Russia threatens to kick US journalists out unless US treats Russian media better : NPR

Russia warns foreign journalists that they could lose their right of residence unless the situation of Russian journalists in the US improves.



SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on journalists and representatives of American media companies working in Russia for a chat. The journalists were there to learn the, quoted, “consequences of what Russia says is the hostile treatment of Russian media operating in the US”.

NPR’s Moscow correspondent Charles Maynes was one of the journalists at that meeting, and he’s here to tell us about it. We will also be joined by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hello, Charles and David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Sacha.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hello.

PFEIFFER: Charles, take us to that room, that Zoom conversation, wherever that meeting took place. What did the State Department have to say?

MAYNES: Sure. Yes. This was a meeting hosted by Maria Zakharova, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ head of information and press. Now Zakharova offered a litany of complaints about the treatment of Russian media in the US. She said that Russian journalists had problems getting visas. She said the bank accounts of these journalists have been blocked. She also complained that Russian state media and, indeed, Zakharova’s own State Department briefings had been banned from US social media platforms such as YouTube, as well as from cable broadcasts. And she claimed that Russian media workers have been harassed by US authorities. And Zakharova’s main point was that all this made working conditions for Russian media in the US almost impossible.

PFEIFFER: So according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, what are the implications if things don’t change from their perspective?

MAYNES: Well, Zakharova, you know, she issued a warning or a threat, depending on how you want to look at it – that is, if the situation with Russian media doesn’t change in the US, all US media working in Russia get the same treatment can expect. Now, Russian policy is often formulated in terms of so-called (non-English language spoken), mirror responses – in other words, a tit for tat.

Sure, you know, NPR or New York Times or Washington Post and others are independent media with no direct input into US policies or, say, the policies of tech giants like Google, which owns YouTube. You know, we’re just here to report on Russia. And that doesn’t seem to be a winning argument in the broader politics of the moment.

PFEIFFER: State Department spokesman Ned Price disputed Moscow’s account of the treatment of Russian journalists in the US

(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ENG PRICE: The United States continues to issue visas to qualified Russian journalists and we have not revoked the foreign press center credentials of Russian journalists working in the United States.

PFEIFFER: David, what is the truth here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Price went on to note that the Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on some media outlets directly linked to the Russian government. He mentioned Russia-1 and NTV. Funnily enough, this really goes back to the early days of the Trump administration in 2017, when Russian news outlets had to register as foreign agents. The Biden administration has added more. That really gave coverage to cable providers, satellite providers to bounce RT America, which shut down. RT is now listed as a foreign actor. In some ways the real repercussions are in Russia and in other states because this gives Russian officials a cover to say, hey, they make our boys list as foreign agents. We can do that. And actually we can go even further.

PFEIFFER: Charles, a step back question for you – how is the general media environment like in Russia at the moment?

MAYNES: Well, it’s very limiting. You know, there are new laws that criminalize any reporting that goes against the official line amid what the Kremlin calls its special military operation in Ukraine. Independent Russian media have shut down or fled abroad due to the risk of criminal charges for doing their job. And there’s no doubt, you know, there are risks. You know, several Russian journalists have been trapped by these laws, and they’re risking 10 to 15 years for, I quote, “belittling the Russian military.” Of course, the same penalties apply to society as a whole. You know, about 2,000 people have been charged. So it chills the information in general, including those who will be talking to the media, both at home and abroad.

PFEIFFER: David, that situation that Charles just described, what does it do for the flow of information?

FOLKENFLIK: And that’s the crux of it all, right? The US government says it is acting against propaganda, people who are concerned about misinformation. But what about reliable information? So you’ve seen that this really narrowed the flow of critical media coverage of Russia and of independent coverage of Ukraine in the West. You hear an almost total dominance of messages by the state.

So in a way, I think it’s fair to argue that there are ways in which the US actions are boomeranging. It makes a regime that already doesn’t like a free press much more strict on it, making it even more difficult to get the facts out of it.

For example, sitting here in the US I can say that Russia is waging a war in Ukraine. A reporter in Russia probably can’t because he or she would face jail time under current Russian laws if he or she said so. Not only does that make it very difficult to get accurate information from Russia, it also affects the ability of people in Russia to understand what is really happening.

PFEIFFER: David Folkenflik of NPR in the US and Charles Maynes of NPR in Moscow. Thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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