Censorship battle between Roskomnadzor and Google
On YouTube, which is owned by Google, the documentary film “Beslan” was posted; this film, created by Alexander Rogatkin, is about a terrorist attack launched at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004.
YouTube limited access to this film, arguing that it includes scenes of violence or cruelty.
The Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (known in Russia by the abbreviation Roskomnadzor) sent a letter to Google informing it that the company’s actions were violating the constitutional rights of citizens to search for and receive information about socially important events.
Google did not respond to the letter of Roskomnadzor.
Then, court case No 02-3007/2020 was initiated under a claim filed by the Prosecutor. On 22 October 2020, Moscow’s Tagansky Court decided that limitations placed on YouTube with respect to the film “Beslan” constitute an act of censorship. Incidentally, the decision can be appealed within one month to a higher court.
According to the Russian Constitution, citizens have a guaranteed right to freedom of thought and speech, as well as the right to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information in any legal way.
Also, based on the provisions of Federal law No. 149 “On information, information technologies and the protection of information”, citizens and organizations have the right to search and receive any information in any form and from any sources, subject to compliance with the requirements established by law. Similar rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The court stated that scenes of violence or cruelty are not the focus of the viewer’s attention, that information about the events of the film is generally known, and that the placement of this content is not intended to shock or disgust viewers. The film focuses the viewer’s attention not on violence, but on the narration of tragic events.
The court obliged Google to revoke the limitation of access to the film “Beslan” on YouTube by cancelling the authorization requirement and deleting warnings that some users could find this film intolerable as well as that the film is recognized to be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.
A representative of Google announced that Google has no intention of abolishing the above restrictions with respect to the film.
At present, Google has not implemented the court’s decision.
Roskomnadzor forwarded a new demand to Google, Facebook and Twitter to stop the censorship of Russian mass media outlets, and in particular to cancel any restrictions on access to the film “Beslan”.
Currently, these Internet companies restrict access to materials from about 20 Russian media outlets, including RIA Novosti, Russia Today, Sputnik, and Rossiya-1.
Further, Roskomnadzor appealed to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (Russia’s Parliament) to take systematic legislative measures necessary to protect the rights of citizens of the Russian Federation to freely receive information on foreign Internet platforms.
As indicated in Roskomnadzor’s letter, foreign platforms impose censorship on the Russian media, infringing the right of Russian citizens to freely receive information, as guaranteed by article 29 of the country’s Constitution.
Therefore, Roskomnadzor considers that there is a necessity for new legislation that defines the responsibility of foreign Internet platforms. Such legislation should allow for demands that the ability of Russians to receive information from the Russian media be restored and that effective measures be taken against Internet platforms that ignore these requirements.