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BBC, CNN and CBS on defensive as Putin signs ‘fake news’ law

Global media outlets have joined the BBC to suspend news reporting in Russia over fears of staff safety.

The decision comes after Moscow passed a law that appeared to “criminalise” journalism and threatened jail terms of up to 15 years for spreading “fake news”.

It an attempt to hit back in the information war, the Russian government also imposed fines for anyone calling for sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Media bosses said the new legislation would hamper independent reporting and imperil journalists.

The BBC said on Friday it had temporarily halted reporting in Russia, and by the end of the day, the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Bloomberg News said their journalists were also stopping work.

Jonathan Munro, an interim director of BBC News, said the corporation was not “pulling out” journalists from Moscow but assessing the impact of the new law.

CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed Russian-based journalists’ bylines as they assessed the situation.

Russian officials have said that false information had been spread by its enemies such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people.

News executives said their organisations must balance the obligation to audiences to report the news with protecting journalists against retaliation.

“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 wrote in a message to his staff. “We will not do that to our reporters.”

BBC journalists, including the likes of Clive Myrie, have been praised in the West for their fearless and unbiased reporting on the bloodshed as questions are raised about the progress of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

BBC Director General Tim Davie said the legislation “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 added that the BBC News Service in Russian would continue to operate from outside Russia.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp, the country’s public broadcaster, said it had temporarily suspended reporting from the ground in Russia so it could seek clarity on the new law.

US television newscaster ABC News said it would pause broadcasting from Russia as it assessed the situation.

The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Reuters said they were evaluating the new media law and the situation.

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

Western governments and tech platforms have also banned the Russian news network RT, with the European Union accusing it of systematic disinformation over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. i-News

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