BBC news executives vowed Saturday night to continue reporting from Russia and China despite growing fears that both countries are increasingly difficult to cover.
After a surprise Russian move last week that will force correspondent Sarah Rainsford to leave Moscow permanently at the end of the month, a high-ranking figure on BBC news said Russia’s decision not to renew her visa marks a new low in relationships. “Efforts are being made to keep communications open, but the feeling is that Sarah is right when she says that she does not see Russia changing its mind,” he said.
Russian state media claim that the decision not to renew Rainsford’s visa is a retaliatory step in response to the British refusal to grant visas to some Russian journalists. But the names and media of those who were allegedly denied visas have not been made public.
In March, former BBC Beijing correspondent John Sudworth left China to report from Taiwan after pressure and threats from the Chinese authorities. Sudworth, who had won awards for his reporting on the treatment of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region, had also reported on the growing pressures to work under the Chinese regime.
This weekend, the BBC news executive said that just five years ago “it was almost unimaginable that we would lose staff in Russia or China”, describing it as “a kind of nuclear option” that brings them closer to no-go areas. established. like Iran and North Korea, where information is prohibited. “In the past, they have been very reluctant to deport their correspondents. It’s a bad look. So this shows how bad things are getting. We haven’t actually removed anyone from China, although Sudworth moved his family to Taiwan during the latter part of his assignment. “
The Russian decision to expel Rainsford shows that an institution as “large and robust as the BBC” is now the target of censorship, where it was once protected by the threat of serious damage to the reputation of a country that limited the scope of its activities. reports. The development also reveals, the news executive said, how difficult other smaller news organizations must find effective coverage.
Rainsford’s expulsion marks a shift in pressure from Russian-language media such as Meduza and Proekt on Moscow’s foreign press corps. It also sends a direct warning to the BBC, which has vastly expanded its journalism in Russian in the last five years and has recruited some of the best local news talent in the country.
That expansion has produced harsh reports that have angered the Russian government. Last week, BBC News Russian and BBC News Arabic published an investigation which revealed the size and scope of a Russian mercenary operation in Libya, using information from a Samsung tablet discovered on the battlefield. Reporters have privately expressed concern that as a refuge for journalists who have fled local media under pressure from the state, BBC News Russian, or themselves personally, it could also be a target of the government.
Speaking on Saturday, Rainsford said: “I really loved trying to tell the story of Russia to the world, but it is increasingly a difficult story to tell. However, I must say that I did not expect this to happen. There were clear signals for the Russian media: there have been really serious problems recently, for the independent Russian journalists, but until now, for the foreign press, we had somehow been protected from all that. ” The BBC still has around 100 employees working. in Moscow, including the staff of the BBC’s monitoring service, and does not see an immediate threat to this situation.
The BBC executive said the Russians had previously cited the British failure to accredit reporters working for the state news agency Tass and sanctions against Russian diplomats as a complaint.
“What they are saying is not false, but we certainly do not agree with the comparison with Tass. The BBC does not belong to the British government, it belongs to the British people. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism