The closure of Deutsche Welle’s Moscow bureau by the Kremlin is an egregious breach of media freedom, and must be overturned.

The Kremlin withdrew the credentials of the staff at Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Moscow office on Thursday. It came just two days after German regulators blocked the state broadcaster RT from broadcasting German-language programmes. The German Commission on Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) claimed RT “does not have the necessary broadcasting license.”

Following the RT DE ban, Russia’s Foreign Ministry threated “implementing retaliatory measures against German media accredited in Russia.” This has now come to fruition with the decision to remove the accreditation of DW journalists in Russia.

Speaking on DW, the Director-General Peter Limbourg said it was a total “overreaction” by the Russian government. “It’s not even a tit-for-tat measure, if you want to see it like this. You can’t compare RT German with Deutsche Welle. We are a public service broadcaster, and not a state government broadcaster.”

There is no comparison between DW and RT, with the former recognised as public media, with editorially independent and impartial journalism at its core. The latter meanwhile is a state broadcaster, accused of spreading misinformation, and disseminating propaganda on behalf of the Russian government.

Mr Limbourg added that DW’s closure demonstrated how hostile the Kremlin is towards media freedom. “There are some independent outlets but they are struggling, and this is another sign that the Russian government is not interested in press freedom and freedom of opinion. But I can only say that if we have to leave the country, we will only intensify reporting on the country, so I think this must also be clear to the Russian side, we will not just ignore what’s happening in Russia, and we will report, and we will do more and more.” He confirmed DW would be taking legal steps to reverse the decision.

This is not the first time a public service media organisation has been targeted by Russian authorities. BBC journalists, amongst others, were labelled “foreign agents” in October last year, including long-time Russian correspondent, Sarah Rainsford.

Since the decision, DW has been supported by the German government and other German public service media. A joint statement put out by the heads of ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio said they “condemn the closure of Deutsche Welle’s offices in Russia. Here, free, independent reporting is radically restricted in order to exert political pressure.”

The German Foreign Office spokesperson, Andrea Sasse, said “I can assure you, and of course the colleagues at Deutsche Welle, that the German government is very aware of the concerns of Deutsche Welle’s staff in Russia. And overall, we are very concerned about the state of press freedom in Russia and we’re in contact with Russian authorities on this. And it concerns not only Deutsche Welle here but also the state of press freedom for other media professionals in Russia.”

Other messages of support have come from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and other media freedom groups.

PMA joins other civil society organisations in condemning in the strongest terms the decision to close down Deutsche Welle’s Moscow office. It is the latest evidence that the Russian government does not tolerate an independent and free media. As recognised by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dmitry Muratov, editor of the Novaja Gazeta, independent, public interest media in Russia performs a crucial role in upholding democracy and exposing abuses of power.

Where press freedom is extremely confined, international public media play a critical role in reporting current affairs to both domestic and global audiences. We call on the Russian government to reverse their decision to revoke the licences of DW journalists.

Header Image: BERLIN: the logo of the brand “DW Deutsche Welle”, Berlin. Credit: 360b /