.”

Hearing these stories of journalist strife in other countries makes me proud to be a part of a profession that fights to get the truth out to the people no matter the cost.

It also makes me extremely humbled and mindful of my seemingly small complaints in comparison of working “crazy” hours.

When these news tidbits come along, it gives me a reality check. I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love and write everyday without fear of government persecution or death.

My thoughts and prayers are with my brethren journalists around the world that don’t have that luxury.