Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with journalists KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

The World Cup of Press Freedom

Russia today has more reporters behind bars than at any time since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. With Russia under the spotlight as the host of soccer’s quadrennial global tournament, the international community has a rare opportunity to push President Vladimir Putin to end his attacks on the media.

PARIS – President Vladimir Putin worked hard to bring the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia, but now that the spectacle is underway, his influence has waned. He cannot control the referees or the performance of Russia’s national team, the Sbornaya, which is ranked 70th in the world – the lowest-seeded team in the tournament. But he has far more control over how the tournament is covered, at least by Russian media.

In the World Press Freedom Index, compiled each year by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries. Rather than accepting the competition that comes with pluralism, the Kremlin is intent on rigging the rules of politics and to fix media “matches” in his favor.

From criminalizing defamation to barring news that offends the “religious feelings of believers,” Putin’s media laws are becoming increasingly restrictive. Their vague wording allows them to be applied in a selective and arbitrary manner, and press-freedom advocates that seek to challenge the status quo are coming under increased scrutiny.

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