Russia cracks down on media over Ukraine, blocks Facebook

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March 4 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a law late Friday to crack down on media coverage of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s media regulator blocked access to Facebook.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian media regulator, said in a press release that Facebook would be blocked after the agency found 26 cases since October 2020 in which the social media platform discriminated against Russian media and information resources.

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It said Facebook violated federal law by restricting access to the accounts for the Zvezda TV channel, the RIA Novosti news agency, Sputnik, Russia Today and the Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru sites.

Facebook said it refused to comply with Russia’s request to stop labeling and fact-checking state-run media. Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, said Friday it was blocking Russia Today and Sputnik in the United Kingdom, as it had earlier in the European Union.

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs for Meta, said the platform would do everything it could to restore services in Russia.

“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Clegg tweeted.

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Meanwhile, lawmakers passed and Putin approved a law that targets journalists and criminalizes any reports that the government considers to be “false news” about the fighting in Ukraine.

Under the new law, reporters can face up to 10 years in prison for giving out false information — and 15 years if the offense has “grave consequences.”

The law prohibits describing the Russian campaign in Ukraine as an “invasion” or “war,” and encourages reporters to call it “a special military operation.”

In response, the BBC said it would temporarily suspend its operations in Russia.

“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” BBC director-general Tim Davie said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Russia has also cut access to Western media websites, including the BBC and Deutsche Welle.

Proponents of the new law justified it by saying Ukrainian media are using footage from fighting in the Donbas region several years ago and presenting it as evidence of war crimes against Russia for its current military campaign.

Lawmakers say the reports are creating a negative image of Russia as a “bloody aggressor” and whipping up “panic in society.”

The Committee To Protect Journalists said in a statement on Thursday that the Russian law is an “obvious threat to free speech and the independent press.”

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