Russian news site to close over ‘foreign agent’ designation

One of Russia’s last remaining independent media outlets, VTimes, has announced it will cease publication this month after it was labelled a “foreign agent” by authorities.

The editors’ statement comes at a difficult time for Russian journalists who do not work for state-run media, with space for independent journalism and dissenting voices shrinking dramatically.

VTimes editors said they had considered several ways to continue publication but each scenario rendered staff vulnerable to criminal prosecution or imprisonment.

“Essentially, VTimes is being pushed into the niche of opposition, political media. But we conceived of and made a completely different publication,” the statement said. “Therefore, we decided to stop publishing VTimes on June 12, the Independence Day of Russia.”

The justice ministry said in May that VTimes was being added to the list of foreign agents because it was registered in the Netherlands. The designation requires branded organisations to disclose sources of funding and label publications with a tag.

The label is seen as a deterrent for advertisers, and staff of publications with the designation say the stigma makes it more difficult to work, including quoting sources on the record.

VTimes was founded last year by the senior editors and journalists from Russia’s respected Vedomosti business daily, who quit after the appointment of a Kremlin-friendly editor-in-chief.

Like the print and online editions of Vedomosti, VTimes is printed on the same salmon-coloured paper as the Financial Times, and has a publishing agreement with the British publication.

The decision to label VTimes a foreign agent comes weeks after Meduza, a popular Russian-language news website based in Latvia, also received the designation, prompting it to launch a crowdfunding campaign to survive the loss of advertising revenue.

Like VTimes, Meduza was founded by journalists who departed from another publication that was taken over by management sympathetic to the Kremlin’s political narrative.

Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe – designated a foreign agent in 2017 – recently faced a flurry of huge fines over non-compliance with the law.

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