Russian Police Release Journalist Who Defied Putin’s Propaganda
Russian police released on Tuesday a journalist who a day earlier had jumped into the frame during the live broadcast of a pro-government TV channel’s prime-time news holding a banner that urged viewers not to believe the outlet’s “lies.”
As she appeared behind the news anchor, Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, shouted “Stop the war. No to war.” Her banner also read: “Don’t believe the propaganda.”
Channel One cut the live feed a few seconds after Ovsyannikova appeared on screen.
Her act of defiance of Russia’s draconian censorship laws has quickly become an international symbol of resistance to President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to silence free speech and showed that there are still people in the country with the immense courage needed to stand up to him.
Ovsyannikova also prepared a video statement—shared by Visegrád 24—before police took her into custody. In it, she declared that “what is currently happening in Ukraine is a crime. Russia is a country-aggressor. All responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of one person: Vladimir Putin.”
She also spoke of the close history between Russia and Ukraine, including its people’s shared ancestry.
“Russia should immediately stop this fratricidal war and our brotherly nations can make peace with each other,” she said.
Ovsyannikova’s protest was aimed at raising awareness amongst the Russian people that Putin’s recently implemented censorship law razed to the ground independent media’s autonomy to report the invasion and replaced it with Kremlin propaganda.
Essentially, the law punishes those who portray the Russian military in a negative light.
The law also forbids the media from even referring to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a war. Instead, the official Russian government line is that it is a strategic military operation.
Punishments for disobeying this government prerogative can include censorship, a fine, and even up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Police took Ovsyannikova into custody shortly after her onscreen protest. Reportedly, during her 14-hour interrogation, she was denied legal counsel and was not permitted to sleep, according to the Financial Times.
Ultimately, she was released and fined 30,000 Russian rubles (US$280) for her act of defiance.
Ovsyannikova’s actions drew praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who stated in a Telegram video that he is “thankful to those Russians that do not cease trying to get the truth out, who fight against disinformation and tell the truth.”
He then called out to all Russians, telling them “you need to fight, you shouldn't miss your own chance.”
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron also lent his support to the Russian journalist.
He said that he would speak of her the next time he sits down with Putin to discuss a peaceful solution to the crisis and that France was “ready to offer consular protection to the journalist,” including the possibility of granting Ovsyannikova asylum, according to France 24.
Not everyone responded to Ovsyannikova’s actions with praise, however. Margarita Simonyan, an editor at the Russian state-controlled television station RT, stated that the whole story has been blown out of proportion.
Ovsyannikova will only pay a small fine, she said on Telegram. “They got used to gouging out the eyes of their protesting girls with rubber bullets right away and thinking - what will animals like us do then? Are they quartered, or something, in public?”
“Nothing will happen to her. Despite public outcry,” Simonyan concluded. “Trust my experience.”
Ovsyannikova, however, admitted that pro-government media in Russia has been brainwashing Russians for years.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “for the last several years I worked at Channel One, promoting Kremlin propaganda, and for that I am very ashamed right now. I am ashamed that I allowed lies to be told from TV screens, that I allowed Russian people to be zombified.”
“We stayed quiet when all of this was just getting started in 2014,” she said in reference to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and that “we [the Russian media] didn’t come out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We continued to quietly watch this inhumane regime.”
“Now the whole world has turned away from us,” she sadly reflected. “Ten generations of our descendants won’t be able to wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.”