RUSSIA: Russian state media’s decision to expel a senior BBC journalist in Moscow by refusing to extend her accreditation has been condemned by the broadcaster as a “direct assault on media freedom”.
The state broadcaster Rossiya-24 said BBC reporter Sarah Rainsford would have to leave at the end of August when her visa expires.
Rossiya-24 first reported the decision on Thursday evening, calling it a response to alleged U.K. refusals or delays in issuing visas to Russian journalists.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said in a post on Telegram that the Russian government had given repeated warnings that it would respond to what she called visa-related persecution of Russian journalists in the UK.
The Rossiya-24 report also claimed that correspondents for other state-backed organisations, such as broadcaster RT and state-owned Sputnik, were not accredited by the U.K. government to cover international events.
In a statement, the British embassy in Moscow denied any Russian journalists being discriminated against in the U.K.
“This is another unjustified step by the Russian authorities. We urge them to reconsider this retrograde step against an award-winning BBC journalist which can only do further damage to media freedom in Russia. We reject the MFA’s claims of discriminatory action against Russian journalists in the UK. Russian journalists continue to work freely in the UK, provided they act within the law and the regulatory framework,” the statement said.
The BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, said in a statement, “Sarah is an exceptional and fearless journalist,” he said in a statement. “She is a fluent Russian speaker who provides independent and in-depth reporting of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her journalism informs the BBC’s audiences of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
“We urge the Russian authorities to reconsider their decision. In the meantime, we will continue to report events in the region independently and impartially.”
Late on Friday, Rainsford tweeted: “Being expelled from Russia, a country I’ve lived in for almost 1/3 of my life – and reported for years – is devastating. Thank you for all your kind messages of support.”
The political expulsion of a BBC correspondent quoted as “symmetrical response” in the Rossiya-24 report, to alleged pressure on Russian journalists signals a turn toward Chinese-style policies of blocking accreditations for leading U.S. and U.K. outlets to clamp down on foreign reporting.
“Sarah Rainsford is going home. According to our experts, this correspondent of Moscow’s BBC bureau will not have her visa extended because Britain, in the media sphere, has crossed all our red lines,” the report said.