Putin’s struggle to control the narrative ‘on full speed,’ prompting safety concerns from key media outlets

As Russia discovers the reality of invading Ukraine isn’t nearly as easy as one may have initially thought, Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to extreme measures to muzzle the media, leaving many in the news business to reevaluate how they should report from the aggressive nation.

In a shocking global display of censorship and anti-press policies, Putin last week signed into law legislation that criminalizes “Fake News” and making the spreading of it a crime worthy of fines and up to 15 years in a Russian jail. Additionally, Russia has blocked Facebook and restricted access to Twitter, and has vowed to fine anyone who calls for sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The disturbing move, according to Reuters, has led many of the world’s news outlets to stop reporting from Russia or risk the safety of their journalists.

CNN was among the first to pack up their Russian desks, drawing from many who see the network as an endless well of fake news more than a few smirks.

But CNN isn’t the only one calling it quits.

“The change to the criminal code, which seems designed to turn any independent reporter into a criminal purely by association, makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country,” Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait stated in a memo to his staff, adding, “We will not do that to our reporters.”

BBC Director General Tim Davie said he had “no other option” than to do the same.

“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 in a statement, noting that the Russian BBC News Service would continue its operations from outside the country.

In a Twitter thread, New York Times Deputy Managing Editor and former Moscow bureau chief  Cliff Levy said he was “saddened” by a statement from NYT Assistant Managing Editor Michael Slackman to the company announcing that The Times would be joining the media’s exodus from Russia.

“I know many of you are concerned for the safety of our reporters and support teams working in Russia,” Slackman wrote. “Russian authorities are clamping down harder on news and free speech than at any time during President Vladimir V. Putin’s 22 years in power, pushing through a law that effectively criminalizes independent news reporting about the war against Ukraine.”

“We have been working with legal counsel, security teams, and our team of highly experienced journalists in the region to understand the potential ramifications of this latest maneuver,” he continued. “In order to protect the safety and security of our editorial staff, we are moving them out of the country for now.”

“We look forward to returning them as soon as possible while we monitor the situation closely,” Slackman added.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., ABC News, the Washington Post, Dow Jones and Reuters all said “they were evaluating the new media law and the situation,” Reuters reported.

“Our top priorities are the safety of our employees and covering this important story fairly and fully,” Dow Jones spokesperson Steve Severinghaus said. “Being in Moscow, freely able to talk to officials and capture the mood, is key to that mission.”

Meanwhile, as The Hill reports, there are still some independent media outlets remaining  inside Russia who are trying to counter Russia’s pro-invasion propaganda.

Irina Borogan, an independent journalist who fled Russia last year, said, “What we see right now is an incredibly stupid propaganda law. But the Kremlin also thought that Russia would take control over Kyiv in the first few days after the invasion.”

“Not that [the invasion] is turning into a long and contentious war, the propaganda can only do so much and state authorities are trying to make it even more difficult for news about the invasion to spread domestically.”

According to Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, things will likely get much worse now that Russia’s propaganda machine is “on full speed.”

“There is very little independent reporting on any issues in Russia, let alone the war in Ukraine,” said Said. “We haven’t seen this kind of exodus among the Russian intelligentsia since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.”

“As long as the war continues and if Russia loses… unless Putin is removed from power one way or another,” Said predicted, “these repressions aren’t going to stop.”

 

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