On July 8th, Lithuania's official media commission (LRTK) banned
the broadcasting of Russia's state-controlled RT network
. One of the primary reasons for Lithuania's decision was the presumed control of the Russian media outlet by Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian national sanctioned by the European Union in 2014 for "propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine". The Lithuanian decision follows a similar announcement
by their neighbor Latvia one week earlier.
Our professional organization expresses a deep concern on this behalf.
We are unconditional opponents of propaganda, manipulation of facts, and information wars that are a genuine threat to true journalism. However, we are convinced that only accurate and impartial information -- rather than pressure or censorship -- should be used to oppose these harmful practices. It should also be reminded that, traditionally, the EFJ has supported that point of view.
In some cases, where inaccurate or false information is presumed to be consciously used, legal action may, of course, be necessary. But the synchronicity of the actions in Baltic countries against the RT network
and the dubious nature of the pretext used for the ban leads us to believe that they were initiated by certain politicians pursuing political objectives.
Legally -- and therefore formally -- the RT network
is a separate entity from the Rossiya Segodnya
news agency now under the direction of Mr. Kiselyov, who serves as General Director.
The fact that, six years later after Russia's annexation of Crimea and the sanctions against Kiselyov, authorities in Lithuania and Latvia have suddenly discovered a link between Mr. Kiselyov and RT's activities raises the suspicion that the ban is a classic аbuse of laws and regulations. We assume that RT's lawyers are likely to challenge these decisions in court, both domestically and within the European Union.
More worrying still, the Latvian media regulatory authorities are calling on other EU countries to follow their example and ban the RT network
from broadcasting on their territory. For the first time in history, the word "sanctions" is widely applied not to individuals (like Mr. Kiselyov) or government-affiliated businesses, but rather the media itself. This creates a real risk that the entire media horizon on the European continent will be caught up in a spiral of mutual prohibitions and persecutions.
Therefore, we are asking the European Federation of Journalists, the European Commission, and other European and supra-European institutions such as the OSCE to urgently analyse this disturbing situation and open a transparent dialogue to draw up common recommendations for action in such cases as soon as possible.
The case with RT network presents another very important issue that needs addressing. We must bear in mind the extent to which the fragmentary -- and, perhaps, unfair -- ban of Russian state-sponsored media by individual EU countries can be used as a pretext for restricting media freedom within Russia and the wider post-Soviet region.
For example, we recall the time when draconian Russian laws restricting the Internet were being drafted. At the time, the law's authors in the Russian Duma cited similar German measures to justify the move. In the words of Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporter ohne Grenzen: "Germany's online hate speech law now serves as a model for undemocratic states to limit debate on the Internet".
The Russian government and other repressive regimes within OSCE member states seize every opportunity to put more pressure on independent voices inside their countries and strengthen control over free media. Therefore, we feel the decision to ban RT network
may have potentially far-reaching negative repercussions on independent Russian media, while further fueling tensions between Russia and the Baltics states.
In our view, what is truly needed in such situations is to seek a way to defuse tensions and confront state propaganda by developing and supporting independent Russian media projects and empowering Russian journalists without media 'blacklists', information wars, and international sanctions.