By DACHA LITVINOVA and GEIR MOULSON, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it was closing the Moscow office of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle and revoking staff credentials, in retaliation for a German action against Russian state television RT.
A ministry statement said the decision was “the first step” in response to Germany ordering RT to stop broadcasting its German-language programs in the country earlier this week.
The statement said Deutsche Welle will cease broadcasting in Russia and that staff accreditations to work will be withdrawn. He added that authorities will “initiate the process” of declaring Deutsche Welle a “foreign agent” – a designation that carries additional government scrutiny and strong derogatory connotations aimed at discrediting the recipient.
Over the past year, dozens of Russian media outlets and individual journalists have been slapped with the “foreign agent” label, with some saying it has proven crippling to their operations.
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The German broadcaster condemned the measures as “an absurd reaction” in a statement and pledged to continue operating in Russia until it receives an official notice.
“We expected action from Russia, but I think it’s a totally overreaction,” Deutsche Welle chief executive Peter Limbourg told DW.
“It’s not even a give-and-take measure, if you want to see it that way,” he said, adding that you can’t compare RT, a government-funded broadcaster, and Deutsche Welle, a public service broadcaster.
And, he added, “Russian journalists will continue to work freely in Germany and will be able to broadcast what they want, which is not the case for our colleagues, so it is really disappointing”.
Limburg said the company would take legal steps “to see if these steps are legal even by Russian standards.” He added that the broadcaster “will also, of course, discuss this with our institutions here in Germany”.
He promised that “even if we have to leave the country, we will intensify reporting on the country”.
Moscow will also draw up a list of German officials and “representatives of public organizations” involved in the ban on RT broadcasting in Germany and bar them from entering Russia, the statement said. The list will not be made public.
A German media regulator ruled on Tuesday that RT does not have the necessary authorization to broadcast its programs in German in the country.
Regulator ZAK, which adjudicates on applications from private organizations to broadcast nationwide in Germany, said no applications have been made or granted for RT DE and it has “no other legitimate permission under European law”.
RT DE began broadcasting its programs through various channels, including its website and satellite, in mid-December, using a Serbian license. German media regulators then opened proceedings.
RT DE said on Wednesday that its broadcast complied with European law and said its Serbian broadcasting license, granted on December 6, was valid until 2029. It said it would challenge the regulator’s decision in court.
There have been tensions between Germany and Russia over RT DE in recent months. In September, YouTube shut down two German RT channels in a move centered on alleged coronavirus misinformation, a move that prompted threats of retaliation from Russia.
Last year, Luxembourg rejected an application by RT for a license to distribute its German-language service via satellite. The country’s authorities have concluded that Luxembourg is not the right jurisdiction to rule on the claim because RT’s German service is based in Berlin and a significant part of its workforce is in Germany.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday called the decision against RT “an attack on freedom of expression”.
Deutsche Welle is Germany’s international public broadcaster. It is funded by taxpayers’ money but is editorially independent. It says it provides content in 32 languages.
Deutsche Welle has held a broadcast license in Russia since 2005 for its DW English and DW German television channels. Current licenses issued by Russian media authorities are valid until 2025 for DW English and until 2027 for DW German.
German Culture Minister Claudia Roth said the ban and closure of Deutsche Welle’s office in Moscow was “in no way acceptable”.
She said equating RT’s situation with Russia’s action against Deutsche Welle “has no basis”.
“RT DE is currently broadcasting without a license and has not requested permission,” Roth said in a statement. “It’s a completely different situation than DW, whose license is now revoked.”
Roth also noted that the German state has no influence over DW’s programming.
“I urgently call on the Russian side not to abuse RT’s licensing law issues for a political backlash,” Roth said. “There must be clear steps towards de-escalation in the mutual relationship.”
Moulson reported from Berlin.
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