Censorship and streaming – The Bell – Eng
Hi! This week our big story is about how the the rise of online streaming platforms has attracted regulation and censorship. We also examine why some large public banks are creating special investment funds for civil servants, and if the tension between Russia and the West could be the result of an upcoming Putin-Biden summit.
Online streaming platforms face regulation and censorship
Online movie streaming in Russia has become so popular that it is starting to gain government attention – in the form of fines, restrictions and possible bans. There have been several examples this week of an official push for regulation of the sector. Online streaming seems to end up being as heavily censored as Russian television.
- Media watchdog Roskomnadzor is looking for ways to ban online services from showing films and series that promote “non-traditional sex and sexual deviance,” the Vedomosti newspaper reported on Tuesday. Shows of this nature would be grounds for blocking a streaming service. In addition, Roskomnadzor is considering extending the ban on promoting ânon-traditional sexâ to minors – offenses could be punished with a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($ 13,630) or a 90-day suspension. Roskomnadzor on Tuesday fined streaming services Megogo, Okko, ivi and Kinopoisk for failing to broadcast advertising about the dangers of tobacco.
- The head of Roskomnadzor apparently referred to a recent speech by President Vladimir Putin when discussing new measures against online streaming. However, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was not aware of any legislative proposals following Putin’s speech.
- In addition, Roskomnadzor this week began issuing warnings to online movie services regarding sexual content and foul language. It largely affected Megogo (one of Russia’s top 10 online cinemas) after showing the Russian movie Nobody Knows Sex. Roskomnadzor’s objection was that the film was released with a 16+ certificate, not an 18+ rating. However, when the film was released in 2006, the Minister of Culture approved a rating of 16+. Megogo then changed the rating to 18+ and uttered offensive words. Similar requests – less swearing, less sex – have been made in writing to other online streaming services like ivi, Start and Kion, employees told Vedomosti.
- Like the rest of the Russian film industry, online services also face direct political pressure. Acceptable topics for new films or series are heavily restricted – with elections, government officials, corruption and LBGT + topics particularly problematic – the BBC’s Russian service reported earlier this month. The BBC’s Russian service has found that actors who voice their support for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny find it almost impossible to find work. A public relations representative for an online streaming service said that as the September parliamentary elections approached, actors were ordered to “behave normally” – a code not to criticize the president or the president. ruling party United Russia.
- Online streaming services are a relatively recent arrival in Russia. The first online theaters were Ivi, Okko and TVzavr, which launched in 2009 and 2010. Their popularity exploded during the pandemic, and by the end of 2020 the major players had a combined turnover up 50% from year after year. to 38.9 billion rubles ($ 531 million), according to TelecomDaily.
- Ivi was the largest streaming service in the first half of 2021, accounting for 24% of Russian online cinema revenue. Next come Kinopoisk HD (owned by Internet giant Yandex) with 14.1%, then Okko (controlled by public bank Sber in the fall of 2020) with 12.4%). The US service Netflix is ââgradually increasing its share and was in fourth place with 8.9%, while YouTube had 7.9%.
Why the world should care
For many years, online series and movies were considered a much freer medium than television. But there are more and more signs that this period is now over.
Special investment funds seek civil servants as clients
State-owned companies VTB and Sber this week launched specialist mutual funds for government officials with limited ownership of foreign securities.
- Russian law prohibits officials from holding accounts in banks based outside Russia, or owning – or using – foreign financial services.
- In order to get around this problem, VTB Capital Asset Management announced on Thursday the establishment of two new investment funds for civil servants. Sber Asset Management is launching an equivalent fund, the Kommersant newspaper reported on the same day. Sber’s fund will invest in Russian corporate stocks and bonds, as well as government bonds. Likewise, Ingosstrakh Investments, a division of one of Russia’s leading public insurance companies, plans to offer a similar option next year. This is the first time that we see such products offered on the Russian investment market.
- With the falling rates on savings accounts and the continued boom in digital financial services, private investing is increasingly popular. However, it is not common practice to indicate the jurisdictions in which such funds might operate – and this is a problem for officials looking to invest their money. Even many Russian companies – like online marketplace Ozon, internet giant Yandex, and metals company Evraz – officially have their headquarters overseas. This is an easily solved problem for high net worth investors who can afford personalized services, but not for more mundane clients. There have even been cases where officials have been forced to close their accounts after discovering violations, according to Kommersant.
- Asset managers traditionally profile clients based on geography, age, gender, professional and even religious beliefs – but ‘officials’ are an extremely small subset, says Alfa Capital chief executive , Irina Krivosheyeva. In his opinion, such funds for public servants are âa headlineâ.
Why the world should care
Russia has around 850,000 civil servants, but in reality the legal restrictions on investments only apply to a fraction of them. Nonetheless, state banks now clearly view âofficialsâ as a business opportunity.
Geopolitical tensions rise ahead of Putin-Biden talks
From Ukraine to Belarus, tension between Russia and the West has been mounting rapidly this week. Is this really the prelude to a military conflict, or could it all just be a slash before a year-end meeting between Putin and US President Joe Biden?
- White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not rule out the prospect of further talks between Putin and Biden when questioned by reporters on Thursday. And, earlier today, Russian President’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov admitted there could be discussions online before the end of the year. The Kommersant newspaper first wrote about a possible summit earlier this month, suggesting the two leaders could speak online before the New Year and meet in person in early 2022.
- According to Peskov, the subject of a meeting between the Kremlin and the White House would be the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the situation in Ukraine. Western media have been reporting for weeks that Russia is moving military personnel and equipment to the border with Ukraine. A Washington Post article, for example, highlighted social media posts showing military trains and convoys carrying equipment, including tanks and missiles. A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, described the reports of a military build-up on the Ukrainian border as “a burst of information” fired by the American media.
- The Bloomberg News Agency reported last week that Washington had warned its European allies that Moscow was considering an invasion of Ukraine. The next day, Bloomberg published another article suggesting that Moscow was not seriously considering a military option – simply wishing to indicate that it would use force if necessary. Agency sources, including some close to the Kremlin, explained that Russia wanted to make it clear that any further Western efforts to supply Ukraine with arms or expand NATO’s military presence would cross a red line. Putin himself spoke of “red lines” on Thursday, saying the West does not take Russia’s warnings seriously enough.
- Ukraine was not the only Russian neighbor to make headlines. For the second time in three days, Putin held talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday about migrants at Belarus’ borders with the European Union. Both sides expressed serious concerns about the âunacceptable and brutal actions of the Polish border guardsâ. However, Lukashenko also told Putin about a phone conversation on Wednesday with acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This was Lukashenko’s second discussion in two days with Merkel, after which Minsk said representatives would be appointed to start talks aimed at resolving the crisis. The number of migrants at the border has since declined.
- The near-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline also made the news this week when Germany, which has worked hard to complete the project, announced it was suspending the necessary certification. This could delay the full operation of Nord Stream 2 until mid-2022. Some experts have argued that Nord Stream 2’s importance to Putin outweighs any sort of speculative military venture in Eastern Europe.
Why the world should care
It is unlikely that all of these issues can be resolved in the context of a triumphant summit between Putin and Biden. However, the recent tension between Russia and the West is perhaps best understood as a struggle for position ahead of such a meeting.