Samuel Larreal / Contributing Writer
FIU’s journalism department held an expert panel discussion on March 16 to analyze the Russian government’s crackdown on journalists amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The panel discussed the Kremlin’s censorship efforts against free media as well as possible sociopolitical implications of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.
The discussion at the Biscayne Bay Campus was hosted by Emmy-nominated reporter Dianne Fernandez alongside digital director of the South Florida Media Network Charles Strouse and NBC 6 reporter Julia Bagg.
The panel also featured former public relations and mass communication specialist for the Russian government and current international relations Ph.D. candidate Valeriia Popova.
Event poster for the “Russia’s War on Media” event on March 16.
Strouse expressed his concern over a possible escalation of the conflict.
“It’s a scary time, the threat of nuclear power is real,” said Strouse. “Putin has managed to cut off the news to the citizens of his country. Everybody, I think, should be scared about this conflict.”
Following the invasion of Ukraine a month ago the Kremlin’s censorship machine has increased its control over state and independent media to control the narrative of the war.
The Russian parliament voted unanimously on March 4 in favor of a law criminalizing the spread of information opposing the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine. The Russian government also blocked access to major social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.
Despite large-scale domestic opposition to the war–in which 15,000 protestors have been arrested since the movement’s beginning on Feb. 24— state-run media has co-opted one of Putin’s main justifications for the war, claiming the Ukrainian government is run by far-right and Neo-Nazi factions.
Those opposing this narrative have been silenced.
Russian media outlets such as Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV have been shut down by Russian officials, and international outlets including CNN, BBC, the German Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based Meduza have been forced to cease correspondence in Russian territory since the start of the war.
The Kremlin’s control over reporting in Russian media is not a recent development, said Popova in reference to her former work with the Kremlin.
“[Russian media censorship] has been years and years in the making,” said Popova. “The thing we should understand about the Russian press is that it has not been free, although it has maintained some appearance of being as such.”
Julia Bagg, who covered the 2018 Winter Olympics in Russia, said that suspicion and control over media has extended to foreign reporting in the country.
“At the Olympics, we couldn’t venture out into anything political. It was just very tightly controlled, we were closely surveilled,” said Bagg. “I was joking with my panelists…it was understood that we would have a camera hidden somewhere even in our hotel rooms.”
There are still some vestiges of independent media within Russia, despite those being quickly silenced due to the war, according to Strouse, who referenced the value of transparent reporting.
“Reporter Dmitry Muratov got the Nobel Peace Prize just a few years ago because he was honestly recording about his country,” said Strouse.
The war in Ukraine marks a new chapter in Western geopolitics.
Far from being the lightning victory expected by the Russian government, the conflict has devolved into a gruesome war, with millions displaced and a civilian death toll believed to be in excess of tens of thousands.
Escalation between NATO allies and Russian forces remains a looming risk after Russian missile strikes have increased in number in western Ukraine, which borders several NATO member-states.
One such example was on March 13, when missiles fired by Russian jets over the Black Sea targeted a military base and transport centers within 12 miles of the border with NATO member Poland.
Prior to the war, the military base served as a training center for joint U.S.-Ukrainian military forces. If such an attack were to impact a NATO member’s territory, Article 5 of the committee’s charter would be activated in response, requiring a collective military response from the international alliance.