Updated Mar 8, 2022 - Economy

News outlets leaving Russia amid free press crackdown

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Bloomberg and the BBC were the first news outlets to suspend their news operations in Russia after lawmakers approved legislation that threatens to imprison journalists and individuals for up to 15 years if they publish what Moscow deems to be "fake" information about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Why it matters: The new law will make it very hard for Western outlets to report factually from the ground on what's happening in Russia.

The latest: The New York Times announced on Tuesday that it is removing its journalists from Russia, saying that the legislation "seeks to criminalize independent, accurate news reporting about the war against Ukraine."

  • White its staff is leaving Russia, "We will continue our live, robust coverage of the war and our rigorous reporting on Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and these attempts to stifle independent journalism," said Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha.

Radio Free Europe said that it has suspended operations in Russia not only due to the law, but because "local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists."

"This legislation appears to criminalise the process of independent journalism," BBC director-general Tim Davie said in a statement.

  • "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," he said, adding that the BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside the country.
  • “The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs. I’d like to pay tribute to all of them, for their bravery, determination and professionalism."
  • Davie said earlier this week that millions of people in Russia were turning to the BBC, speaking to the thirst for independent reporting from within the country.

Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait wrote to the organization's editorial and research staff on Friday that the company has "with great regret decided to temporarily suspend our news gathering inside Russia."

  • "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," Micklethwait wrote.
  • "We will not do that to our reporters in Russia who have produced such extraordinary coverage under already trying circumstances," he added.
  • "We will obviously continue to support our staff in the country, even if for now they can no longer do their jobs there. And of course Bloomberg will continue to write and broadcast about Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world - but for the moment we will do that from outside Russia."

Meanwhile, CNN on Friday said that it would "stop broadcasting in Russia while we continue to evaluate the situation and our next steps moving forward."

  • ABC said it would not broadcast from Russia Friday night and would "continue to assess the situation and determine what this means for the safety of our teams on the ground."
  • CBS also said it would pause broadcasting in Russia while it monitors "the circumstances for our team on the ground given" the new restrictive law.

Catch up quick: Russia's media regulator Roskomnadzor on Tuesday restricted access to Russian independent outlets Radio Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV for "deliberately" sharing what it claimed was false information about the invasion.

  • Both outlets, the State Department said, have reputations for high-quality reporting within Russia and beyond.

Between the lines: Russian regulators have cracked down on independent voices for years, but they ramped up those efforts — including restricting tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter — following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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