Russia’s War on Ukraine Is a Threat to Press Freedom: RSF

JAccording to Reporters Without Borders, ournalism is being put under more pressure in Ukraine. The situation has been made worse by the conflict.

RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index released on May 3, which measures access to information and curbs on journalistic freedoms, found that the situation for the press is “very bad” in 28 countries, “difficult” in 42 and “problematic” in 62. These 132 countries make up just 73% of all the 180 nations that were surveyed.

Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war is a threat to the future of Ukrainian media, which were already fairly restricted before the invasion due to an oligarch monopoly, according to RSF. Russia, on the other hand, ranks at 155. Ukraine is placed at 106 in the Index of 180 Countries.

“In this ‘information war’, Ukraine stands at the front line of resistance against the expansion of the Kremlin’s propaganda system,” RSF said in its report.

Journalists in Ukraine have been targeted deliberately by military fire since February. According to the Moscow Times at least twenty journalists were killed.

Ukraine’s government has blocked media carrying Kremlin-backed propaganda, while the Russian army has deliberately targeted journalists, media and infrastructure to prevent the Ukrainian population from having access to independent news and information.

Russia had already tightened its control over journalism before the war in Ukraine. But some independent media outlets tried to question the official narrative. That changed on March 4, when President Vladimir Putin enacted a law making sharing “false information” about the war punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Access to Facebook and other news sources was also restricted by the Kremlin.

The clampdown forced independent media outlets—including Novaya Gazeta, which is led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov—to cease publication. Russian translation of Euronews was suspended by the country’s media regulator on March 22, and all privately-owned independent TV channels, except for cable entertainment channels, are banned from broadcasting.

RSF reports that the Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine, Crimea, Donbass and Donbass have a media blackout and are frequently replaced with Kremlin propaganda.

On April 1, footage was circulated social mediaMargarita Simonyan is the Russian State Broadcaster RT Editor in Chief. She advocates for media censorship. “No great nation can exist without control over information,” she said.

RSF has found that global media polarization increased by twofold in the last year. Geopolitical tensions are being fuelled by the disparity in open societies and authoritarian regimes which censor negative media coverage, and promote propaganda. Leading up to and following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia disseminated false information to dupe Ukrainian forces, denounced foreign reports of war crimes as “fakes”, and criminalized anti-war reporting back home.

“The creation of media weaponry in authoritarian countries eliminates their citizens’ right to information but is also linked to the rise in international tension, which can lead to the worst kind of wars,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

Afghanistan: Women journalists are most at risk

In Afghanistan, and Hong Kong, the index of press freedom showed that there have been increased restrictions on journalists. The fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August last year radically altered Afghanistan’s media landscape—within the space of three months, almost half of media outlets disappeared. RSF reports that only 4 out 10 of the country’s journalists were working at the end of 2013. RSF says that the country fell to number 156, the lowest category.

“Journalists and independent media all over the world are at risk right now,” says Zahra Joya, an Afghan journalist who leads an independent platform to spotlight women’s stories in Afghanistan.

Joya founded Rukhshana Media 2020 in order to work with female journalists in Pakistan. She says that many people fear for their safety. “They are working in extremely difficult situations because they are in hiding,” she says. “They are in serious danger, they could be tortured.” The few that can work are forced by the Taliban to cover up and are completely separated from their male colleagues. In southern regions like Kandahar, Joya says there isn’t a single woman journalist left working.

RSF discovered that only 410 female journalists were working in Pakistan in December. It is a reflection of a nationwide trend where nearly half the men and four of five women lost their jobs. Joya fled the country because she saw the Taliban’s threat to journalists working in women’s media.

If women are not represented in newsrooms, the Afghan media will fail half the country’s population, Joya says. “If women can’t be educated, and they can’t have contact with the male journalists, they can’t share their stories and experiences,” Joya says.

Taliban were in last power between 1996 and 2001. They also review media coverage before it is published to eliminate negative coverage. “They haven’t changed. They are still the Taliban who they were in 1996,” Joya says.

National Security Law crackdowns on Hong Kong journalists

The introduction of the National Security Law (June 2020) has restricted the freedom to the press in Hong Kong. This law prohibits any acts that are treasonous, secessionist, or subversion against China’s government. Following the silencing of prominent journalists and media outlets in the past year, Hong Kong has fallen over a third of the way down RSF’s index.

There will be two independent major news outlets in 2021 Apple Daily Stand NewsFollowing the seizure of their assets by the government, they were forced to cease operations. However, smaller media outlets also had to stop operating due to legal risk.

Radio broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong—once seen as Hong Kong’s version of the BBC—has been placed under a pro-government management, which has prevented programs featuring pro-democracy advocates from airing. Beijing-backed Hong Kong lawmakers claim that the broadcaster is biased and welcome the dismissal any members of the editorial team who criticize the regime. It has been also used by Beijing to advocate for changes in electoral laws.

RSF claims journalists are the prime targets of the National Security Law. A dozen others were also detained in 2019 following the hundreds-of journalists’ arrests during pro-democracy demonstrations. An ex-columnist and prominent journalist was arrested earlier in the month. Stand News Allan Au was arrested for allegedly conspiring to publish “seditious materials”.

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