BBC suspends reporting from inside Russia amid ‘false’ news law and blocking of Western websites

The BBC said it was temporarily suspending the work of all its journalists and support staff in Russia after the upper house of parliament approved a bill on Friday that would impose a prison sentence of up to 15 years. for people who intentionally spread “fake”. information about the Russian Armed Forces.

Its Russian news service will continue to operate from outside the country while the broadcaster assesses the implications of the proposed law, which is expected to come into force once Russian President Vladimir Putin signs it, as reported. expect him to do so.

“The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to put them at risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job,” BBC Director General Tim Davie said in a tweet.

“We remain committed to making accurate and independent information available to audiences around the world, including the millions of Russians who use our news services. Our journalists in Ukraine and around the world will continue to report on the invasion. of Ukraine.”

Russia cut off access to the websites of several foreign news outlets, including the BBC and Deutsche Welle, for spreading what it claimed was false information about its war in Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly complained that the Western media offers a partial — and often anti-Russian — view of the world while failing to hold its own leaders accountable for corruption and devastating foreign wars such as Iraq.

Russia’s communications watchdog said on Friday it had blocked the websites of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle and other media outlets.

“Access was restricted to a host of information resources held by foreigners,” the watchdog, known as Roskomnadzor, said in a statement.

“The grounds for restricting access to these information resources on the territory of the Russian Federation were their deliberate and systematic circulation of materials containing false information.”

He said the media spread lies about “the essence of the special military operation in Ukraine, its form, methods of combat operations, losses of the Russian armed forces and civilian casualties”.

Independent Russian media under censorship

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor Dmitry Muratov was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said on Friday it would remove from its website information about Russian military actions in Ukraine in because of censorship.

The newspaper said it would continue to report on the consequences Russia faces, including the worsening economic crisis and the persecution of dissidents.

“Military censorship in Russia has rapidly moved into a new phase: from the threat of blocking and closing down publications (almost fully implemented), it has moved to the threat of criminal prosecution of journalists and citizens which disseminate information about military hostilities that is different from Department of Defense press releases,” the newspaper said in a message to readers.

“There is no doubt that this threat will come true.”

Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov talks to the media in Moscow October 8, 2021. Muratov dedicated his Nobel Prize last year to six of the newspaper’s journalists who were murdered for their work. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

The newspaper said it could not risk the freedom of its staff but also could not ignore its readers’ desire to continue working, even under military censorship.

He said he was therefore removing materials “on this topic” from his website and social media.

Novaya Gazeta’s announcement follows the closure this week of radio station Ekho Moskvy and TV Rain, two of the few remaining liberal voices in Russian media.

Refusing to give up its editorial independence, Ekho Moskvy’s board voted to shut down the station after the attorney general’s office demanded restrictions on access to it because of what it has called false reporting on Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

TV Rain, the fledgling independent television channel that dubs itself “the optimist channel”, said it would suspend operations indefinitely.

“It will not save President Putin from the truth”

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called Russia’s actions against the media “not outrageous against our freedoms”.

“I think it’s the wrong thing to do. It won’t save President Putin from the truth,” Wallace told reporters after a meeting.
in Copenhagen defense ministers from Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden.

The European Union this week banned Russian state-controlled media RT and Sputnik. Facebook owner Meta, Google, YouTube and Alphabet Inc.’s TikTok already block access to RT and Sputnik in the EU.

Twitter said it would comply with the EU ban.

Return of short waves

The BBC announced on Wednesday that it would start broadcasting four hours of news a day in English on shortwave radio in Ukraine and parts of Russia, reviving antiquated technology used during the Cold War to circumvent censorship. of State.

The Russian-language websites of the BBC and Voice of America could not be opened without using a virtual private network on Friday, a Reuters reporter said. The English site of Voice of America was accessible, but not that of the BBC.

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Western leaders have worried for years about the dominance of state media in Russia and say the freedoms gained when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 were undone by President Vladimir Putin.

According to an official notice received on March 3, Russia’s communications watchdog said Russia’s Radio Liberty service broadcast “obviously socially significant false information about the alleged Russian attack on Ukrainian territory.”

Describing the situation in Ukraine has become a sensitive subject in Moscow.

Putin, who has described the West as an ’empire of lies’, said the ‘special military operation’ was key to keeping Russia safe after the US expanded Russia’s military alliance NATO on Russia’s borders and backed pro-Western leaders in Kiev.

Russian officials do not use the word “invasion” and say Western media have failed to report on what they call the “genocide” of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

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