Update 8 March 2022:
The BBC is resuming English-language reporting from inside Russia after considering the implications of the country’s new “fake news” law.
The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday evening: “We have considered the implications of the new legislation alongside the urgent need to report from inside Russia.
“After careful deliberation we have decided to resume English language reporting from Russia this evening (Tuesday 8 March), after it was temporarily suspended at the end of last week.
“We will tell this crucial part of the story independently and impartially, adhering to the BBC’s strict editorial standards. The safety of our staff in Russia remains our number one priority.”
Original story 4 March 2022:
The BBC’s director-general has “temporarily suspended” all the corporation’s journalistic activity in Russia.
It comes after a new law led to the shutting of numerous outlets in the country, including the BBC’s Russian language website.
The corporation is now promoting pre-existing deep web versions of its Ukrainian, Russian and broader international news sites.
Prior to the block, the BBC said it had seen soaring traffic for its Ukrainian and Russian offerings since the invasion began.
Reacting to the law that knocked BBC Russia offline, director-general Tim Davie said: “This legislation appears to criminalise the process of independent journalism.
“It leaves us no other option than to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation while we assess the full implications of this unwelcome development.”
However this does not mean BBC News journalists have been pulled out of Moscow, BBC News interim director Jonathan clarified: “We cannot use their reporting for the time being but they remain valued members of our teams and we hope to get them back on our output as soon as possible,” he said.
Munro also said: “It’s with a heavy heart that we have had to suspend BBC News operations in Russia until we assess impact of new laws which outlaw independent journalism. Thoughts with colleagues in Moscow whose voices cannot be silenced for long.”
Russian-language BBC News services would continue to operate from outside Russia, Davie said.
“The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs. I’d like to pay tribute to all of them, for their bravery, determination and professionalism.”
Russian state news agency TASS said on Friday that Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media had blocked a slew of foreign media “for publishing unreliable information about the special military operation in Ukraine”.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the BBC of playing “a determined role in undermining the Russian stability and security”.
Among those blocked, TASS named independent Russian outlet Meduza, US state-funded Voice of America and Radio Liberty, and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Access to accurate, independent information is a fundamental human right which should not be denied to the people of Russia, millions of whom rely on BBC News every week. We will continue our efforts to make BBC News available in Russia, and across the rest of the world.”
The BBC first launched its deep web Tor versions, including one for its Russian news site, in October 2019.
The BBC previously said the mirrors, which are only accessible using the anonymous Tor browser, are “a bid to thwart censorship attempts”. The BBC has also variously been blocked in China, Iran and Vietnam.
Tor is open-source software that anonymises users’ browsing by conveying it through a series of encrypted connections. Though infamous for its connection to the “dark web” – unlisted sites that can only be visited with the right software and access details, sometimes home to illicit activity – the software has numerous legitimate uses and receives funding from the US State Department.
BBC News is available on the dark web in Ukrainian and Russian: https://t.co/KdCPfTTO7P
— BBC News Technology (@BBCTech) March 4, 2022
The BBC said on Wednesday that its Russian and Ukrainian news services had seen substantial traffic since the beginning of the invasion.
The Russian language news site, for example, tripled its year-to-date weekly average, ballooning from 3.1m to 10.7m users. Russian visitors to the English language bbc.com also rose 252% to 423,000 in the week to Wednesday.
The live page in Russian devoted to the invasion was “the most visited site across the whole of the BBC World Service’s non-English language services, with 5.3m views”.
Similarly, the Ukrainian service’s audience more than doubled its year-to-date weekly average from 1.7m to 3.9m.
The BBC has made several attempts to increase the availability of its coverage in the past week, both in besieged Ukraine and in Russia, where the government has been aggressively stifling independent media.
In particular, the broadcaster launched two new shortwave frequencies delivering four hours a day of BBC World Service coverage in Ukraine and parts of Russia. The frequencies are 15735 kHz from 4pm to 6pm and 5875 kHz from 10pm to 12pm (all Kyiv time).
The New York Times reports that the BBC retired its European shortwave transmissions 14 years ago, but that prior to that it had been an often-used medium for communicating with warzones.
Sam Coley, an academic expert in media production specialising in radio at Birmingham City University, said that: “While local transmitters can be targeted in time of war, the long-range signals of shortwave radio are much harder to stop. It’s possible, but difficult, to jam this type of broadcasting. It used to happen a lot during the Cold War, but the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries had largely stopped trying to jam western broadcasts by the 90s.
“It’s conceivable it could start happening again.”
Some of Russia’s own foreign-language state news outlets, including RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, have themselves been blocked abroad in recent days. RT is no longer available on UK televisions because its broadcasts from mainland Europe have been taken off air. CNN reported on Thursday that the US arm of RT is effectively shutting down.
Picture: Getty Images
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