On 9-10 October 2020, the online conference “The Problems of the Russian Society and Media during the Pandemic“ took place. This conference is part of the “Media Hub“ Project by the Regional Press Institute (St. Petersburg, Russia) and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated painful problems of the Russian society and became a good excuse for a further crackdown on human rights and discrimination of vulnerable groups, such as third age people, LGBT+ persons, women, migrants, people with disabilities and HIV/AIDS.

In his introducing remarks, Andrei Richter, Senior Adviser to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (Austria), provided the audience with a detailed overview of media freedom restrictions in the entire OSCE region during the pandemic. In particular, he used a special formulation – “incitement of fear”, which now allows the Hungarian authorities persecute journalists. Matti Posio, Editor-in-Chief of “Lännen Media“ (Finland), and Dmitri Dubrovsky of the Higher School of Economics (St. Petersburg, Russia) talked about hate speech and pointed out the responsibility of journalists for their self-education in the field and the importance of not transmitting stereotypes via their media channels.

The second day of the conference was devoted to acute social issues. Yulia Gradskova of the Södertörn University (Sweden) reported on feminism in Russia and abroad. Elena Zdravomyslova of the European University at St. Petersburg touched upon the topic of ageism that has been explicitly present in Russia these days, specifically in Moscow, but also in other countries. Finally, a lively discussion was initiated after an intervention by Igor Kochetkov, Director of the Charity Foundation for Social and Legal Assistance „Sphere“ (St. Petersburg, Russia) who reported both about the situation of LGBT+ people after the introduction of amendments to the Russian Constitution and about crackdown on transgender rights even in such democracies as Great Britain or the U.S.

Based on the conference interventions, the organisers will prepare an online course that will be accessibe for media professionals, students of journalism, civic activists and all those interested in current challenges.

Thanks to the fact that the conference took place online, it was attended by more than 40 journalists and civil society actors from Russia and abroad, including Germany, USA and South Korea. However, we hope that this conference will be held as a physical meeting in Narva (Estonia) next year, as it was originally planned.