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Weekly Digest: Russian Crackdown, New Pegasus Revelations

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Two Russian news outlets shut down this week after they had been added to a government blocklist. The outlets, Open Media and MBK Media, have been supported by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once a Russian oligarch and now a prominent Kremlin critic in exile. 

Roskomnadzor (RKN), a federal communications agency, blocked access to the websites at the request of the Russian Attorney General’s Office. The publications decided to shut down in the wake of risks for their staff and audiences.

Although Russian authorities have relied on the laws about “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations” to crack down on critical news outlets in the past, the push has intensified in recent months in the wake of the upcoming parliamentary election, with several notable outlets either being forced to close or facing difficulties in operating.

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: News Publishers Protected and Attacked 

This week brought further revelations from “The Pegasus project, a major journalistic investigation that revealed the scope of authoritarian regimes surveilling activists and journalists across dozens of countries with the use of hacking software Pegasus.

More from The Fix: Pegasus shows just how vital journalism networks and cybersecurity training are for journalists

First, an investigation by French intelligence services confirmed traces of Pegasus spyware on the phones of three journalists. According to The Guardian, “it is the first time an independent and official authority has corroborated the findings of an international investigation by the Pegasus project.” The hack targeted one journalist for France 24, France’s international television station, and two employees for the investigative website Mediapart.

Second, new reports highlighted one of the tactics used to harass targeted reporters – the use of private photos for female journalists in the Middle East. One of the victims has been Ghada Oueiss, a Lebanese reporter working for Al-Jazeera. As NBC News puts it, “while… tame by Western standards, [the photos] are considered scandalous in conservative societies like Saudi Arabia and were seemingly used to publicly shame these women and smear their reputations.”

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: Pegasus Revelations and Ad Boom

In Belarus, a court sentenced a journalist to jail time on the grounds of insulting Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the country’s authoritarian ruler. 

Siarhei Hardziyevich, who had been working for a popular regional news outlet, was found guilty of insulting Lukashenka in messages in a deleted chat group on Viber; the court sentenced him to a $1,600 fine and a prison term. Hardziyevich pleaded not guilty; he has been deemed a political prisoner by “Viasna,” a Belarusian human rights center.

As ABC News reminds, “a total of 29 Belarusian journalists remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.”

More from The Fix: Mass crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists in Belarus / Help needed: what can be done to support Belarusian media  

Sky News Australia, one of the largest news channels in the country, has been banned on YouTube for a week for breaking the platform’s rules on spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

According to The Guardian’s summary, YouTube’s ban on Sky News Australia uploading new videos for seven days came after “[the] channel posted videos denying the existence of [COVID-19] and encouraging people to use discredited medication.”

The channel, which belongs to the News Corp Australia media conglomerate, has around 1.85m subscribers on YouTube and has been accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation before. 

Photo by Andrew Keymaster on Unsplash


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