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Netflix Refuses to Add Propaganda Programming to Its Service in Russia

A new Russian broadcast regulation goes into effect March 1 mandating that 20 federal channels must be available to subscribers — but Netflix has no plans to add them.

A protester holds a placard saying "Putin - hands off Ukraine" during the demonstration. Following the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, members of the Ukrainian community and supportive Poles and Belarusians protested near diplomatic missions of the Russian Federation to express their opposition to Russian military aggression. In Krakow, where Ukrainian immigration is particularly numerous, several thousand people gathered in front of the Russian consulate. (Photo by Filip Radwanski / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Protestors in Cracow, Poland

Sipa USA via AP

Update, February 28 at 2:38pm ET: Netflix confirmed it will not air the 20 Russian propaganda channels as part of the new national mandate.

“Given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service,” a Netflix spokesperson told IndieWire.

As of February 28, the Russian media law has not gone into effect yet.

Published at 1:50 p.m. ET: Netflix will be subject to new broadcast regulations in Russia starting March 1, following the streaming platform being added to the “audiovisual services” overseen by Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor in 2021.

The register applies to streaming services available in Russia with at least 100,000 daily users. Such a categorization will require Netflix to broadcast streams of 20 Russian federal television stations including Channel One, NTV, and a channel run by the Russian Orthodox Church, Spas, according to the Moscow Times via Politico. This requirement will only be applicable to Netflix’s services in Russia; it is estimated that the platform has approximately 1 million national subscribers.

Channel One is closely linked to the Kremlin, with President Putin’s allies like top spy Chief Sergey Naryshkin and Putin’s first deputy chief of staff Alexey Gromov on the board of the station. Per Politico, Gromov’s responsibilities include overseeing the production of state propaganda and Moscow’s broad program of censorship. He previously served as Putin’s press secretary.

Netflix has yet to publicly address the new mandates in the wake of Russia invading Ukraine. The streaming giant previously announced a partnership with Russia’s National Media Group (NMG) in 2020; NMG owns nearly a 20-percent stake of Channel One.

Netflix currently does not offer services in China, Crimea, North Korea, or Syria, though it launched in Ukraine last fall.

Other streamers like Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney+ will not be affected by the new Russian mandate. Amazon Prime Video reportedly does not meet the subscriber requirements to be deemed an official audiovisual service by the Russian government, and HBO Max inked an exclusive deal with Russian streaming service Amediateka to offer HBO productions on their platform starting in 2021. Disney+ is not available in Russia at all.

Netflix was previously called into question by the Putin administration, with former Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky claiming that the U.S. government knew “how to enter every home” through Netflix in 2016. By November 2021, the Russian interior ministry “confirmed that it would examine a complaint leveled by Olga Baranets, the public commissioner for protecting families, regarding the dissemination of ‘gay propaganda’ on Netflix,” per Politico.

If Netflix is found to be in breach of Russia’s laws against the portrayal of “non-traditional sexual relations,” the company may face fines or a possible suspension.

The international community has been imposing embargoes on Russian entertainment. The 2022 Eurovision Song Contest officially banned Russian artists from competing, while the Ukrainian Film Academy called for a boycott of Russian films.

“Several films made by Russia are regularly admitted to the programs of most world film festivals, and significant resources are spent on their promotion,” the Academy wrote. “The result of this activity is not only the spread of propaganda messages and distorted facts. It also boosts the loyalty of Russian culture — the culture of the aggressor state, which unleashed unjustified and unprovoked war in central Europe.”

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