Author Archives: Marielle W Wijermars

CfP: International workshop ‘Media Systems under Pressure’ 18 May 2018, University of Amsterdam

Media Systems under Pressure: Recent Developments in Media Freedom in Central and Eastern Europe

18 May 2018, University of Amsterdam

Organisers: Sudha Rajagopalan, University of Amsterdam; Mariëlle Wijermars, University of Helsinki

Abstract deadline: 18 March 2018

Across Central and Eastern Europe, media systems are increasingly under pressure. The developments that place restrictions on the freedom of media, or threaten to do so in the near future, take various forms. On the one hand, (semi-)authoritarian regimes in, e.g., Russia strengthen their hold over media industries. Promoted under the banner of protecting national values and political stability, neoconservative tendencies are also being translated into strict media regulation in EU members states, such as Hungary and Poland. On the other hand, the reliability of news and information providers has been significantly compromised in recent years as a result of fake news and Russian disinformation campaigns. At the same time, European responses to these threats equally place pressure on the protection of fundamental human rights, such as the right to information, media freedom and privacy. To some extent, freedom of speech and information is perceived as a potential threat to national security (e.g., spread of extremist ideology, terrorism) or societal values (e.g., information concerning abortion, LGBT rights, pornography)

The workshop aims to bring together international scholars and media professionals to discuss the following questions: How can we formulate effective responses to these manifold challenges that media systems in Central and Eastern Europe face today? To what extent are these developments country or region specific, or should they be seen as part of wider European and global trends? What is the role of governments, media, NGOs, and activists in shaping media and information spheres in the region (in both a negative and positive sense)?

We invite contributions from academics and media professionals that explore, among others, the following topics:

  • Neoconservatism and media regulation
  • Policy responses to fake news, disinformation, ‘information warfare’
  • The impact of anti-terrorism measures on media freedom and privacy
  • Conservative activism
  • Progressive activism

To apply, please send a 300 word abstract and brief biographical statement to Mariëlle Wijermars (marielle.wijermars[at] by 18 March 2018. The organisers intend to publish revised versions of selected papers as part of a special issue.

This workshop is organized by ARTES research group ‘Participatory Cultures: Post-Socialist New Media Practices’ (University of Amsterdam), the Center for Ukrainian Cultural Studies (University of Amsterdam) and the ‘Russian Media Lab: Freedom of Speech and Critical Journalism in Russia’ project (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki).

CfP Russian Media Lab stream at the 18th Annual Aleksanteri Conference, 24-26 October 2018

Media Innovation, Horizontal Networks and Digital Entrepreneurship in Russia and Beyond: Avenues for Strengthening Freedom of Speech and Journalistic Practices?

Deadline: 14 May 2018

The Russian Media Lab is organising its concluding conference within the framework of this year’s Aleksanteri Conference. For this thematic stream, entitled “Media Innovation, Horizontal Networks and Digital Entrepreneurship in Russia and Beyond: Avenues for Strengthening Freedom of Speech and Journalistic Practices?”, we invite submissions of panels, roundtables and individual papers that explore emerging (digital) media practices in relation to the question of freedom of expression and independent journalism. In addition to studies of Russia, we look forward to receiving proposals examining Central and Eastern Europe, as well as comparative studies.

Digital services are one of the most flourishing areas of Russia’s media economy, creating opportunities for new entrepreneurial and creative networks to emerge. As seen from the viewpoint of the latest media developments, many Russian regions are invigorated in the communication sphere through innovative online publishing, and hyper- and trans-local new media practices of social engagement and urban culture. At the same time, the Russian government continues to tighten its grip on online communications, as well as on the traditional media sphere.

With these processes in mind, we invite proposals that examine to what extent novel digital practices enable new areas for freedom of expression and independent journalism to emerge? To what extent is Russia (dis)similar to other countries, including many Western democracies, currently experiencing shifts in the organization of their media landscapes, where creative initiatives and critical thinking find new forms of expression through multifaceted networks of grass-roots activism and creativity combined with collaborative media and small scale entrepreneurship? How can these emerging practices be safeguarded from the tightening grip of the state’s regulation of the online sphere?

