Russia Passes New Censorship Law Over Ukraine War
Russia’s national parliament, the Duma, passed a new law Friday that will make it a criminal act to call the war in Ukraine a war.
The move prompted the BBC to immediately suspend the work of its journalists in the country over fears for their safety.
“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalist,” wrote BBC director-general Tim Davie. “It leaves us no other option than 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 unwelcome development.”
Davie said the decision was taken so as not to expose its journalists to the “risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs.” He also confirmed that the BBC News service in Russian would continue to operate from outside Russia and that its journalists would continue to report from within Ukraine.
The new legislation envisions penalties of up to 15 years in prison for the distribution of “false news” about military operations in Ukraine, which the Russian military invaded Feb. 24. “False news” is described as anything not officially approved by Moscow.
Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has issued strict guidelines over coverage of Ukraine and the Russian military, ordering media across the country to only publish information provided by official sources. It is forbidden, for example, to describe the attacks on Ukraine as an “invasion” or a “war”; instead, they must be called a “special military operation.”
The crackdown on independent media has already led to the shuttering of two of Russia’s last remaining popular independent news sources.
On March 3, the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station, which first went on air in 1990, said it was closing down. Popular Russian television channel Dozhd on Thursday also suspended its operations amid pressure linked to its coverage.
Dozhd CEO Natalya Sindeyeva announced the decision live on air, saying she had taken the drastic step after a meeting of Dozhd’s staff members. The move came just a day after Dozhd’s chief editor, Tikhon Dzyadko, announced on Telegram that he and several other Dozhd journalists had left Russia out of fear for their safety.
The U.S. State Department this week accused Moscow of mounting “a full assault on media freedom and the truth,” saying officials there are seeking to “mislead and suppress” information about Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has also reportedly blocked access to Twitter and Facebook, several big app stores, and Western news organizations including Germany’s Deutsche Welle, according to Der Spiegel reporter Mathieu von Rohr.
Russia blocks Twitter, Facebook, BBC, Deutsche Welle, App Stores
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) March 3, 2022
8:52 a.m. Updated with news of the BBC suspending the work of its journalists in Russia.