BBC suspends journalism in Russia as Kremlin cracks down on independent news

New law threatens lengthy jail sentences for ‘false’ reports

Liam James
Friday 04 March 2022 20:31
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The BBC is temporarily suspending the work its journalists in Russia after the Moscow parliament backed a crackdown on reporting of the war in Ukraine that differs from the government line.

Tim Davie, BBC director-general, said new legislation “appears to criminalise” independent journalism.

He said the corporation was halting newsgathering work by its journalists and support staff in Russia “while we assess the full implications of this unwelcome development.”

The Russian parliament approved a law on Friday that would make it a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison to spread what the Kremlin deems to be “fake” or “false” news about the Ukraine invasion.

The law could be signed by Vladimir Putin and take effect as soon as Saturday.

Mr Davie staff safety was “paramount” and the BBC was not prepared to risk prosecution of its journalists “simply for doing their jobs”.

He said the BBC’s Russian-language news service would remain in operation from outside Russia.

The BBC remained “committed to making accurate, independent information” available to all, including Russians, he said, adding that the corporation would continue to cover the invasion from Ukraine.

Dissent has been fiercely opposed by the Russian state with many protesters being arrested

Jonathan Munro, interim director of BBC News, said the corporation was not “pulling out journalists from Moscow”.

He tweeted: “We cannot use their reporting for the time being but they remain valued members of our teams and we hope to get them back on our output as soon as possible.”

The Moscow parliament passed the law as part of a state campaign of censorship against the few remaining independent media outlets in Russia that seeks to stem dissent among the country’s population.

Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media monitor, has restricted access to the independent news outlets Radio Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV and liberal radio station Echo of Moscow has been taken off air.

The Kremlin has also told media to only use official state sources for their invasion reports and proscribed certain words.

“Attack, invasion and war” were all banned, Russian news site Meduza said. State media outlets are referring to it only as a “special military operation”.

Meduza said its website was blocked in Russia on Friday. “This attack on the free press is happening because the Kremlin has something to hide — because it has more in store,” it said.

Social media sites have also been restricted.

In the UK, Ofcom is investigating the impartiality of programmes on the Kremlin-backed RT news channel, formerly known as Russia Today.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries earlier this week said RT should lose its licence and “never again” be able to broadcast “poisonous propaganda”.

But Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned Russia might retaliate to an RT ban by banning the BBC.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday accused the BBC of playing “a determined role in undermining the Russian stability and security”.

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