To submit a proposal, please use the general Aleksanteri Conference submission form and indicate you would like to be considered for inclusion in the Russian Media Lab thematic stream. Expressing your interest to be included in the stream will not affect the chances of your paper or panel proposal being accepted for the Aleksanteri Conference.

The best contributions will be invited to submit revised versions of their paper for publication as part of a special issue.

Researcher Marielle Wijermars – “Algorithmed Public Spheres” visiting fellow at Hans-Bredow-Institute

From February through April, Russian Media Lab researcher Marielle Wijermars will be a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research in Hamburg, Germany. During her stay, she will be working as a fellow of the “Algorithmed Public Spheres” research network coordinated by Dr. Cornelius Puschmann. The visit is generously supported by a visiting postdoctoral fellowship from the Hans-Bredow-Institute. In Hamburg, Marielle will conduct a research project on the regulation of news aggregators in Russia, as well contribute to ongoing collaborative research projects on, e.g., search engines.

To find out more about the “Algorithmed Public Spheres” postdoctoral research network, click here.

CfP “Changing Media Landscapes in Russia” – Special issue of Russian Journal of Communication

Call for Papers – Special issue of Russian Journal of Communication on

“Changing Media Landscapes in Russia”

Until recently, Russia was regarded as a relatively closed regime that pursued a rather open internet policy (e.g. Oates, 2007; Toepfl, 2012, 2014). The Russian media has been called a two-tier, dichotomous media system “where some outlets, notably national TV, [were] very tightly controlled, while others, including the Internet, [were] allowed a substantial degree of freedom” (Dunn, 2014, p. 1425). However, the 2011 legislation and the amendments implemented in 2015 to 2017 signal a tightening of the regulations of the online sphere. The upcoming 2018 Russian Presidential elections might result in further pressure on various media outlets, platforms etc. At the same time, the control and co-optation of the media in Russia is not as uniform as it might seem (Bodrunova and Litvinenko, 2013, 2015). For instance, there are manifestations of alternative voices even in the state controlled traditional media such as TV (Hutchings and Tolz, 2015). There is therefore a need for a more nuanced understanding of media systems in Russia. Instead of treating the Russian media-scape as a uniform, homogenous, and tightly controlled space, this special issue aims at offering an up-to-date account of diverse journalist practices, regional differences, and converging media sub-systems in Russia.

In particular, in this special issue we’ll look at the changing nature of Russian media landscape through the following lenses – however, the list is not exhaustive and other topics are very welcome:

  • The operational environment for media and journalists (regulation, ethics, pressures from outside the media field);
  • Regional differences;
  • New publication formats;
  • Converging media cultures and challenges for journalism;
  • Consumption patterns and market choices;
  • Digitization and participatory audience cultures;
  • Media manipulation, ‘cyber-hacking’ and media trust;
  • Social media and protest.

We welcome contributions from diverse fields of study and methodologies.

Key dates

The deadline for abstracts is 22nd January, 2018 (300-500 words, please indicate the central questions, methodology, and theoretical framework). Submissions are to be sent to Dr. Katja Lehtisaari and Dr. Galina Miazhevich, and

Authors will be notified of the decision by February 1, 2018

The deadline for completed articles will be 30th April, 2018, (max. 7,000 words; submission on ScholarOne and followed by a double-blind peer-review process). The final decision on acceptance will be made after the peer-review process. The preliminary publication date (after peer-review) is Autumn 2018.

