Russia bans German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in tit-for-tat move

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The Russian Foreign Ministry announced a ban on German government broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on Thursday, effectively ending the news organization’s work in Russia.

DW, which has had a broadcasting license in Russia since 2005, pledged to lodge a legal challenge and said it would continue its coverage undeterred, despite the ministry saying the network’s Moscow bureau would be closed and the accreditation of its journalists revoked.

The German Foreign Ministry lamented what it called “a renewed strain on German-Russian relations.”

Moscow’s move came in swift retaliation for a decision on Wednesday by the Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK), the agency responsible for regulating media outlets in Germany, banning Russian state-owned TV channel RT DE from broadcasting in the country due to its lack of a license.

Peter Limbourg, director general of DW, said “measures of the Russian authorities are in no way comprehensible and are a complete overreaction.”

Limbourg said the Russian decision turned the German government-owned DW into “a pawn” in a way “typical of autocratic states.”

“We protest fully against this absurd reaction of the Russian government and will take legal action against the announced measures,” Limbourg added.

The broadcaster vowed to continue its work from the Moscow bureau until it was formally informed of the measures beyond the ministry’s announcement.

“Even if we eventually have to close it down, this would not affect our coverage of Russia. On the contrary, we would significantly strengthen coverage,” the DW boss asserted.

RT – formerly Russia Today – broadcasts internationally in six languages and its German-language programming contributes to the diversity of opinion in Europe.

But RT is widely viewed in the West as allegedly being a mouthpiece of the Kremlin that is used to disseminate propaganda and disinformation.

In mid-December, RT launched German-language TV programming in Germany via various distribution channels, including its website and satellite.

It was almost immediately met with challenges by regulators, although RT says it has always complied with European law.

The Russian government expressed indignation over RT DE’s ban, which can still be appealed, and said it flouted the right to freedom of speech.

“The situation is perfectly clear: a Russian media outlet, I would even say an international media outlet, has been banned from broadcasting in Germany. This is nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency.

DW is a German state-owned 24-hour news channel funded by the federal tax budget. It airs programming in German, English, Spanish and Arabic and is organized independently of the German state.

DW said it has licenses in Russia for its English-language programming through 2025 and in German through 2027. On the German channel, there is also a window of Russian-language content totaling 18 hours per week.

Germany’s deputy minister for culture and media was quick to point out the difference between RT and DW.

RT DE broadcasts without a license and has not applied for one, Claudia Roth said.

“I therefore urge the Russian side not to misuse the licensing problems of the RT channel in order to make a political point. Clear steps of de-escalation are needed in the mutual relationship,” she said.

DW was also backed by the German Journalists’ Association (DJV) on Thursday, whose chairperson Frank Überall called the DW’s ban completely unjustified.

He called on the German government to oppose the Russian ban vehemently.

The leaders of German public broadcasters ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio expressed solidarity with DW.

ARD chair Patricia Schlesinger, ZDF director Thomas Bellut and Deutschlandradio director Stefan Raue said in a statement: “Free, independent reporting is being radically restricted in order to exert political pressure. The fact that freedom of the press is being turned into a bargaining chip fills us with great concern.”

At a meeting with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in January, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that, apart from the specifics of the licensing issue, although DW is owned by the German government, all state-run broadcasting has been banned in Germany due to the central role the state media played under Nazism.

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