At this time two years ago, many of us were returning to work and school following carefree March Break escapades. We were all caught off guard when the pandemic hit. Now, as we approach a return to a new normal with the arrival of spring and the relaxing of public health measures, it seems the world has shifted once again into the unfamiliar, as reports of a more insidious war have taken over our news feeds.
The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, and the ensuing conflict, are nothing short of horrifying. We have watched Volodymyr Zelensky rally his country and international allies by standing up to a brutal Russian onslaught. We have witnessed well over a million Ukrainians flee their suddenly war-torn homeland, while thousands have returned home from abroad to fight. Media coverage has been frighteningly raw, gut-wrenching, and immediate, thanks to social media access and reliable news sources. While it is hard to understand why, or even how, this war has escalated so quickly, it even more difficult to fathom that there are some in Russia who believe it is nothing more than a “special military operation.”
The plight of the Ukrainian people right now brings the importance of independent media and journalism into sharp focus. Russian authorities and regulators have been known to penalize media outlets that veer away from Kremlin-approved propaganda, while tight control is maintained over content that is aired or printed by state-owned media.
A law passed last week made reporting “fake news,” such as referring to the conflict in Ukraine as an invasion or war, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Likewise, media are no longer allowed to report on dissent, or the protests over the war that are taking place within Russia or around the world.
Russia has essentially criminalized the process of independent journalism, and in the process has isolated its citizens from a terrible reality.
One of the main roles of news media is to hold governments to account, which is impossible to do in the current context in Russia. Most, if not all, independent outlets have now closed, and most international media offices have also stopped broadcasting within Russian territory. The BBC went so far as to provide instructions in Russian to access its reports on the dark web. The CBC has suspended its services out of concern for the safety of its journalists and staff. We should all count ourselves lucky that while we may not always approve of the “news” in our country, at least we do not have to question its independence, or be concerned for the immediate safety of those who report it.