RUSSIA -- A view of the newsroom of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Moscow,April 6, 2021
Russia's two leading social networks have blocked material by RFE/RL's Russian Service at the request of the country’s media regulator in the latest government move to clamp down on independent news organizations.
VKontakte, which is known as VK and is Russia's largest social-media company, and Odnoklassniki informed RFE/RL of the request on March 11. Yandex.Zen, which is a division of the Russian search giant Yandex, also moved to block RFE/RL's Russian Service content.
The companies said media regulator Roskomnadzor made the request after the Prosecutor-General's Office claimed RFE/RL's materials published on the social networks, as well as on the online service, "carry false information of social importance that may threaten the lives and/or health of citizens, and a disruption of social order and/or public safety." The day before, VK, Odnoklassniki, and Yandex.Zen informed Current Time that its accounts will also be blocked for similar reasons.
The demands come after the government recently passed two laws that criminalize independent war reporting and any protests against the war in Ukraine. Among other things, the laws make it illegal to spread "fake news" about the Russian armed forces and threaten prison terms of up to 15 years.
Roskomnadzor has ordered Russian media to only publish information provided by official sources. It has also forbidden media outlets from describing the Ukraine fight as a war or invasion, instead ordering it be called a "special military operation."
"Not satisfied by merely blocking the websites of independent outlets, the Kremlin is now purging Russian platforms of factual information about the war in Ukraine," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement on March 10.
"No matter what measures the Putin regime takes to block our content, RFE/RL will continue to use all tools at our disposal to share the truth with Russian audiences," he said. Current Time and RFE/RL have refused official demands to censor their reporting, calling it fair and accurate. Independent news media in Russia have been under pressure for years, mainly due to the decade-old "foreign agent" law. But since the Russian invasion on February 24, a growing number of Russian and foreign media organization have suspended news operations within Russia, pulled their correspondents, and shifted to anonymous bylines. The restrictions are the tightest in Russia since the Soviet Union. Aside from Current Time -- which is a 24/7 Russian-language TV news channel run by RFE/RL in conjunction with Voice of America -- Idel.Realities, a regional RFE/RL news site covering the central Volga region, also received notification from VK.
Among the major international broadcasters who have announced suspensions within Russia include BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and CBS. Germany's ARD and ZDF suspended operations, but said on March 11 that they will resume some broadcasting from their Moscow studios. "Based on the assessment [of the situation], ARD and ZDF, following consultations with partners in the EBU [European Broadcasting Union], have decided to resume coverage of events from Moscow studios on the political, economic and social situation in Russia. However, reporting on military events in Ukraine will be done from other studios of the two public broadcasters," the said in a statement. Multiple websites of RFE/RL, the BBC, Current Time, and other outlets have also been blocked over what Russian regulators allege are erroneous reports. Roskomnadzor has also moved to block foreign social media, such as Facebook.