Putin regime cracks down on independent media in Russia

An intensifying crackdown by the Putin regime is underway against any forms of dissent in Moscow. NewsHour Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote was in the newsroom of a leading independent media outlet in Russia that has now been silenced by the Kremlin.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to Moscow, where an intensifying crackdown by the Putin regime is under way against any forms of dissent.

    Today, special correspondent Ryan Chilcote was in the newsroom of a leading light of independent media in Russia, now silenced by the Kremlin.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    It was an editorial meeting like none ever in the history of Ekho Moskvy. The entire staff, some who'd rushed in from maternity leave, others at home self-isolating, many distraught, gathering to listen to their editor in chief announce that Russia's last independent radio station has been taken off the air.

    Alexei Venediktov, Editor in Chief, Ekho Moskvy (through translator): The political climate has changed. Russia's fighting a neighboring country. We effectively have military censorship and martial law, or at least martial law for the media. We have been presenting a little different picture than state media. There's only supposed to be one picture.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    For 32 years, Ekho Moskvy has been the go-to radio stations for millions of Russians, a must-do media for the world's biggest newsmakers.

    Ekho Moskvy isn't the only one. This week, federal prosecutors demanded access be restricted to Russia's best known independent TV channel, TV Rain. The decision came just as the station was preparing to screen a documentary about their own turbulent history.

    Instead, TV Rain signed off with a bang, broadcasting "Swan Lake," a joke Russian viewers will get. That's what state TV aired here in 1991 during the coup, an event that heralded the end of the Soviet Union. That's not to say views the Kremlin may find unsavory aren't making their way onto Kremlin's more loyal news channels from time to time, like this unscripted moment when an analyst, alongside an anxious anchor, proposed a toast to the death of Russia's stock market that sanctions sent plummeting.

    The government has asked Google to remove Ekho Moskvy's YouTube channel. Ekho has appealed, off the airwaves, but not out of options.

  • Alexei Venediktov (through translator):

    I don't think we will get back on the radio, even though we will fight this in the courts, but there's still social media, there's still Google, and, you know, we still have USB sticks you can put recordings on.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Tatyana Felgenhauer has worked at Ekho for 18 years, as the channel went head to head with the Kremlin time and time again. What happened this time?

  • Tatyana Felgenhauer, Talk Show Host, Ekho Moskvy:

    Putin happened. Vladimir Putin and the authorities, they just don't want free media, professional media. This voice of truth must be destroyed.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    What happens next?

  • Tatyana Felgenhauer:

    North Korea. I think this is our future, North Korea.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Ryan joins me now from Moscow.

    So, Ryan, were you telling us that, at a time like this, a lot of information is flying around, whether it is right or wrong, people getting information wherever they can, rumors flying. What are people talking about?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, you heard the Ekho Moskvy editor in chief talking about how, as far as he is concerned, martial law has been introduced in relation to the media.

    There are a lot of rumors right now that martial law in general could be imposed in this country as early as tomorrow. And they come from, believe it or not, a Ukrainian official. He came out and said that the Ukrainians have learned that the government of Russia is going to introduce martial law on Friday.

    And that got a lot of people very, very concerned here, because martial law could things — mean things like the border getting close. It could be conscription. Russia has a professional army. Back in the days in the '90s, when they had conscription, a lot of people were very concerned about serving in the military.

    And so I literally had young male after young men effectively telling me: All I can think about right now is how to get out of the country.

    And the problem, Judy, the reason for all of this is because there's a trust deficit right now with the government, right? Most Russians did not expect Russia was going to invade Ukraine. They actually believed their government when their government said, of course we're not going to do that.

    Then it happened. Now they don't know what to believe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Ryan, separately, we know that, today, more sanctions were levied — leveled by the west against Russian oligarchs and elites, but tell us what effect that has on people, ordinary people living there on the ground? What effect?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, the individual sanctions don't have a lot of effect on the individual Russians here.

    The things that we have seen affect the ruble, for example, are the sanctions on the Central Bank. Effectively, half of the country's reserves, all of a sudden, were unusable, untouchable by the Central Bank. So they couldn't intervene to support the ruble. So the ruble slid by about a third.

    So those kinds of things have had a dramatic effect. And there were days where we had people lining up at cash machines and exchanging money into dollars, for fear that the ruble could go down further. But really what is happening right now is, we're seeing company after company, either because of the sanctions or voluntarily, because they want to make a stand, international companies pulling out of Russia.

    And as they do that, that's creating all kinds of problems. So, Apple pay Goes, Google goes, getting rid of some services, Boeing and Airbus saying, we're not going to be providing certain parts in the future, which creates huge infrastructural problems.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to keep track of.

    Ryan Chilcote joining us tonight from Moscow.

    Ryan, thank you.

Listen to this Segment