Propaganda cannot be silenced with censorship, freedom of expression can
By order of all governments in the European Union, internet providers and platforms are blocking access to Russian state media. However, European governments would do better to stimulate the independent media in both Russia and Ukraine.
No access to Russian state media
What Russia is doing is unacceptable. The invasion of Ukraine is a massive and tragic humanitarian crisis. Citizens in both countries and beyond are bearing the brunt of it. Virtually every country in the world is responding to Russia’s military aggression with sanctions and measures. You can read the full regulation here. One of these measures was announced two weeks ago: a total blockade of the Russian state media. RT, formerly Russia Today, has since been blocked throughout Europe. This applies to internet access providers but also to social media. RT’s Twitter account is blacked out. RT is not longer found on Google (however, Google references Wikipedia which still includes a link). And even if the link would still be there, internet access provider in Netherlands, Belgium and Poland are now blocking the website.
We urge the EU to focus on the promotion of independent media.
It is a measure that, according to the Member States of the European Union, is desperately necessary. Russia, they say, is engaged in “a systematic, international campaign of media manipulation and distortion of facts.” This makes it necessary to “further strengthen the resilience [of the Member States] and their ability to deal with hybrid threats, such as disinformation.”
Europe does what Russia does
The law forcing all those providers and platforms to block access to Russian state media has been put on the table like a decree. It is not appropriate in a democratic state under the rule of law for a political body to decide what information we can or cannot access. That is a policy that we actually only know from dictatorial regimes such as, yes, Russia. It is censorship and it goes against one of our most important human rights: freedom of speech. In a free country, the government does not decide which websites you can or cannot see.
Apart from that, there is a lack of democratic control. Because this law was drawn up by the governments of the Member States and not by the European Commission, the European Parliament has had no say. From a formal point they only have to be informed. Democratic control is extremely important. It ensures that governments cannot abuse their power. It helps improving the quality of legislation. And it increases the support base for such legislation. In times of crisis, it may well be that far-reaching measures are suddenly required. But whether such measures are necessary must be decided democratically. And because this happens under high pressure and in times of stress, that democratic control is all the more important.
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We believe that the European Union should focus on the promotion of independent media instead of blocking access to Russia’s state media. There are many ways of doing this. It could be by helping independent journalists with the resources they need to make independent news. Or to help protect themselves and their sources. But there is also plenty to do in Europe. Governments could bring together all remaining existing reliable sources in Russia and Ukraine. That way, anyone looking for news about and from Russia can easily find it. And something that could also help: making sure it is clear to readers that RT is Putin’s megaphone – if they did not already know that. These are all measures that do not harm the democratic constitutional state.
The translation from Dutch to English has been kindly provided for by Robert-Jan Makkinga and Amber Balhuizen.
This article was first published here. Also available in Dutch here.
(Contribution by: Lotje Beek, Policy Advisor, and Rejo Zenger, Policy Advisor, EDRi member, Bits of Freedom)