The last remaining free media in Russia is under attack. Access to the BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Meduza, and Radio Liberty has been severely restricted. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have also been blocked or restricted.
The BBC was one of the first large publishers to report that they are targeted by Russian authorities. Russian visits to the BBC had spiked since the start of the invasion, as people were trying to understand what was really going on — and not just what the Russian censors allow. Apparently, Russian authorities did not like this and decided to take action.
A BBC spokesperson acknowledged this and said the network was already working on a way to circumvent this.
“Access to accurate, independent information is a fundamental human right which should not be denied to the people of Russia, millions of whom rely on BBC News every week.
“We will continue our efforts to make BBC News available in Russia, and across the rest of the world.”
Apparently, the BBC resorted to broadcasting news bulletins over WWII-era shortwave radio frequencies. These shortwave radio frequencies carry over long distances and will be accessible to people in Ukraine as well as “some parts of Russia”. While not perfect, this is an emergency way to get some reliable news into Russia, the BBC added.
“In a conflict where disinformation and propaganda is rife, there is a clear need for factual and independent news people can trust,” said BBC director-general Tim Davie. “We will continue giving the Russian people access to the truth, however we can.”
The state-owned Russian RIA news agency reported that in addition to blocking BBC News, they’ve also restricted access to the US government-funded Radio Liberty, the Latvia-based Russian/English news site Meduza, US state-owned radio broadcaster Voice of America, and German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Yesterday, one of Russia’s last independent news outlets, TV Rain, was forced to stopp broadcasting after it provided coverage of the invasion. The channel ended its final broadcast by showing staff walking off set and playing ‘Swan Lake’ before going offline — echoing what Russians saw on TV after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Now, virtually every free media operating in Russia has either been banned, blocked, or restricted — both national and international — the international ones for “undermining the Russian stability and security”.
Russian media is not allowed to mention the word “war” — it’s a “special operation”, and using the word “war” or any other words that “discredit the military” can get you 15 years in jail. The regulator, Roskomnadzor, issued warning letters to at least 10 media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, run by Nobel Peace laureate Dmitry Muratov.
“Literally by tomorrow, this law will force punishment — and very tough punishment — on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s State Duma legislative body, in a statement quoted by Reuters.
Essentially, this has criminalized free journalism, locking Russians away from the free flow of information.
“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” Davie added in a statement. “Our BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia. The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs.”
Social media is also targeted in Russia. Although reports are inconsistent, it appears that Facebook, Twitter, and even Youtube have been blocked or severely restricted in Russia. Sir Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs of Meta (Facebook’s parent company) tweeted:
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out.”
The situation is still unfolding, but if Russian authorities have their way, the Russian people will be isolated for individual journalism and social networks.