Freedom of the press in Russia has decreased to an extent "unseen since the times of the USSR,” an international group said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which promotes and defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world, said Russian media had been censored greatly even before Russian President Vladimir Putin began his unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
"In Russia itself, the government has established total control over information by introducing massive military censorship, blocking the media and persecuting recalcitrant journalists, forcing them into mass emigration," RSF said in a statement.
"This movement was launched in 2021, after the tightening of the law on 'foreign agents' and the prosecution of an opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who is now in prison."
Russia ranked 155th out of 180 in RSF’s annual rankings of countries in terms of press freedom. That marks Russia’s worst ranking in the 20-year rankings.
"More than a hundred journalists and entire editorial offices were declared ‘foreign agents’ in 2021; many were forced to stop working because of this," the authors of the RSF report said.
RSF cited the liquidation of the Ekho Moskvy radio station; the termination of the TV channel Dozhd; and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, edited by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Dmitry Muratov.
Also, Russian troops in Ukraine — where at least 20 journalists have been killed since Moscow’s invasion — have "targeted news sources and tried to coerce local media into cooperation."
In compiling its rankings, RSF took into consideration the fact that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are banned in Russia. There also has been changes in the law threatening up to 15 years in prison for spreading disinformation about the Russian army.
RSF said Belarus, where "dictator Alexander Lukashenko has been persecuting independent journalists with great brutality since his 're-election' in August 2020," ranked higher (153rd) than Russia.
Ukraine dropped from 97th to 106th in the rankings. Experts said freedom of speech in the country had worsened since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
Ukrainian media are under constant threat from Russian forces and, in territories under Russian control, often have been replaced by Kremlin propaganda, the RSF said.
RSF also mentioned the closure of publications that Ukrainian authorities considered pro-Kremlin, and the publication of biased information by Ukrainian publications.
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