Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, there has been a lot of debate about whether global digital services – music, video, social networks and more – should close their offices and suspend their services in Russia. A lot of that discussion has seen this as a moral choice, but a new ‘fake news’ law in the country may now be making it a necessity.
The new law is targeting what the Kremlin views as “fake information” – in the current context, about what’s happening in Ukraine – with potential jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty. A range of global news organisations have quickly halted reporting in Russia to protect their journalists.
It’s not just news media though. “In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend livestreaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” announced TikTok last night. “We will continue to evaluate the evolving circumstances in Russia to determine when we might fully resume our services with safety as our top priority.”
Netflix is also suspending its service in Russia, although in its case, the issue is another new law – one that required it to carry 20 free state-controlled channels. While Netflix had refused to comply, “given the circumstances on the ground, we have decided to suspend our service in Russia” a spokesperson told Variety.
All of this will only sharpen the debate around what the global music-streaming services are doing in Russia. Spotify closed its office there last week but said it was keeping its actual service going there “to allow for the global flow of information”. Potential jail sentences if that information is not to the Russian state’s liking casts doubt on how workable that policy is.
Elsewhere, songwriter Ross Golan has launched an online petition calling for international collecting societies to “sever ties” with RAO, the collecting society in Russia. “I refuse to have my songs licensed in Russia while their government invades Ukraine,” wrote Golan, who has written for the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, and also founded podcast ‘And the Writer Is’.
It’s very early days for that petition – 74 signatures at the time of writing – but it shines the spotlight on another aspect of the international music industry’s relationships with entities in Russia.
All of this can feel awkward and troubling to talk about. Closing digital services and restricting music may feel like measures punishing ordinary Russian people, rather than the country’s leadership and its enablers. There are anti-war protests inside Russia; there are Russian artists speaking out against the war; and Russian culture-industry workers too.
It’s understandable that entertainment and media companies of all stripes are thinking hard about how best to support these people – and others who might swell their numbers in the coming days and weeks – when deciding what to do with their businesses and services in Russia, including protecting their own staff in the wake of the new laws. There are no easy answers here, but plenty of pressing questions.