In lieu of giving Rupert Murdoch any more web space, why not turn our attention to glorious Russia for a few moments? The Putin government launched an official probe this week into an independent television station, Dozhd, which covered anti-government protests after the much-questioned parliamentary election last December. Prosecutors have summoned Dozhd’s chief executive, Natalya Sindeyeva, to explain how exactly her network funded its live coverage of the protests, suspecting possible outside (read U.S.) support.

Nothing out of the ordinary, really—just another kick in the ribs to an already-sputtering “democratic media.” But the the not-so-subtle investigation—and a similar instance last Wednesday in which liberal, Putin-critical radio station Ekho Moskvy had its management board dismissed—comes within weeks of the March 4 presidential election, signaling a scramble on the government’s part to quiet any dissenting media voice. It’s a bold move, even for a generally authoritarian state, and it may represent a continuation of the ongoing international debates around media ethics in this feral young century.

As reported by Nataliya Vasilyeva for the Associated Press: “Authorities previously had stayed away from intervening into the activities of independent media outlets because their coverage and existence helped deflect foreign criticism of Russia’s shrinking media freedoms and provided a safety valve for public discontent.”

Whether this could escalate to massive protests in the coming month is up in the air. (It’s hard to get a good reading on just how many anti- and pro-Putin protests there were this past weekend, with estimates ranging from 2,000 to “tens of thousands”…on both sides.) But intervention into journalism like this, in which the state isn’t even going to try to “subtle it up,” might be a few more steps too far. Russia’s too heavily reliant on “Western” media influence to hide any more; people with instant, finger-click access to life around the globe simply won’t tolerate blatant infringement of (or by) the press—not as much as they used to, anyway. As prominent Russian TV journalist Vladimir Pozner said in a Reuters interview, “something has changed, adding, “The genie is out of the bottle, and to put it back in would be exceptionally difficult, if at all possible.”

The stifling of Dozhd and Ekho Moskvy are two strikes in 2012; we’ll see if March 4 brings the third.

Lead image via Associated Press.