News media companies sidestep Russia’s information ban
Ideas Blog | 13 March 2022
The Kremlin’s crackdown on news media coverage has pushed media companies outside of Russia to take bold steps to provide Russians with truthful reporting.
New media rules announced March 4 — which include heavy penalties, including fines and imprisonment for up to 15 years for publishing what Moscow considers to be “fake news” — have caused such news outlets as Bloomberg, BBC, CNN, CBS News, and others to halt reporting in Russia.
But it hasn’t stopped efforts to deliver up-to-date news to the Russian population.
Three of the most prominent Nordic newspapers — Denmark’s JP/Politikens Hus, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, and Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter (all INMA members) — stepped up by creating a joint publishing initiative that sees them publishing articles in Russian “to give people in Russia access to independent and reliable information about the war in Ukraine,” according to JP/Politikens Hus CEO Stig Kirk Ørskov. The translated articles are being distributed primarily online.
It’s not the first time the Nordic newspapers have teamed up to speak out.
Politiken’s Editor-in-Chief Christian Jensen told INMA they took a similar approach last summer when China began cracking down on independent news media organisations. That time, Jensen said, Politiken led the initiative; this time around the project was spearheaded by Helsinki Sanomat.
Once they decided to deploy the project, Jensen said they moved quickly and gave it their full attention: “All the papers involved have put everything aside to concentrate on this project and make it happen as soon as possible,” he said. “This is how public activism hopefully can make a difference both as a signal and a concrete action.”
All three publications are posting the Russian articles on their Web sites and on social media, as well as encouraging readers to share the posts and stories to spread the message in Russia. “Fortunately, we have already experienced remarkable support to the project,” Jensen said.
Since Russia has banned more than 200 Web sites to prevent the spread of information, many Russians are turning to virtual private networks, or VPNs, to receive information from outside their country. In fact, as the Russian government blocked social media sites, VPN app downloads surged. Top10VPN.com reported that demand for VPNs rose 1,062% in Russia on March 5 — one day after it blocked access to Facebook.
The determination to get accurate information into the country sends a message — not just to readers seeking information but to the Russian government, Jensen said: “We in the western part of the world always need to trust that free information beats censorship. That’s one of the messages we want to convey to Russians.”
Other companies turn to radio
Other efforts by media companies to deliver information include the resurrection of a World War II-era technology: shortwave radio. Shortly before its Web site was blocked in Russia, the BBC News announced it would begin broadcasting its BBC World Service using shortwave radio four hours a day, providing listeners in Russia and Ukraine with the latest reports.
Austrian national public service broadcaster Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) also announced it was expanding its coverage utilising shortwave radio. It is providing multiple daily news journals for German-speaking listeners throughout Europe, including Russia and Ukraine.
The BBC is also among the media outlets using the Tor browser to disseminate information. The browser is best known as a way to access the “dark Web” or sites that are commonly used for illegal purposes. Tor bypasses Internet restrictions by routing the user’s connection through other users’ computers, which makes the actual user anonymous. On March 8, Twitter announced it was rolling out a dedicated Tor service to allow people in Russia to stay connected to its platform.