MOSCOW: There are increasing fears that a new agency set up last month by Russian president Vladimir Putin might exert control over content in Russian online news services, according to local observers. The agency will supervise the internet and mass media.
Last year, critically-inclined website Novy Fokus was closed by the courts for being an unregistered news site, and reopened only last month after registering and accepting stricter supervision.
Similarly, Kursiv's site was shuttered last year after calling Putin a "phallic symbol of Russia" following his assertion that the country needed a higher birth rate.
Another news provider, Antikompromat.ru, had to switch to a US web host after its Russian server withdrew support, allegedly under pressure from state officials.
Roman Bodanin, political editor of Gazeta.ru, said: "It's worrying that this happened ahead of the presidential campaign.
"The Internet is the freest medium of communication today because TV is almost totally under government control, and print media largely so."
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the new agency "will be in charge of licensing. It's not about controlling the Internet.
He added: "If you watch TV, even federal TV channels, you'll hear lots of criticism of the government."
Data sourced from International Herald Tribune; additional content by WARC staff