On Dozhd and Defiance

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Dozhd,also known as TV Rain, is one of many television channels in the Russian federation. However, it is also so much more than simply a news channel – it has a unique place in Russian society as a result of being its only truly ‘independent’ television station – that is, ‘independent’ of pro-Kremlin voices.

It was launched in 2010 by a journalist called Natalya Sindeyeva, who still operates as the head of the station. Now it might seem like it isn’t really that unique a concept. I know of many other channels that operate in a similar manner – albeit with more biased aims. For instance, I can draw clear comparisons with the likes of Democracy Now!and The Young Turks in the United States.

But, for liberal Russians, it is one of the few places where one can gather news and analysis that hasn’t first been formed by those who support the Russian government. Indeed, the channel offers analysis from across the political spectrum and provides something that is quite rare in contemporary Russian media – honest and critical debate.

Indeed, this gives the channel an almost Bohemian spirit. This is encapsulated by its former location in an old factory near the Moscow River, surrounded by independent coffee shops and bars, and the actual content of the channel is as unconventional as its environment. Often interviews with politicians and live reporters from correspondents are broadcast via the humble medium of Skype, and it even boasts a Russian take on the British Comedy The Thick of It entitled Tomorrow.

This rebellious take on Russian current affairs has given the channel a large audience, but, as it is with many ‘independent’ channels in more authoritarian nations, it was only a matter of time before things became dangerous for the defiant channel.

This happened after publishing a survey asking whether Leningrad should have been surrendered to the Nazis in World War Two. TV Rain faced an online backlash from ordinary citizens who supported Putin as well as online trolls – any criticism of the Great Patriotic War is taboo in Russia.

In reaction to the survey, TV Rain was dropped by its original television network Red October. TV Rain’s digital media chief Ilya Klishin claimed this was done as an act of “revenge” by the Kremlin, saying “We aggravated the guys at the Kremlin because, you know, we co-sponsored some of [Russian opposition leader Alexei] Navalny’s research on corruption." This forced TV Rain to seek alternative funding routes, which is why it currently operates on an online subscription based service. Thankfully, it currently has 70,000 people financially subscribing.

When it was originally dropped by Red October, TV Rain had to broadcast from a flat, outside of which were posted the Russian Federal Security Service. One journalist said that “even going for a smoke felt dangerous” due to federal agents closely monitoring the reporters and other staff. It now operates from Flacon, http://flacon.ru/ a 150-year old factory that used to make crystal perfume bottles. Flacon has now been converted into a similarly bohemian ‘design factory’, albeit on the outskirts rather than the very centre of the city.

TV Rain continues to broadcast to this day, and although it has faced setbacks in its short history, it remains one of the places where a Russian citizen – or indeed any people interested in Russian affairs – can get alternative news. Certainly, it spells hope that Russia can house a news channel that isn’t simply run by those who support the government, and it’s one that is much needed. Russia currently ranks below Pakistan in terms of press freedom according to the charity Reporters Without Borders.

Russia needs media like TV Rain, however, if it truly wishes to embrace one of the most important tenants of a liberal democracy: the freedom of the press. Although TV Rain has faced financial and federal blackmail in its 7 years of existence, its continued broadcasting shows that it is possible for an ‘independent’ news service to both exist and thrive in Russia. It may currently be the only truly independent television channel in Russia, but hopefully other gutsy and media-savvy Russians will be encouraged to follow suit and start the process of ensuring Russia can have a media network that isn’t simply a glorified propaganda outlet, but rather one that is free and able to hold those in power to account.

Image by Oliver Banatvala

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