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Weekly Digest: Sanctions and Restrictions

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy approved government sanctions against three television channels accused of pro-Russian propaganda. 112, NewsOne, and ZIK are widely believed to be controlled by Viktor Medvedchuk, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Ukrainian politics.

According to Ukrainian president, “Ukraine strongly supports freedom of speech [but] not propaganda financed by the aggressor country.” The channels were shut down the evening the sanctions were implemented, though they have continued operating on the Internet.

The European Union raised questions regarding the move and hinted at potential disapproval, but the United States supported the sanctions, referring to them as “the efforts to counter Russian malign influence.”

Last weekend, Russia saw a continuation of large protests that started the week before over the arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. The police detained a record number of protesters (over 5,000 people).

Particularly, the Russian government intensified its crackdown on journalists. According to PEN America, around 80 journalists were detained over the weekend, including reporters of the largest Russian publications in Moscow.

One of the most notorious examples is the arrest of Sergey Smirnov, the chief editor of Mediazona. He was detained while walking with his five-year-old son and then arrested for 25 days, formally for an innocuous retweet.

During Russian protests, the authorities tried to limit internet connections for protesters. This is in line with a larger trend of authoritarian regimes across the world restricting internet access to crackdown on free speech and quell protests.

According to new research from Axios and NetBlocks, 35 countries – from Belarus to, most recently, Myanmar – blocked internet or social media at some point since 2019.

In Eastern Europe, the most prominent users of this approach are Russia and Belarus. Other world regions suffer more; for example, “blockages are particularly common around elections in Africa, most recently in Uganda,” Axios notes.

More from The Fix: The 2015 vs 2020 Changes in Press Freedom Rankings across the European region 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to be preparing the appointment of Paul Dacre as chairman of Ofcom, a government watchdog in charge of telecommunications and particularly regulating the BBC. Dacre is a former editor of the Daily Mail and current editor in chief of Daily Mail Group.

According to The Guardian, the appointment will be controversial, primarily because of Dacre’s involvement in running a “right-leaning daily newspaper.” The announcement has not been made publicly yet.

As companies start reporting results for the fourth quarter of 2020, we see the continuation of trends set by the pandemic year.

For example, The New York Times is continuing its great run, announcing this week that it reached the 7.5 million subscribers milestone in late 2020.

In the meanwhile, Tortoise, a UK outlet devoted to “slow news” had the pandemic “kickstart” its business model by prompting it to develop a membership program. According to the Press Gazette, Tortoise attracted over 50,000 paying subscribers, enabling the title to potentially make £3m in subscriptions income per year.

More from The Fix: The state of media subscription business: 4 findings from the FIPP report 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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