The Netherlands to support independent Russian-language media

The Netherlands is earmarking €1.3 million to support independent Russian-language journalism. According to Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs, there is an urgent need for more independent news to become available in countries where Russian is spoken. ‘By encouraging the independent press, we wish to increase the availability of independent news so that the Russian-speaking public has options to choose from. This is in the immediate interests of the Netherlands.’ Free Press Unlimited, a non-governmental organisation that works around the world to promote greater freedom of the press, will be implementing the project to provide support to Russian-language media.

According to Mr Koenders, independent journalism in Russian-speaking countries is in a difficult position. ‘The Russian government is exercising increasingly tighter control over journalists and media organisations. With our support, we wish to ensure that Russian-language media can retain editorial control. We have no intention of interfering with the content of what they broadcast,’ said Mr Koenders.

The Netherlands previously set aside €500,000 for the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) in order to conduct a study into the Russian-language media landscape. Among other things, this study revealed that the Kremlin is increasingly exercising both direct and indirect control over the media – not just in Russia itself but also in other countries in which Russian is spoken. Mr Koenders called this an ‘alarming trend’. ‘This kind of political influence is disastrous for the freedom of the press.’ An independent and varied media landscape is an important prerequisite for a democratic society.’

In the report the EED proposes specific measures for strengthening the diversity and independence of the media in Russian-speaking countries. In September representatives of like-minded countries and organisations, including the United Kingdom, the US, Sweden, Germany and the European Union, met in Poland, where they agreed to jointly implement the various recommendations.

The Netherlands is now taking the lead in supporting a regional platform on which Russian-language media organisations can exchange articles and news items. This project is run by Free Press Unlimited, which works closely with independent media organisations that are already operating in the region. ‘I especially appreciate the input from Free Press Unlimited, whose work is benefiting democracy,’ said the minister.

The minister emphasised that the Dutch support is not directed against Russia but rather in favour of independent media. ‘Misinformation from Moscow is a threat to media diversity in all countries in which Russian is spoken. However, counterpropaganda is ineffective and goes against our democratic principles. We wish to support the work of independent media initiatives without dictating what they should write or broadcast.’