About the guest editors

Dr. Katja Lehtisaari (University of Helsinki, Finland), Dr. Galina Miazhevich (Cardiff University, UK) and Dr. Svetlana Bodrunova (St. Petersburg State University, Russia) are the Editors of this special issue. The special issue is connected to the work of the Russian Media Lab, a multidisciplinary research project and international network focusing on Russian media and freedom of expression. The project examines the execution of state control mechanisms, censorship, and the remaining free spaces of independent reporting. The Russian Media Lab project (2016-2018) is coordinated by Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland, and funded by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (

Digital Russia Studies launched at University of Helsinki

On Friday 5 January the kick-off seminar of Digital Russia Studies took place at the Aleksanteri Institute. Digital Russia Studies is an initiative of Daria Gritsenko, Assistant Professor in Russian Big Data Methodology at the University of Helsinki, and Russian Media Lab researcher Marielle Wijermars. It aims to become a leading research network uniting scholars of humanities, social and computer sciences working at the intersection of the ‘digital’ and the ‘social’ in the Russian context.

First, Digital Russia Studies is the study of Russian society, politics and culture using digital humanities methods.

Second, Digital Russia Studies is the critical investigation of how Russian society, politics and culture are reconfigured in the context of digitisation, Big Data and algorithmic governance.

During our monthly seminar running throughout Spring 2018, we aim to engage with questions concerning Russian cultural history, contemporary media industries, digital dimensions of Russian politics, as well as East European perspective on Russia. We will also look into established and emerging methods and data practices.

Subscribe to the Digital Russia Studies mailing list for updates, and join us every first Friday of the month from 12:15 – 14:45 at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki!

If you cannot join us live, please do not hesitate to tune in online! Check the Digital Russia Studies website for further details on how to participate online.


Seminar schedule – Spring 2018


2 February 2018 –> Methodology workshop

Prof. Arto Mustajoki (UH) “The research use of Integrum database from a wider perspective”

2 March 2018 –> Cake-for-comments

MA Ira Österberg (UH) “A quantitative approach to film music and Soviet Cinema 1965-1984”

MA Justyna Pierzynska (UH) “Knowledge politics in the semipherifery: Unexpected historical brotherhoods in CEE media”

6 April 2018 –> Cake-for-comments

PhD Reeta Kangas (University of Turku) TBC

4 May 2018 –> Russian Media Lab-special

Dr. Marielle Wijermars (UH)  “Control the News Feed, Control the News? Measuring the Impact of Russia’s News Aggregator Regulation”

Dr. Katja Lehtisaari (UH) TBC

1 June 2018 –> Closing of the first batch

MA Teemu Oivo (UEF) TBC

Dr. Daria Gritsenko (UH) TBC


Interview with Stephen Hutchings (University of Manchester)

by Saara Ratilainen

Stephen Hutchings is Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester, UK. His research interests cover Russian cultural and media studies, Russian and Soviet television and film, Russian and Soviet literature and literary/cultural theory. His latest book Nation, Ethnicity and Race on Russian Television: Mediating Post-Soviet Difference (co-authored with Vera Tolz) was published in 2015 by Routledge.

Could you tell a bit about your latest project relating to Russian media?

The new project that I lead is called ‘Reframing Russia for the Global Mediasphere: From Cold War to “Information War”’. It involves a team of 6 people and runs over 3 years. This project arose out of two concerns: the ‘information war’ that is polarizing opinion by forcing it to conform to two opposing, reductive narratives; the transformation of the global media environment by a digital revolution which is completely reshaping modes of news production and consumption and generating unprecedented forms of audience engagement and transnational identity alignment. At the intersection of these two trends is Russia’s controversial international broadcaster, RT (Russia Today). A product of both the digital era and the shifting post-Cold War geopolitical landscape, RT has achieved pariah status as alarm about its interference in electoral processes and its cynical journalistic practices grows. At the same time, the Kremlin has increased RT’s funding as it perceives opportunities for the broadcaster to exploit its grasp of new media platforms and digital cultures to tap into public discontent with the western political mainstream and capture new audiences from both ends of the ideological spectrum.

But how true an account of RT’s aims and practices is this? How successful has it really been in appealing to audiences and why? Who and where are those audiences? Exactly what kind of entity is RT, and why does this matter? By providing answers to these questions, our interdisciplinary team of Russian media researchers, historians, international relations specialists, computer scientists and audience ethnographers hopes to provide the first comprehensive and balanced analysis of RT. We also want to use our research as a case study that will help us understand the dramatic changes to the wider news environment of which RT is only one small part. Ultimately, we hope our project will help towards pinpointing those features of the transnational communication dynamic which cause mutual mistrust to spiral upwards, and towards combatting the stereotyping that has distorted attitudes on both sides of a conflict.

