ROME (Reuters) – Italian state broadcaster RAI said on Saturday it was suspending operations in Russia to “protect the safety” of its reporters after Moscow introduced a law threatening prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading what the government terms fake news.
Germany’s top public broadcasters ARD and ZDF also said on Saturday they had suspended coverage out of their respective Moscow studios “for the time being”.
They joined a growing number of international media companies, including Britain’s BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Bloomberg News, to halt reporting in Russia.
“This measure is necessary in order to protect the safety of journalists on the spot and (ensure) maximum freedom of information about the country,” RAI said in a statement.
It added that news on Russia would be provided by journalists working in neighbouring countries or back in Italy. RAI did not say how many journalists it currently had in Russia.
A spokesperson for WDR, a regional affiliate of ARD, said “ARD and ZDF are examining the consequences of the law passed on Friday and are suspending coverage from their Moscow studios for the time being”.
The spokesperson said the two broadcasters would continue to provide audiences with information on events in Russia and Ukraine from their other locations, the spokesperson said.
Russian officials have repeatedly said that false information has been spread by Russia’s enemies such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people.
The head of the Russian lower house of parliament, Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, said on Friday that “literally by tomorrow, this law will force punishment – and very tough punishment – on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces”.
Italy has traditionally had closer relations with Russia than many other Western nations, with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi forging particularly warm ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi questioned in December whether EU sanctions could work against Moscow but he has since endorsed tough curbs on Russia, even though government officials have said this could trigger an energy crisis in Italy, which imports some 40% of its gas from Russia.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Additional reporting by Elke Ahlswede in Frankfurt; Editing by Frances Kerry)