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14th Aug 2022

Norway and Finland try to aid free press in Russia

  • Moscow: Russia's media regulator has taken down thousands of websites such as Barents Observer in recent years, in an internet crackdown (Photo: Alex F)

The Norwegian foreign ministry has voiced support for a small news agency trying to get back online in Russia after a long ban.

"The blocking of Barents Observer in Russia is an issue of concern and reflects the worrying state of affairs surrounding free media in Russia," Norwegian deputy foreign minister Audun Halvorsen told EUobserver on Tuesday (8 September).

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"Through various organisations, Norway supports several projects aimed at strengthening human rights and civil society in Russia, including free media," he added.

Barents Observer, which is based in Kirekenes in northern Norway, near the Finnish and Russian borders, is one of the few independent news agencies with a significant Russian readership in the region.

But in January 2019 the Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor, took it offline in Russia on grounds that its article about a gay man who had fought depression was promoting suicide.

And a Russian court recently upheld its ban, amid a wider Roskomnadzor crackdown on politically-undesirable websites.

Meanwhile, Norwegian-Russian relations suffered when Russia recently expelled a Norwegian diplomat in response for a Norwegian expulsion of a Russian one linked to espionage.

"We deeply regret [that]," Halvorsen said.

"The Norwegian diplomat had not engaged in any illegal or illegitimate activity and we regard his expulsion purely as an act of reprisal," he added.

"While Norway and Russia have disagreements in the area of security policy, we maintain practical, diplomatic, and political ties," he also said.

"Political dialogue is important in order to ... raise issues of concern, including in the field of human rights and conditions for civil society," he said.

Norway was ranked top in the world in terms of press freedom according to the latest study by Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, while neighbouring Russia was in 129th place.

Finland was ranked second-top in the world.

"Neither the foreign ministry nor our mission in Russia have information on restricting access of Finnish media content in Russia," the Finnish foreign ministry told EUobserver.

But Finland, like Norway, was also doing its part to help Russian people get access to reliable information, it added.

The ministry used to organise study trips for Russian journalists to "get to know Finnish media and its principles" before the coronavirus pandemic paused travel, Milla Shor, a Finnish spokeswoman, said.

"Through social media channels, Finnish missions in Russia also actively distribute to Russian followers materials produced by Finnish media in the Russian language," she noted.

And "Russian journalists are invited to networking events and regularly provided with background information and comments" by Finnish diplomats, she said.

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