LONDON (Reuters) – News organisations from countries that “discriminate” against Russian media could have their Russian operations promptly shut down under a draft law proposed by a new Russian parliamentary commission on Tuesday.
The move – which the commission’s head said was a response to Western restrictions on pro-Kremlin media such as the Sputnik news agency and RT television channel – adds to the challenges facing foreign media, already under scrutiny over their coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“We believe that unfriendly actions of foreign states against our media, whether it be a ban or restriction on the distribution of their products, should receive a quick and symmetrical response,” said Vasily Piskarev, Chairman of the Commission to Investigate Foreign State Interference in Russia’s Internal Affairs.
The draft law was put forward at the first meeting of the new commission.
Piskarev said it would mean that if a foreign state took discriminatory action against Russian journalists, the prosecutor general could quickly ban or restrict the activities of media from that country.
“We are talking about a ban on the distribution in Russia of any information materials of these media, including through the Internet, the termination of accreditation of correspondents and the closure of its representative offices in our country.”
Some leading foreign media have already pulled out correspondents from Russia since parliament adopted a law on March 4 that makes public actions aimed at what it terms “discrediting” Russia’s army illegal.
The law sets a jail term of up to 15 years for the spread of fake news or “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”.
Russia rejects the use of the terms “war” or “invasion” to describe its actions in Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and Western governments reject that as a false pretext to invade a democratic country.
State-controlled Russian outlets RT and Sputnik were banned throughout the European Union on March 2. “Systematic information manipulation and disinformation by the Kremlin is applied as an operational tool in its assault on Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the time.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson)