Russia designated the independent online news site VTimes a “foreign agent” on Friday, placing the media company under increased scrutiny by the Kremlin as part of a wider crack-down on independent media critical of the Russian government.
VTimes is the second media outlet to be added to the list in less than a month. They join the Meduza Project, another popular independent news site, as this year’s additions. There are now 20 parties on the list of “foreign agents” including Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and five Russian citizens.
The list also includes the Dutch company which administered the domain name to VTimes despite the company not being registered as a media outlet.
Groups on the list have to report their activities and finances, and face increased fines for auditing violations. Under Russian law, any media group receiving funding from a foreign entity can be designated a “foreign agent”; the legislation was modified in 2020 to allow the inclusion of individual journalists.
Meduza says the designation has crippled their ability to do independent journalism and destroyed their business model; advertisers allegedly scattered once the designation was placed. The designation risks cratering the site’s advertising budget as the label is seen as a signal of the Kremlin’s ire. Meduza plans to fight the label in Moscow’s Court and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to recoup some of the advertising losses.
VTimes was created by an exodus of journalists from the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti after accusing the newly appointed editor of introducing pro-Kremlin censorship. Vedomosti is, however, widely believed to be one of the few high-profile publications not under direct control of authorities or businessmen associated with the Kremlin.