VIENNA – Following recent restrictions on several media in the Russian Federation, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, reiterated yesterday, 2 May 2020 , his call on the Russian authorities to take into greater consideration the principles of necessity and proportionality when regulating the media and journalists’ activities.
According to reports, on 28 April, upon the request of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal regulatory agency, Roskomnadzor, blocked the website Vademecum, a Moscow-based media outlet which reports on various aspects related to healthcare, state health policy, and the pharmaceutical and medical industries. The blocking took place after Vademecum published an article, on 23 April, about the procedure for settling payments for the provision of medical care to patients affected with COVID-19 and other diseases, who are hospitalized in Moscow. The article, reportedly, referenced a letter by the Moscow City Insurance Fund. The reason for blocking access to the media website was “intentional dissemination of false information” that causes public harm.
“Blocking a website is an extreme measure which may unduly restrict freedom of expression and impede the public’s right to access information,” Désir said. “The free flow of information should be guaranteed during the COVID-19 crisis, and the media must be able to report unhindered on the pandemic. I call on the Russian authorities to look into this issue and re-establish access to the website.”
The Representative also noted other recent incidents affecting journalists and media outlets reporting on COVID-19 or related matters, in different regions of the country:
On 28 April, in Pskov, police questioned journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya over her article titled “The situation is critical. How Pskov is responding to the coronavirus pandemic”, which she published, on 23 March, on the Severo-Zapad MBH Media website.
On 27 April, in Saint Petersburg, journalist Tatyana Voltskaya, who writes for the Sever.Realii website (affiliated with the RFE/RL), was questioned by law enforcement representatives and asked to reveal her confidential source, after she published an interview, on 11 April, with an anonymous doctor who spoke about the medical practice in the context of COVID-19.
At the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Roskomnadzor ordered the private TV channel TVK, in Krasnoyarsk, to delete a reposted satirical YouTube video that was deemed to be false news. The representatives of the channel were summoned to Roskomnadzor, and the channel may be fined up to 500 thousand rubles (approximately 6,200 EUR).
The Representative recalled the joint statement he published on 19 March, together with David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Edison Lanza, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which emphasized that: “Human health depends not only on readily accessible health care. It also depends on access to accurate information about the nature of the threats and the means to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community”. The Representative and the two Special Rapporteurs also stated that: “The right of access to information means that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists. Journalism serves a crucial function at a moment of a public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”