German broadcaster shut down Moscow bans Deutsche Welle, bureau forced to close

Moscow · Moscow has reacted harshly in the dispute over a ban on the German-language programming of its state broadcaster RT. Deutsche Welle (with headquarters in Bonn) is now banned in Russia.

 The Kremlin forces the Deutsche Welle bureau in Moscow to cease operations.

The Kremlin forces the Deutsche Welle bureau in Moscow to cease operations.

Foto: dpa/Oliver Berg

Russia has banned Deutsche Welle, the foreign broadcaster of the Federal Republic of Germany, from broadcasting. The Russian Foreign Ministry also ordered the closure of the Deutsch Welle (DW) bureau in Moscow and withdrew the journalists' press accreditations.

This was Moscow's reaction to a ban on broadcasting the German-language program of its state broadcaster RT DE. Deutsche Welle (DW), which has had broadcasting licenses in Russia since 2005, protested the Russian government's "overreaction" and announced legal action. The actions of the Foreign Ministry in Moscow further strained the already tense relations between Berlin and Moscow.

DW sees itself as a pawn

According to a statement, DW Director General Peter Limbourg said, "We are being made a pawn here in a way that media only experience in autocracies." The broadcaster spoke of an "absurd reaction." "Until we are officially informed of the measures, we will continue to report from our bureau in Moscow," Limbourg continued. "Even if we ultimately have to close it, this will not affect our coverage of Russia. On the contrary, we would significantly strengthen our coverage.”

The Minister of State for Culture and Media, Claudia Roth, described DW's broadcasting ban as "in no way acceptable". While RT DE was broadcasting without a license and had not applied for a license, DW was now being deprived of an existing license. Deutsche Welle is also not connected to the government, he said. The German government has no influence on programming.

Solidarity in Germany

The heads of public broadcasting in Germany - ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio - showed solidarity with Deutsche Welle. ARD Chairwoman Patricia Schlesinger, ZDF Director-General Thomas Bellut and Deutschlandradio Director-General Stefan Raue issued a statement saying: "Free, independent reporting is being radically restricted here in order to exert political pressure. The fact that freedom of the press is being turned into a bargaining chip at the same time fills us with great concern.”

DW says it has its licenses in Russia for its TV channels DW English until 2025 and DW Deutsch until 2027.  Both are broadcast via Astra satellites. According to the statement, the German program also includes a slot in the Russian language with a total of 18 hours per week. These broadcasts are also be distributed through several Russian providers. Politicians and propagandists loyal to the Kremlin had repeatedly attacked Deutsche Welle's Russian program.

In Germany, the regulators of the Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) had banned the broadcasting and distribution of the TV program RT DE. The reason given for the ban, which was made known on Wednesday, was the lack of a broadcasting license.

Moscow: DW a "foreign agent"

The Russian Foreign Ministry spoke only of a "first stage." It would include a process to declare Deutsche Welle a "foreign agent." Add to that, officials from the state and social structures in the Federal Republic of Germany who participated in the action against RT DE were to be blacklisted. But the list would not be published. However, those listed would no longer be allowed to enter Russia in the future.

The German Journalists' Association (DJV) condemned the broadcasting ban. There is no justification whatsoever for this "drastic censorship measure," said DJV national chairman Frank Überall. He demanded a clear protest from the federal government. Verdi board member Christoph Schmitz demanded that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) push for a reversal of the broadcasting ban during his upcoming visit to Russia.

FDP foreign policy expert Alexander Graf Lambsdorff explained that DW is "not at all a state broadcaster like Russia Today, in contrast it offers an independent program". He said the decision showed once again that the Russian government was moving away from universal values such as democracy and freedom of expression and that the country was moving further into self-isolation. Lambsdorff said, "Especially now, Deutsche Welle's Russian-language offering on the internet must be strengthened."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had stated during her meeting with her colleague Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in January that no state broadcasting was allowed in Germany. According to the statement, this also applies to the United States, for example. In Germany, the regulation also has historical reasons because of the role of state media in National Socialism.

Kremlin criticizes RT decision

Regardless, the Kremlin criticized the decision on RT DE. "The situation is perfectly clear: a Russian mass medium, I would even say an international mass medium, is banned from broadcasting in Germany. This is nothing but an attack on the freedom of speech," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced further steps. Representatives of German media in Moscow, for example, were asked to report by next Tuesday whether they receive money from the German government in a direct or indirect way - for example, through advertising.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for saying nothing about the broadcast ban on RT DE and for not standing up for media freedom. RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan had suggested Wednesday that action should be taken against Deutsche Welle in Russia.

RT - formerly Russia Today - also broadcasts in Spanish and Arabic in the U.S. and other countries, for example, and sees its German-language programming as a contribution to diversity of opinion in Europe. Critics accuse RT of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation.

Orig. text: dpa

Translation: ck

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