Russian media regulator denies registration to Crimean news outlets

New York, March 19, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the deteriorating media climate in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that was annexed by Russia last year. On April 1, a news agency and a media company face being shut down after being denied registration by the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor, according to news reports and local journalists.

Following the annexation of Ukraine’s southernmost region in March 2014, Roskomnadzor ordered all media companies in Crimea to register as Russian entities by April 1, 2015, according to regional press reports and local journalists.

But the media company ATR and news agency Krymskie Novosti QHA, both in the regional capital Simferopol, said that Roskomnadzor had denied or delayed their applications for registration, according to news reports and Elzara Islyamova, ATR’s executive director, who spoke to CPJ. Krymskie Novosti QHA and ATR are affiliated with the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and produce content in three languages, including the Crimean Tatar language. ATR is the only regional broadcaster of the ethnic Crimean Tatar minority.

“With Roskomnadzor’s actions regarding the news outlets affiliated with the Tatar minority, it appears Russia is stepping up its crackdown on independent voices in the territory it had seized from Ukraine,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov. “We call on authorities in Moscow to implement the right of all citizens of Crimea to access news and information reflecting a full range of viewpoints and languages.”

Gayana Yuksel, executive director of Krymskie Novosti QHA, told journalists that the agency filed an application twice but that Roskomnadzor denied both, citing technical violations, according to news reports. QHA, Yuksel said, corrected its application following advice from companies that specialize in media registration and re-filed it, but that, too, was denied. Roskomnadzor said the news agency’s application contained “information inconsistent with reality,” reports said.

Islyamova told CPJ that ATR–which broadcasts TV channels ATR and Lyale and radio stations Meydan FM and Lider, and publishes the news website 15 Minut–had filed four applications to Roskomnadzor since October 2014. The agency returned the first three, “citing technical violations and mistakes such as an incorrect address or the wrong fee,” she said.

Islyamova said ATR hired a Moscow-based firm that specialized in media registration to file a fourth application to Roskomnadzor on its behalf. A Roskomnadzor representative told her the application was “left without review” and did not elaborate, she said. Islyamova said ATR was waiting for an official letter from Roskomnadzor, which she was told had been sent by mail.

On Wednesday, CPJ sent an official request to Roskomnadzor, asking the media agency to clarify its reasons for denying registration and to explain the meaning of the term “left without review.” CPJ did not immediately receive a reply.

Journalists, human rights activists, and news outlets, including those affiliated with the Tatar minority, have been harassed in the region following Crimea’s annexation, according to news reports. In September, a blogger fled Crimea after being questioned about her alleged presence at a rally to protest a ban on a Tatar leader from entering the region. On Friday, agents with the Russian security service FSB searched the parents’ homes of Crimean journalists Natalya Kokorina and Anna Andriyevskaya. The agents also interrogated Kokorina for six hours, reports said.

ATR has also been repeatedly targeted by authorities in recent months. In January, Russian agents raided ATR, briefly barred journalists from the premises, and blocked access to the newsroom’s Wi-Fi. In September, Russian authorities accused ATR of inciting extremism and ordered its management to submit a list of documents, including its registration and licenses, according to news reports.

Today in Moscow, Sergey Aksyonov, a Moscow-appointed head of Crimea’s government, told journalists that media outlets believed to be inciting ethnic hatred and conflict would not be allowed to work in the region, according to news reports. Aksyonov said that ATR’s management had been told by authorities that any channels that incite public tension by spreading hope of Crimea’s return to Ukraine would not be allowed to operate.

The climate for press freedom in Crimea has steadily deteriorated since March 2014, CPJ research shows. Journalists covering the annexation of Crimea have been detained, interrogated, and attacked, while news outlets have been raided and taken off the air, according to CPJ research. Several Crimean journalists have said they and their outlets have been forced to flee the region. During a CPJ mission to Kiev in July, journalists asked CPJ to monitor press freedom conditions in the region, saying that news outlets would face repression under Russia’s draconian laws.