Russia has a vibrant and active media. A substantial number of newspapers – both in print and online – are operational, as are a large number of radio and television outlets. An abundance of outlets, however, does not translate into a completely or even mostly free press. To the contrary, the majority of outlets are subject to some or complete state control. Where this is not the case, both draconian media laws and substantial harassment and threats of violence create incentives for self-censorship. Moreover, this restrictive environment is also spilling over onto the internet. As noted by Reporters Without Borders (among others), the list of banned websites is continually growing, and individuals often face sanction for the expression of their political views on social media websites.
Objective assessments of Russian news media suggest that it is mostly not free. According to the RWB’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Russia ranks 148th of 180 countries in press freedom. While its relative ranking improved in 2016 over 2015, its aggregate score of press freedoms declined over that period of time. This worsening performance, it should be noted, has increased in pace since the return of Putin in 2012.
On balance, Russians cannot easily, if at all, access a free and fair press.