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.
This week, we focus on the fallout of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. Launched last week, it already caused thousands of people to die and millions to flee their homes. It’s also causing the deaths of the few remaining independent news outlets in Russia, as well as stronger censorship of Russian propaganda outlets by the West.
Russia’s free press has been under crackdown for years. Now, however, the Russian government is destroying what has remained of independent media.
The government has mandated news outlets not to call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “war” and stick to the official propaganda line of a “special military operation”. Media outlets that cover the invasion independently have been attacked by the authorities. Two of the most prominent victims so far have been independent broadcasters Echo of Moscow and Dozhd TV (also known as TV Rain).
Echo of Moscow, a radio station founded in 1990, was taken off the air on Tuesday; on Thursday, its board of directors decided to shut down the station entirely. (It would continue activity on YouTube, where Echo of Moscow has over 1,3 million subscribers, and on social media).
Dozhd TV temporarily suspended operations after being blocked by the authorities. Founded in 2010, it was the only independent TV channel and “a symbol of free-minded journalism”. Dozhd’s chief editor Tikhon Dzyadko said he would leave the country “for a time” along with some other Dozhd’s reporters. Other independent journalists have been leaving as well.
Besides, since Thursday and Friday, there’ve been multiple independent news outlets blocked in Russia. For example, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, blocked Meduza, one of the largest independent publications for the Russian audience.
The crackdown on the last vestiges of free media will only intensify. On Friday, the lower chamber of the parliament unanimously approved the bill that would impose long prison sentences for spreading “fakes” about the Russian military, particularly its so-called “special operation.”
As Ukraine is battling the invasion, with Russian troops shelling major cities, its media outlets are working hard to continue operations.
That has been difficult given Russia’s attempts to undermine Ukrainian media, including by physical destruction. On Monday, a Russian rocket hit Kyiv’s main television tower, causing the death of five people (including camera operator Yevhenii Sakun, who is probably the first journalist to be killed in this war). Some channels went off the air, though the broadcast was largely restored later.
Ukrainian TV channels are working well in most of the country, but they aren’t available in some regions. Russian troops struck TV towers in other cities, including Kharkiv and Lutsk, and seized the infrastructure in the towns they occupied, such as Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine. There are reports of Russian channels being broadcast in Kherson, a regional center in south Ukraine.
More from The Fix: Five ways news organisations can help Ukrainian media
With TV broadcasts at risk, Ukrainians are increasingly getting important information from social platforms like Facebook and Telegram, often from the pages of government institutions. For example, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose frequent video addresses gained renown among Ukrainian and foreign audiences, has over 1.3m subscribers on Telegram and over 2.1m subscribers on Facebook.
As Western countries have imposed strict sanctions and restrictions on various parts of the Russian economy and society, one aspect has been deplatforming Russian government-supported sources.
On Sunday, the European Union announced it would ban RT, formerly known as Russia Today, and Sputnik. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called out their “toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe” and promised they “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war.”
Tech companies have actively been working for this deplatforming as well. Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube banned RT and Sputnik on the territory of Europe. As Axios puts it, “crackdowns from private companies, including Big Tech platforms, may prove even more potent [than government regulations], given how much Russian state media has relied on social networks to spread disinformation.”
Photo from Wikipedia.org