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News

Russian businessman opens fund to support independent media

A new foundation devoted to supporting independent media in Russia is now accepting applications from independent media outlets in need of financial support. The fund, called Sreda (meaning "environment"), has been created and financed by scientist and businessman Dmitry Zimin, founder of popular Russian telecommunications company Beeline. With a budget of 50 million roubles ($1.4m), the foundation will split its sponsorship between three successful applicants, who will receive different amounts of funding in accordance with their needs.

Only non-state media organisations committed to transparency will be eligible for the money, Sreda's website states. The statement also cites the importance of supporting existing publications "which maintain and uphold the principles of reliable, professional and unbiased journalism regardless of the the ideological and political views which can vary".

The website also reiterates the importance for applicants to pledge their commitment not to "use its reputation, credibility, professional rights and opportunities to disseminate advertising or in any way contribute to the restriction of civil rights".

In an interview with Colta.ru, activist and journalist Irina Yasina, who is a member of the fund's jury, said that her colleagues in the project “share a concern that there is very little political media — print, radio broadcast, television etc — which is not engaged in public entertainment or propaganda, and that actually seeks to make people think”.

The jury has been explicit in their requirements, stressing the need for publications applying for money to be open-minded and committed to publishing verifiable, accurate information.

Launched in a media landscape struggling with a continuing crackdown on independent media by the Russian government, the creation of Sreda is a beacon of hope to many journalists and media industry professionals who have suffered from numerous changes to the online information sphere in recent months. Earlier this year, Russia passed a bill giving the government power to block any website without explanation, with several opposition-minded websites, including the blog of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, shut down soon after.

The slew of laws introduced by the Kremlin has been widely seen as part of a plan aimed at controlling the distribution of information, with some of Russia's best-known independent news outlets struggling to survive upsets such as unexpected firings, mass resignations and the sudden withdrawal of funding, all of which have intensified markedly since the start of the Ukraine crisis earlier this year.

You can find the website for Sreda in Russian here.