The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, expressed his concerns today about recent interferences regarding media content by the media regulatory agency in Russia, Roskomnadzor, in the context of the fight against disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I fully understand the need to combat false information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Desir said. “But I want to stress the key role of the media in providing important information to the public and to counter fake news on the pandemic,” the Representative added. “That is why I am concerned by some undue restrictions on the activities of several media in this context.”
Based on interactions with the office of the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation on 19 March, Roskomnadzor demanded that the Echo of Moscow radiostation delete the recording and the transcript of its “Minority Opinion” talk show with political analyst Valery Solovey about the coronavirus. The station noted that the government media watchdog did not clarify which words in the program triggered the complaint.
In addition, on 20 March, Roskomnadzor also requested that the hosting provider of the online newspaper “Govorit Magadan” block access to a story about a local resident hospitalized over suspicion of having contracted the coronavirus. This person spent a week in hospital, after which he died. The newspaper did not name the cause of death. The editors called Roskomnadzor’s demand arbitrary and illegal.
Access to these two stories is effectively blocked.
The Representative recalled the joint statement that he published last week 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 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 public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”