How would you describe the current state of freedom of speech in Russia?

There clearly is not Free Speech in Russia as we understand the term; independent journalism is now a very dangerous activity; the Kremlin has control over the output of the main television broadcasters and puts significant pressure of all kinds on the few independent, liberal media outlets that remain (Ekho Moskvy; Novaya Gazeta; Dozhd); opposition to the official ‘patriotic’ state narrative, with its strongly anti-western, anti-liberal stance, promotion of ‘traditional values’ and construction of a kind of cult of personality around Putin is consistently marginalised and barely tolerated.

However, there are a number of important qualifications to this broad characterisation of the situation. First, Russia is an authoritarian not a totalitarian state. As someone who lived for 2 years in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, I can remember the state of fear and suspicion in which ordinary people lived, and the ideological uniformity that prevailed everywhere in the USSR. What we have today under Putin is nothing remotely like that. Secondly, the information revolution and the advent of the online world means that, irrespective of the Kremlin’s belated efforts to patrol and limit the power and reach of the Internet, the genie is out of the bottle; free speech will never be as tightly controlled as it was under communism and the Runet will remain awash with opinions of all different shades; social networking allows communication between individuals and large groups at the grassroots level on a scale that cannot possibly be systematically policed.

Thirdly, the notion of a unified state narrative conveyed un-problematically to state operatives who in turn project this same narrative across a uniform nation of passive citizens is false and simplistic on multiple levels; there are numerous fractures, disagreements and shifts in stance within Russian political elites, militating against the imposition of a single ideological position; such as they are, official lines must nowadays respond to shifts and trends in public opinion in a way that was simply not true in the Soviet period; thanks to globalisation and new technology, citizens have access to a far wider range of political opinion than was ever true under the Soviets and are therefore harder to shape in the image of the state. Fourthly, we focus far too much on news discourse, where the evidence of uniformity and state control is much stronger.  Would a film like Zviagintsev’s Leviathan (40% funded by the state, incidentally) ever have been made, let alone submitted as Russia’s Oscar nomination, under communism? Television drama is another example of a space in which it is possible to find examples of quite daring, albeit oblique, criticism of conditions in Putin’s Russia.

Lastly, we must at least consider the argument that a nation as large and unruly as Russia does not submit easily to democratic rule; look what happened when it was tried under Yeltsyn and the state ended up in 1993 ordering army tanks to shell the building housing Russia’s democratically elected parliament because of its extremist nature and threat to democracy! By the way, if people think that deposing Putin will lead to a nice, cosy liberal democracy in Russia, they are probably deceived; Putin is in many ways having to moderate and disarm forces far more extreme than himself (though he is surely to blame for having fostered the conditions in which such forces can thrive). As a final, controversial, point, are we not reaching the point at which the West’s assumption that its models of government hold the keys to universal freedom and success and that it has the right to foist these models on diverse nations across the globe is beginning to look a trifle arrogant, unrealistic and hypocritical (why, I wonder, do we not apply the same rigorous standards to China?)?

How do you see the future of media freedom and freedom of speech in Russia?

My answers to the question about the future of free speech in Russia are contained in my responses to the second question about the current position. I believe that assumptions that all we have to do is wait until the generation of rulers brought up in the Soviet period hands over to the younger, post-Soviet generation are naïve. I also think that, when Putin finally cedes power, or dies, things could easily get worse before they get better – the integrity of Russia itself is far more fragile than things appear on the surface. We’re probably wrong to expect that, when they do get better, what will emerge is a carbon copy of western-style parliamentary democracy. Moreover, the Putin regime and its mode of operation is to a large extent a product of the global dominance of neoliberalism (the benefits it derives from corruption would not be possible without it; the ‘collusion’ between Facebook/Twitter and ‘the Russian government’, intended or otherwise, relies on the ubiquitous monetisation of news and communication). That system is now under threat, of course, but it is difficult to predict what will follow it. What I am sure about is that what we do in the West will have an awful lot to do with what happens in Russia. We paid a heavy price for the aggressive, eastwards expansion of NATO and the unleashing of cowboy capitalism on Russia in the 1990s and should not make these mistakes again.

