Tass, the Russian news service, reports a new law was unanimously passed and went into effect over the weekend:
Article 207.3 “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” will appear in the Criminal Code (CC) of the Russian Federation. This article provides for imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles. At the same time, if an official position is used in the commission of a crime or actions are committed out of mercenary motives, then a punishment of five to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to 5 million rubles is provided. If the fake information caused serious consequences, the term of imprisonment will be from 10 to 15 years.
Some Russian media suspended operations because of the new restrictions, including Dozhd, The Village and Znak.com.
The Russian government also blocked some Western news sources, including the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Meduza, and German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
This perhaps is a place where I should say that I am proud to be a teacher for journalists at both VOA and Radio Free Europe.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has suspended its operations in Russia after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists. These Kremlin attacks on RFE/RL’s ability to operate in Russia are the culmination of a years-long pressure campaign against RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991 when it established its Moscow bureau at the invitation of then-President Boris Yeltsin.
Also on March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that could subject any journalist who deviates from the Kremlin’s talking points on the Ukraine war to a 15-year prison sentence. Because RFE/RL journalists continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbor, the company plans to report about these developments from outside of Russia.
Over the last week, nine of RFE/RL’s Russian language websites were blocked after RFE/RL refused to comply with the Russian government’s demands to delete information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Overnight on March 3-4, Russian authorities blocked access within Russia to websites run by RFE/RL’s Russian, Tatar-Bashkir, and North Caucasus services, including the Russian-language North.Realities, Siberia.Realities, Idel.Realities, and Caucasus.Realities sites. On February 28, Russia blocked access to two other RFE/RL websites, including Current Time, the 24/7 digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
Before Russia blocked the BBC, the British news service announced it was bringing back WWII-era broadcasting technology by resorting to shortwave radio broadcasts on the frequencies of 15735 kHz from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and 5875 kHz from midnight to 2 a.m., Ukraine time.
The BBC also offers a higher security online service, which The Verge explains:
The BBC says users may Download its iOS and Android apps as a workaround to access its online coverage. In 2019, the corporation also launched a Tor Onion domain, which is designed to offer a more secure, higher performance, and censorship-resistant way to access its website via Tor browsers compared to a typical .com or .co.uk URL. The BBC’s current onion domain is: https://www.bbcnewsd73hkzno2ini43t4gblxvycyac5aw4gnv7t2rccijh7745uqd.onion
BBC explains the Tor network:
The BBC World Service’s news content became available on the Tor network last week in a move that attracted wide media attention.
The decision to go ahead with setting this service up came at a time when BBC News is either blocked or restricted in several parts of the world.
For example, in Egypt, Iran and China, our audiences are finding it either impossible or difficult to access our content without the use of a circumvention tool, such as a VPN.
The Tor network is an overlay network on the internet, which provides increased security and is resistant to blocking.
The Kyiv Independent (which I read every day and you should too) included these two notes about media coverage in Ukraine:
The Russian military seized a TV broadcasting tower in Kherson. As a result, there are concerns that it will be used to disseminate misinformation across this city.
Russia demands Telegram remove bots that search the platform for evidence of Russian servicemen captured or killed in Ukraine.
Make no mistake about the hunger for news within Russia and Ukraine. Radio Free Europe reports, “During the period February 23-March 1, audiences viewed RFE/RL videos 436.4 million times on Facebook, 305.4 million times on YouTube, and 83.2 million times on Instagram – reflecting increases of 265 percent, 406 percent, and 185 percent, respectively, over the previous week.”
Poynter’s Tom Jones has more on this with “The grim consequences of Russia’s media blackout.”
Correction: This article repeatedly misspelled Znak.com. We regret the error.
This article originally appeared in Covering COVID-19, a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.