Russian magazine 7×7

A surprising victory for Russian online magazine 7x7

What started out as an innocent joke during an interview ended up causing Russian online magazine 7x7 months of legal struggle. In October 2015, 7x7 interviewed well-known entrepreneur and blogger, Ilya Varlamov. Mr Varlamov was visiting 7x7’s hometown, Syktyvkar, to promote a pizza brand when 7x7 decided to test his knowledge about the northern Russian city.

7x7 used a question from an existing online quiz about Syktyvkar, which had been published previously by news site Medusa. This question related to a monument in Syktyvkar locally known as ‘dames roasting a crocodile’. Mr Varlamov chose the correct answer from a list of possible answers presented by the interviewer: this nickname referred to a monument titled ‘the Eternal Flame’, dedicated to those fallen in the Great Patriotic War.

Not all readers of the website shared 7x7’s sense of humour. Shortly after publication of the interview, an indignant reader complained to the local branch of the Russian state body for media oversight, Roskomnadzor. Roskomnadzor agreed that the interview mocked a symbol of military glory and charged 7x7 under a relatively new law with ‘abusing the freedom of mass information’ by distributing information which expressed ‘clear disrespect for the days of military glory and anniversaries of Russia relating to the defence of the Fatherland or public desecration of symbols of military glory of Russia in public’. 7x7 was fined RUB 200,000 (GBP 2,307), but appealed.

After months of litigation, the Supreme Court of Komi Republic held that 7x7 could not be held liable for comments made in the interview by Varlamov because, according to the legislation, the founder could not be held liable for the information published by the media outlet. The judgment read that there was no evidence of the administrative case that had been filed against 7x7. This was unexpected, as the case against them fitted squarely into the pattern of increased pressure on independent online news outlets in Russia.

According to Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom of the World Report, while speech online was largely unrestricted until 2012, the Kremlin has since adopted a series of laws that gave it more power to shut down critical websites. Independent websites are regularly blocked as well. At the end of 2015, Russia had blocked access to roughly 20,000 websites. The Kremlin also employs numerous ‘trolls’ to disrupt online discussions and intimidate users. Currently ranking 148 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, the atmosphere for journalists in Russia is described as “stifling”.

The administrative offence 7x7 was charged with is often used to limit freedom of expression. With victories for the press being increasingly rare in Russia, the judgment of the Supreme Court in 7x7’s case was particularly significant for us. However the situation for journalists in Russia continues to be a challenging one.

 

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