Russia has moved to close CBC/Radio-Canada’s Moscow bureau and strip its journalists of their visas and accreditation, saying it was retaliating after Canada banned Russian state TV station RT.
“It’s our response measure, which is taken because of the decision of the Canadian government to ban broadcasting of the Russian channel, Russia Today and RT France,” Vladimir Proskuryakov, deputy chief of mission at Russia’s Embassy in Canada, told CBC News.
“There is no question about making any unfriendly steps against Russia. We will have to respond to this. This is the rules of the game.”
The move comes after Canada’s telecommunications regulator said it was removing RT and RT France, stations formerly known as Russia Today, from its list of non-Canadian programming services and stations authorized for distribution in Canada.
WATCH | Canadian ‘censorship’ behind decision to close CBC Moscow bureau, Russian diplomat says:
It was not clear why Russia waited two months to announce its decision.
On Wednesday evening, Proskuryakov said CBC/Radio-Canada’s foreign staff would have “not less than three weeks” to leave the country.
“I can assure you that the journalists, the reporters, the representatives of CBC will not suffer. So actually, we will take into account all the factors, family situation, etc., and we will allow them to still come back and finish their business, close all deals, what they need. And if they need, we will give them some time.”
Announcing the closure to reporters in Moscow earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused Canada and other countries of “open attacks on the Russian media.”
The Russian Embassy soon reiterated his stance in a tweet.
Proskuryakov said he “wouldn’t rule out” Russia shutting down other international news outlets’ bureaus, including those of European Union countries which have collectively banned RT and Russia’s Sputnik news agency since the start of the war in Ukraine.
In February, after Germany blocked RT’s broadcasts, Russia responded by closing the Moscow bureau of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and revoking press credentials for its journalists.
“Any unfriendly step will receive a response. So you have seen this with Deutsche Welle, now with CBC,” Proskuryakov said.
“So probably if we see that the rights of our journalists and the freedom of speech is violated in any country, any country, then we will take appropriate steps.”
CBC News editor in chief Brodie Fenlon said Russia’s decision was “very disappointing.”
“CBC News and its journalists are completely and entirely independent of any government or agency, so we don’t have anything to do with those [regulatory] decisions. We were there to report what is happening within Russia — factually, [and] accurately,” Fenlon said in an interview.
“Obviously we know that media and press freedom in Russia has been curtailed seriously. I suppose we are the latest evidence of that.”
CBC/Radio-Canada had maintained a bureau in Moscow for more than 44 years, and was the only Canadian news organization with a permanent presence in the country. Its bureau had 10 employees, including editorial and administrative staff, some of whom were locally hired Russians.
It was believed to be the first time that a foreign government had forced the closure of a CBC bureau.
CBC and other news outlets, including the BBC and Bloomberg, suspended their reporting from the ground in Russia in March, after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill introducing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine.
Fenlon said CBC would continue to cover Russia from outside the country.
Asked about the conditions under which CBC’s bureau might reopen in future, Proskuryakov said that process could begin if Canada allowed RT to resume broadcasting on its airwaves.
“We are just making a retaliatory step. It’s on the basis of reciprocity … As soon as Canada understands that it’s not right to close Russian TV stations or when Canada stops using censorship in media. So, of course, we will be glad to see CBC News back, Radio-Canada back. We have no problem with the journalists themselves.”
‘Not surprising,’ says Trudeau
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Russia’s decision “unfortunate but not surprising.”
“The truth, responsible journalism, sharing what’s actually going on with citizens is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin and his illegal war of authoritarian tendencies,” Trudeau told reporters.
“Canada will always stand up for a free, strong independent press doing its work, of challenging and revealing what’s going on in the world.”
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez drew a contrast between the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decision to remove RT from Canadian airwaves, and Russia’s decision to shut down CBC’s Moscow bureau.
“This is a totally independent decision by the CRTC … I asked the CRTC to do an inquiry, to consult with Canadians, which they did for two weeks. They met with hundreds of people and they rendered a very detailed decision, a 7,000-word decision. That’s what happens in Canada. In Russia, just like that, they kick out a journalist. Major difference,” Rodriguez told reporters on Parliament Hill.
Global Affairs Canada tweeted that it was in contact with CBC/Radio-Canada, and that its officials and staff in Moscow “stand ready to assist them as needed.”
Russia last month announced sanctions targeting 61 Canadians, including CBC president Catherine Tait and several journalists from other media outlets.
Canada on Tuesday introduced a bill in the Senate that will ban Putin and about 1,000 members of his government and military from entering the country, as it continues to ratchet up sanctions over Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Many foreign journalists, as well as Russian journalists working for independent news outlets, have left Russia since March, after Putin signed the law imposing hefty prison terms for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
Russian officials do not use the word “invasion” and say Western media outlets have provided a biased narrative of the war in Ukraine that ignores Russia’s concerns about the enlargement of NATO and alleged persecution of Russian-speakers.
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly scolded the West for what he calls an undemocratic crackdown on Russian state media organizations that he says provided an alternative to Western narratives.
Putin casts the war as an inevitable confrontation with the United States, which he accuses of threatening Russia by meddling in its backyard and enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance.
Ukraine says it is fighting an imperial-style land grab and that Putin’s claims of genocide and persecution of Russian-speakers are nonsense.