Global media on the defensive after Putin signs ‘fake news’ law
LONDON/LOS ANGELES: Global news media have announced they are suspending reporting in Russia to protect their journalists after a new law threatened prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading “false news”.
Britain’s BBC said on Friday it had temporarily halted reporting in Russia, and at the end of the day the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Bloomberg News said their reporters were also halting work. CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed the bylines of Russia-based reporters as they assessed the situation.
With Russia’s attack on Ukraine drawing almost universal condemnation, Moscow has sought to retaliate in information warfare. Its communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, blocked Meta Platform Inc’s Facebook, citing 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media. The TASS news agency reported that Russia also restricted access to Twitter.
Russian officials have said that false information has been spread by enemies of Russia such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people.
Lawmakers passed amendments to the penal code making spreading “false” information an offense punishable by fines or jail time. They also imposed fines on anyone who called for sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters on media companies’ decisions to suspend reporting.
News officials said the new law would hamper independent reporting and put journalists at risk, and that their organizations needed to balance the public’s obligation to report news with protecting journalists from retaliation.
“The change to the penal code, which appears designed to make any freelance journalist a criminal by mere association, makes it impossible for any semblance of normal journalism to continue inside the country,” Bloomberg editor John Micklethwait wrote. , in a message. to its staff. “We will not do this to our journalists.”
BBC Director General Tim Davie said the new legislation appeared to criminalize the process of independent journalism.
“This leaves us with no choice but to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation while we assess the full implications of this unwanted development,” he said. he said in a statement.
He added that the BBC Russian news service would continue to operate from outside Russia. Jonathan Munro, acting director of BBC News, said the company was not “removing” journalists from Moscow but was assessing the impact of the new law.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the country’s public broadcaster, said it had temporarily suspended reporting from the ground in Russia so it could get clarification on the new law.
The American television presenter ABC News said he would suspend broadcasting from Russia while he assessed the situation. The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Reuters said they were assessing the new media law and the situation.
“Our top priorities are the safety of our employees and covering this important story fairly and completely,” Dow Jones spokesman Steve Severinghaus said. “Being in Moscow, being able to talk freely to officials and picking up the mood, is key to this mission.”
By sending his forces into Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin sparked the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War, hitting financial and commodity markets, sending the ruble into a tailspin and triggering isolation. economic never seen before on such a great economy.
Western governments and tech platforms have also banned Russian news network RT, with the European Union accusing it of systematic misinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says Western media offer a partial — and often anti-Russian — view of the world while failing to hold their own leaders accountable for corruption or devastating foreign wars like Iraq.
Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former US President Barack Obama, have long worried about the dominance of state media in Russia and say the freedoms won during the collapse of the Union Soviet were canceled by Putin.
The new legislation was drafted by Russia’s upper house of parliament and signed into law by Putin, TASS reported. It appears to give the Russian state far stronger powers of enforcement, making it a criminal offense to spread false information, punishable by imprisonment.
“If the counterfeits lead to serious consequences, a prison sentence of up to 15 years threatens,” the lower house of parliament, known as the Duma in Russian, said in a statement.
Russia previously cut off access to the websites of several foreign news outlets, including the BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle, for spreading what it considered false information about its war in Ukraine.
The BBC has announced that it will 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 in the state.
(Writing by Kate Holton and Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr, Dawn Chmielewski and David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Daniel Wallis)