Russian Watchdog Chief ‘Ironically’ Threatens to Ban Wikipedia

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Wikipedia webpage in use on a laptop computer is seen in this photo illustration taken in Washington, January 17, 2012. Gary Cameron/Rueters

The deputy head of Russia’s education watchdog Rosobrnadzor, has spoken out against online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, telling Russia’s state owned news agency Itar-Tass he would like to “simply put [Wikipedia] under censorship” today.

According to Alexander Biserov of Rosobrnadzor the website is full of “a colossal number of mistakes,” which is affecting Russian pupils who use the site to revise for their exams.

“My opinion on this, and I have said it many times, is I would ban Wikipedia, simply put it under censorship,” Biserov said.

In a matter of hours and after an apparent backlash against Biserov’s words, Rosobrnadzor’s press office issued a statement on Russian radio RusNovosti saying their deputy director’s statement was not official and should not to be taken as such.

“All this was said in jest, with irony and it should not prompt any kind of public reaction,” the statement read.

Rosobrnadzor, which was formed in 2004 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, reserves the right to effectively remove and block the distribution of material in Russia deemed to have a negative impact on the country’s education.

Like other government watchdogs formed and endorsed by the Russian president, Rosobrnadzor has gradually increased in influence since its creation, culminating in yesterday’s announcement that Rosobrnadzor will the authority to take away accreditation from schools across Russia and effectively shut them down without court approval.

The watchdog’s increased powers will take effect as soon as next month.

Meanwhile concern over Wikipedia’s potentially negative impact on Russia has been an ongoing issue for government officials. In November, St. Petersburg’s Presidential Library and Moscow’s National Library announced they were working on a Russian alternative to the website as a joint venture.

More than 50,000 books and archive documents from libraries across 27 Russian regions were submitted to the Presidential Library, who are tasked with getting the initiative off the ground.

The project is intended to deliver where Wikipedia has appeared “incapable”, namely in “accurately portraying the life of the Russian nation,” according to Alexander Vershinin, the head rector of the Presidential Library.

The new site will allegedly allow users to put in their own content eventually, however the backbone of content will be pooled together from Russian national, regional and local government records.

According to Kevin Rothrock, a project editor at international news website Global Voices, “digital sovereignty” is a major talking point in Russia, where Russian developers have already provided more popular alternatives to Facebook, Twitter and Internet Explorer, namely VKontakte, Odnoklassniki and Yandex.