Home News Media News Russia’s ban on Deutsche Welle is out of all proportion, RSF says

Russia’s ban on Deutsche Welle is out of all proportion, RSF says

Russia’s ban on Deutsche Welle is out of all proportion, RSF says
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Russia’s ban on the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle in retaliation for a German decision to stop the Russian state broadcaster RT DE from broadcasting without a licence in Germany. The case is an urgent reminder of the need to close potential regulatory gaps and harmonise licensing at the European level.

Читать на русском / Read in Russian

Deutsche Welle confirmed that it closed its office in Moscow on 4 February. Just one day after Russia issued its broadcasting ban on Deutsche Welle. Accreditation of all DW staff in Russia is to be revoked, and proceedings are to be initiated whereby DW would be declared a “foreign agent.” .

According to the Russian foreign ministry, these measures are a direct reaction to the decision by Germany’s Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) to ban RT DE from broadcasting its German-language programming without a licence on 1 February. To date RT DE has neither applied for a licence in Germany nor received one.

“It is unacceptable for the Russian government to react to a media regulation issue in Germany by de facto criminalising an entire broadcaster,” RSF Germany executive director Christian Mihr said. “We urge the Russian foreign ministry to rescind the broadcasting ban. It is a severe blow to media pluralism and the freedom of information in a country where the freedom of the press is already restricted to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the foreign ministry’s threat of additional countermeasures do not bode well.”

In RSF’s view, the Russian reaction is disproportionate and cannot be equated to the ZAK’s decision for many reasons. Whereas the staff of RT DE (the former Russia Today) have been able to take advantage of German press freedom to work in Germany since 2015, DW will no longer be allowed to engage in journalism in Russia. RT DE can decide to apply for a broadcasting licence in Germany, and it can continue to employ journalists in Germany without prior accreditation, and to operate a website and produce and disseminate – but not livestream – (video) content, as it has in the past. Foreign correspondents in Russia are subject to a general accreditation requirement, under which the issuing of such permits has often lacked transparency.

Further sanctions threatened

RT DE can take legal action and ask an independent court to review the decision taken by the German authorities. By contrast, DW has no options whatsoever to take action against the broadcasting ban, a political decision by the Russian foreign ministry. The Russian government is threatening even more sanctions despite the fact that its measures are much more far-reaching than the ZAK’s request that RT DE apply for a broadcasting licence.

DW and RT DE are both state-funded international broadcasters, but otherwise have little in common. DW is subject to public supervision via the Broadcasting Council and DW’s director-general answers solely to the Broadcasting Council. Under the Deutsche-Welle-Gesetz (Deutsche Welle Act), DW is required to “provide a forum both in Europe and other continents for German and other perspectives on important topics especially concerning politics, culture and the economy, with the aim of promoting understanding and exchange between cultures and peoples.”

RT DE and Sputniknews represent the Russian Federation’s official line. They are funded from the Russian state budget, are integrated organisationally into the Kremlin-controlled media network and cooperate closely with Moscow. In RSF’s opinion, Russian state media abroad are dependent on the Russian government both financially and in terms of content.

This case is an urgent reminder of the need to close potential regulatory gaps and to harmonise licensing at the European level. TV Novosti and Russian government representatives are invoking a licence issued in Serbia on 6 December under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television of 1989. European media regulatory authorities should agree on a uniform approach to avoid being played off against each other because of an unclear legal situation.

Russia has declared 115 media and individuals “foreign agents”

According to the register of “foreign media that fulfil the function of a foreign agent,” a total of 115 media and individuals in Russia are currently (as of 26 January) declared to be “foreign agents.” They include almost all media that do investigative reporting in Russia or provide critical coverage of the Russian government – or have done so until recently. They include Meduza, VTimes, Mediazona, Proekt, The Insider, Otkrytye Media and TV Dozhd. Some of them have since stopped operating. The international investigative network Bellingcat was added to the register on 8 October.

All those declared to be “foreign agents” are required to post this status with every publication, tweet or message and to submit detailed, regular reports on their finances. This entails a great deal bureaucratic work that individuals – who account for roughly two-thirds of the registered “foreign agents” –  find overwhelming. If there are errors in their reports or if those listed in the register neglect to add the “foreign agent” label to all the content they publish, they can be given large fines or jailed for up to five years.

Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.


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