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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Several Western news organizations suspend operations in Russia

In the studio of “Echo of Moscow” after the announcement of the liquidation of the radio station, in Moscow, March 3, 2022.

By Michael M. Grynbaum, John Koblin and Tiffany Hsu

Several Western media organizations moved late last week to suspend their journalistic operations in Russia in the wake of a harsh new crackdown on news and free speech by President Vladimir Putin’s government.

Bloomberg News and the BBC said their correspondents in Russia could no longer freely report because of the new censorship law signed by Putin on Friday, which effectively criminalized independent journalism on the invasion of Ukraine. Under the legislation, which could take effect as early as Saturday, journalists who simply describe the war as a “war” could be sentenced to prison.

“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’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, wrote in a note to staff.

CNN International, the global arm of CNN, said it had stopped airing in Russia, and ABC News said that it would not broadcast from the country Friday. “We will continue to assess the situation and determine what this means for the safety of our teams on the ground,” ABC News, which is based in New York, said in a statement.

News organizations are not necessarily asking their correspondents to leave Russia, at least not yet.

“We are not pulling out BBC News journalists from Moscow,” Jonathan Munro, interim director of BBC News, wrote on Twitter. “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.”

He added: “Thoughts with colleagues in Moscow whose voices cannot be silenced for long.”

A spokesperson for The New York Times had no immediate comment Friday.

The censorship law builds on the Kremlin’s insistence that characterizations of its attacks on Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion” rather than a “special military operation” amount to disinformation. Its passage prompted several independent Russian media outlets to shut down their operations as well.

Several foreign news outlets said their journalists in Ukraine would continue to report on the Russian invasion. This week, the BBC said it would use shortwave radio frequencies to broadcast news in Kyiv and in parts of Russia.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, accused the BBC of playing “a determined role in undermining the Russian stability and security.” Early Friday, the BBC reported that access to its website in Russia appeared to be restricted.

Putin has been dismantling the last vestiges of a Russian free press. On Thursday, the pillars of Russia’s independent broadcast media collapsed under pressure from the state.

Echo of Moscow, a freewheeling radio station that was founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and symbolized Russia’s new freedoms, was “liquidated” by its board. TV Rain, a youthful independent television station that calls itself “the optimistic channel,” said it would suspend operations indefinitely.

And Dmitry Muratov, a journalist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said that his newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which survived the killings of six of its journalists, could be on the verge of shutting down as well.

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