Researcher Marielle Wijermars to give lecture at University of Tromsø (Norway)

Russian Media Lab researcher Marielle Wijermars will give a lecture on internet freedom in Russia at the University of Tromsø on 17 November. The talk is part of the research seminar series hosted by the research group “Russian Space: Concepts, Practices, Representations”.

Can Russia control the Runet? Online freedom of speech and the 2018 presidential elections 

Over the course of the past five years, the Russian government has dramatically expanded its control over the internet. This acceleration in developing internet governance and implementing various mechanisms of direct and indirect online censorship occurred largely in response to the protest movement of 2011-2012, which demonstrated the mobilizational potential of online and social media.

With the 2018 presidential elections approaching, we see a renewed intensification of efforts to control the Runet. The talk provides an overview of the most recent developments in how the Russian government seeks to influence and control online discourses, e.g. through restricting online privacy. Based on the example of Aleksei Navalny’s current anti-corruption campaign, attention is drawn to the many paradoxes that continue to exist when we speak of internet control in Russia: from the influence of multinational technology companies such as Facebook and Google, to Russia’s adoption of open government principles and aspirations in the sphere of “digital economy”.  

Details: Friday 17 November, 10:15 – 12:00. University of Tromsø, SVHUM E0103

Russian Media Lab at “Connecting to the Masses – 100 Years since the Russian Revolution: From Agitprop to the Attention Economy”

Russian Media Lab researcher Marielle Wijermars will be taking part in the conference “Connecting to the Masses – 100 Years since the Russian Revolution: From Agitprop to the Attention Economy” organised at the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam) and University of Amsterdam (13-14 November). The conference programme can be found here.

Paper: Mass Mobilization and the YouTube Aesthetics of Data Activism: The Case of Aleksei Navalny


Russian Media Lab at “Digital Democracy: Critical Perspectives in the Age of Big Data” (ECREA)

Project researcher Marielle Wijermars will be presenting her research on data activism at the ECREA conference “Digital Democracy: Critical Perspectives in the Age of Big Data” (Södertörn University, 10-11 November).

Paper: The Complexities of Open Government Adoption in Hybrid Regimes: Aleksei Navalny and Data Activism in Russia

Russian Media Lab at ASEEES, 9-12 November, Chicago

The Russian Media Lab will be at ASEEES from 9-12 November in Chicago. The latest version of the programme can be consulted on the Conference website.

Saara Ratilainen – Round table “New Forms in Digital Storytelling”

New Forms in Digital Storytelling explores the latest tendencies in computer-mediated storytelling that include cross-platform projects, narrative VR, multi-POV, collaborative platforms, and various forms of immersive/ interactive storytelling. Among the topics discussed are mechanisms of creating a version of Belarusian “non-Soviet” history on the internet, the use of digital communication technologies in travelers’ online community, the emergence of native Russian VR projects, as well as new tendencies in digital collaborative filmmaking.

Freek van der Vet – “‘When They Come for You’: Legal Mobilization as the Last Defense in Russia’s Surveillance State”

This paper is part of the panel “Coping with Repressive Laws: Russian NGOs’ Response to the Law on Foreign Agents”

Drawing from interviews and reports, this paper examines how Russian lawyers mobilize the law when authorities use laws and surveillance as tools of repression. How do lawyers litigate at domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of victims of a political backlash: Russians accused of high treason, NGOs prosecuted under the “foreign agent law”, and victims of telephone tapping? The paper finds that lawyers help organizations to evade the effects of the foreign agent law, reveal information to the media about secret treason trials, and advise NGOs on when to engage into litigation.