Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.
Our latest weekly digest explores stories about the intensifying crackdown on free press in Eastern Europe and media business stories in the West.
The crackdown on free press in Belarus intensified this week as the authorities blocked the largest news site Tut.by and interrogated its journalists.
On Tuesday, May 18th, financial police raided the homes of the oulet’s chief editor Marina Zolotova and numerous journalists working for Tut.by; Zolotova and a dozen other employees were detained. Formally, they are accused of tax evasion, with the authorities having opened a criminal case on large-scale tax fraud.
The outlet’s website was blocked in Belarus this week, and it went offline even outside the country. Tut.by continues to operate through social media, including its Telegram channel with over 500,000 subscribers.
The attack is so significant because Tut.by is among the oldest, most popular, and most venerated media outlets in the country. According to one estimate, Tut.by reached 65% Belarusian internet users in 2020. As Russian media manager Dmitry Navosha put it, Tut.by is “one of the few established institutions” in Belarus, having emerged “miraculously” despite the limited press freedom over the past decades.
More from The Fix on the Belarus media crackdown: Mass crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists in Belarus / Help needed: what can be done to support Belarusian media
In the meanwhile, Russian authorities are also cracking down on free press, even if using somewhat less crude means.
Late last week, Russian Justice Ministry labeled business publication VTimes a “foreign agent.” This labeling doesn’t prevent the outlet from operating, but it hinders VTimes’ business prospects and jeopardises its reporters. The move comes a few weeks after the equivalent designation of Meduza, one of the most popular Russian-language news sites.
VTimes is an independent business news outlet founded in 2020 by former editors of Vedomosti, a leading Russian business newspaper, after the latter was bought by a Kremlin-friendly businessman and saw its editorial freedom curtained.
As The Bell notes, “the addition of VTimes to the list suggests this is actually a deliberate decision to ratchet up pressure on independent media as a whole [rather than a one-off attack on Meduza].”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which had been designated a “foreign agent” earlier, has filed a lawsuit against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to contest the labeling this week. Unlike Meduza and VTimes, the organization has refused to comply with the regulation’s requirements and has thus been heavily fined by the government. (The difference is that RFE/RL has US government backing and can thus afford incurring losses that other outlets cannot).
More from The Fix on VTimes, “foreign agent” labeling: Ex-Vedomosti journalists embark on tough path to (re)build an independent financial media in Russia / Meduza counters Russian authorities’ “foreign agent” attack with appeal to readers
This week, Europe’s biggest publishing house Axel Springer announced a deal with Facebook, significantly expanding Facebook News in Europe and taking the German publisher’s content global.
Axel Springer’s largest publications include Bild, Welt, and Business Insider. The cooperation will have a global reach, including the expansion of Facebook’s and Business Insider’s cooperation in the United States.
As Reuters notes, “the deal follows a turbulent few months that saw publishers around the world baulk at the terms offered by Facebook for news distribution, leading the social network to suspend operations in Australia until a compromise could be hammered out.”
More from The Fix on the news: Axel Springer inks deal with Facebook News to take its content global
Another business opportunity has emerged for the booming crypto media sector. With the intensifying excitement for the broader cryptocurrency sector and the rising prices for major currencies, crypto news have attracted growing attention.
As Axios reported last week, “a slew of new crypto media companies have gained enormous traction over the past year.” From January to April, eight most popular publishers in this sector attracted 475% more traffic as compared with the similar period last year, a far greater increase than other sectors.
This week, Axios reported that Coinbase, a crypto giant that recently went public at an $86 billion valuation, is launching its own media operation. According to the publication, “the idea, still in its early stages, is to hire an in-house team of roughly 30 to run a cross-platform media operation.”