Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday said it is refusing to comply with the requests of Russian officials after they allegedly threatened to block their Russian-language website in the country unless it removes coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
VOA, the state-owned international radio broadcaster of the United States, said in a statement that the Russian government’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, claimed that VOA’s news site in Russia, www.golosameriki.com, “contains false messages about terrorist attacks or other kind [sic] of information of public concern.”
The regulator allegedly threatened to block VOA’s Russian language service’s news website unless it pulls coverage of the Moscow-led invasion.
“The media regulator demands that the VOA Russian service remove a news story from its site that provided factual reporting on the second day of the Russian invasion,” VOA said. “The article included widely reported facts regarding Russian bombardment of cities, a Russian claim to have captured an airport close to Kyiv, and statements from witnesses as well as reporters inside Ukraine.”
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Wednesday that he will be investigating alleged war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.
“Any attempts to interfere with the free flow of news and information are deeply troubling. We find this order to be in direct opposition to the values of all democratic societies,” said Acting VOA Director Yolanda López.
VOA said it will not be complying with Roskomnadzor’s request.
“The Russian people deserve unfettered access to a free press and, therefore, we cannot comply with the Roskomnadzor’s request,” said López.
In its statement on Wednesday, VOA noted that Russian regulators had also shut down two Russian news organizations, Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd, both of which it said reach a large audience, as well as Current Time’s website, a joint production of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Regulators had accused both Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd of “calling for extremist activity and violence” and sharing “deliberately false information about the actions of Russian military personnel in Ukraine.”
Russia’s news coverage is closely monitored by President Vladimir Putin’s government, who is reportedly planning an even tougher crackdown on what it views as “unofficial” reporting, according to a statement on Wednesday from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
Price said Russia’s parliament will hold a special session this Friday “to consider a bill that would make ‘unofficial’ reporting on Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine punishable by up to 15 years in prison,” adding that the “people of Russia did not choose this war. Putin did.”
Russia is engaged in an unprovoked war on Ukraine. At home, the Kremlin is engaged in a full assault on media freedom and the truth, and Moscow’s efforts to mislead and suppress the truth of the brutal invasion are intensifying,” Price said.
“Russia’s government is also throttling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram platforms that tens of millions of Russia’s citizens rely on to access independent information and opinions and to connect with each other and the outside world,” he added. “These partial blockages further limit where and how Russian citizens can see and share evidence of the truth of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”