Independent media in Russia came under heavy pressure around the December parliamentary elections, but the EU did not make media freedom a priority and had little to no impact.
The EU wants Russia to reverse the centralisation and authoritarianism that has taken place in the last decade so that it can meet OSCE and Council of Europe standards. The Kremlin dominates the media: it prevents dissenters appearing on the key television channels that can be viewed across Russia and either controls or significantly influences the editorial policies of major television stations and many national and regional newspapers. The December parliamentary elections, which sparked mass protests in Moscow and other cities, saw a spike in media harassment and revealed a wider pattern of intimidation and state control over public information in Russia. Independent media came under unprecedented pressure and several high-profile independent political websites were blocked prior to the vote by hackers whom analysts say must have had government support. During protests in Moscow, many journalists were detained by the police and in some cases beaten up. State media mostly failed to report initial protests and independent media came under unprecedented pressure from government officials. But an abrupt turnaround saw major protests in Moscow broadcast on federal television with no on-site state harassment.
High Representative Catherine Ashton spoke of her “serious concern” at the post-election situation in Russia. But, beyond this, the EU deployed few political resources to press for greater media freedom in Russia and had close to no impact in relaxing Kremlin controls. Few high-level officials from either member states or the EU institutions seemed to consider media freedom in Russia as a priority for the EU–Russia dialogue and raised the issue, if at all, only in a formalistic manner. The EU did continue to fund training for journalists and the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for closer inspection of “dual-use” information technology that could be used by security services abroad.