During an April 11 press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariya Zakharova came with a strong criticism of French government actions towards Russian media outlets and their journalists.
Violations of the rights of Russian journalists and media outlets in France over the past years (source):
Official Paris has consistently and systematically declined to issue accreditation documents to Russian journalists from Sputnik agency and employees of RT France television channel, as well as RIA Novosti correspondents, for attending events being organised by the French Foreign Ministry and the Elysee Palace. For over a year, the French Foreign Ministry has been ignoring press card issuance applications from Sputnik and Ruptly agencies, although they comply with all formalities. However, all journalists working in the country must have press cards. In 2018, French politicians and officials declined to meet with journalists on over 70 occasions. All this is being done in line with instructions from the Elysee Palace, and the French side has repeatedly notified us about this. The Sputnik editorial office does not receive news bulletins or press releases from government agencies. The agency’s Russian employees are also regularly subjected to special control while crossing the French border even during trips inside the European Union.
Timeline of violations in 2018
We always have a very critical opinion of accusations being voiced against us when no facts are presented. Today I will state the facts, and then we will get to the conclusion.
On January 10, the administration of President of France Emmanuel Macron did not allow a Russia Today film crew to attend the Rome summit. According to the television channel, the accreditation request was submitted and accepted, but members of the Elysee Palace’s press service stopped responding to journalists after the crew arrived in Italy. President Macron’s team declined to explain this decision.
On January 15, an RT France journalist was not allowed to enter the Elysee Palace hosting a briefing with President of France Emmanuel Macron’s press secretary. After seeing the press card, an employee of the Elysee Palace’s press service said that Russia Today staffers were not journalists, and that one had to be a journalist in order to enter the building. According to an RT France spokesperson, employees of media outlets who did not confirm their intention to attend the event were, nevertheless, allowed to take part in the briefing.
On May 29, an RT France journalist was not allowed to enter the Elysee Palace on instructions from the French President’s administration. According to RT France, the journalist was not allowed to enter because he worked for Russia Today. However, the journalist had a valid press card, as required by head of Elysee Palace’s press service Marion Beyret, with whom he had spoken over the telephone the day before. A BBC correspondent who also arrived there with a press card was allowed to go inside.
On September 4, a report prepared by analytical centres of France’s Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry and dealing with information manipulation was published. The report’s authors openly deny Russia Today and Sputnik the right to call themselves media outlets and claim that our news agencies engage in propaganda. They “expose” episodes of an information war being allegedly waged by Russia in various regions without citing any evidence, and many of these episodes are based on blatant lies. For example, Russia Today is credited with a news story that the people of Catalonia study Spanish as a foreign language, although the television channel did not report on this.
Moreover, the report lists 50 recommendations for countries, civil society and private individuals. One of them advises that Russia Today and Sputnik journalists should not be accredited. The idea is to isolate foreign propaganda outlets; first, they should be called by their names. After that, their representatives should not be accredited or invited to news conferences for journalists. To illustrate the proposal to call them by their names, the document quotes President of France Emmanuel Macron as saying that Russia Today and Sputnik are agents of influence.
On November 26-27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Paris. A shocking situation emerged during his visit when the French side declined to allow representatives of the Russian media who work in the French Republic on a permanent basis to attend a joint news conference with both ministers at the French Foreign Ministry until the last moment, citing applications that had allegedly been incorrectly submitted. Only some of the Russian journalists, members of a pool that arrived from Moscow, received accreditation. The lists of journalists were submitted in advance, and the Russian Embassy received confirmation on all of them (that they had been obtained). The following question remains open and unclear: what accreditation terms were violated? Unlike the French side that can produce nothing to confirm its position, we have all the required documents.
The matter was resolved only after Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated categorically that he would not attend a news conference from which Russian journalists are being barred.
On November 24, RT France employees, a Russia Today correspondent and a stringer of Ruptly video news agency were injured during protests in Paris. A cameraman of RT France television channel received a minor injury, and reporters of the channel’s two film crews were hurt when tear gas was used. One of the correspondents received minor burns.
Timeline of violations in 2019
In January, the French state television (France 4 channel) broadcast a programme for children, which unambiguously stated that the Russian media are “lying,” the Russian President is spreading fake news, and Russia is the world’s most undemocratic country.
On February 1, during an informal meeting with journalists, French President Emmanuel Macron accused a number of Russian media, in particular, Sputnik and Russia Today France, of spreading misinformation in order to destabilise the domestic political situation in the country, including by purchasing social media accounts. Talking about the nature and source of threats and qualifying certain Russian news resources as “pro-Kremlin,” Mr Macron put them on a par with radical political groups, including ultranationalist movements, referred to in France as la Fachosphère.
On February 15, the head of the election headquarters of the party led by Macron said in an interview with Le Monde that neither Russia Today nor Sputnik would receive accreditation to cover the party’s election campaign. “They are not media representatives, they are propaganda outlets at the service of the Kremlin. They should not be associated with the media which verify information before publishing it. According to the European Commission, Sputnik publishes 10-15 fake news each day.” Where are these materials?
On February 27, the French newspaper Le Parisien published an interview with the French Government official spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, who once again attacked Russia Today TV channel and Sputnik agency. In addition to accusations of the Russian media that have already become traditional for the French political establishment of interfering in certain electoral processes and spreading fake news and disinformation, Mr Griveaux brought up the Fachosphère theme.
In response to a question of whether there are concerns about foreign interference in the European elections, Griveaux actually equated Russia Today and Sputnik to the Fachosphère and Patriosphère movements: “It all depends on what you call intervention. What we observed in the 2017 presidential campaign was the influence of the Patriosphère and Fachosphère social networks. Both trends are very close to Sputnik and Russia Today media sponsored by the Kremlin, which came into existence largely due to the Fachosphère support.
In early March, it was reported that the French Media Regulatory Authority (CSA) is seeking to end cooperation between the independent Paris radio station Aligre FM and Radio Sputnik France. The regulator called on the radio station to speed up the process of terminating the agreement with Sputnik, which was scheduled for late 2019.
On March 16, another Russian media representative, producer of the video agency Ruptly was wounded in the leg during the yellow vests protest rally in Paris.
On March 19, Head of RT France TV channel Xenia Fedorova received an anonymous letter threatening her and other members of the editorial board. An anonymous author wrote, in particular, that her death “is just a matter of time.” The board members noted that even before this, letters from another person had come to different addresses of RT France, who also called the editorial office several times by phone and demanded that the channel be closed.
In early April, information was received about the infringement of the rights of Russian media in France in the run-up to the international forum Trianon Startups sponsored by the Russian-French civil forum Trianon Dialogue, which will be held in Versailles on April 15. The Department of International Cooperation of the Skolkovo Foundation asked the Russian Embassy in France to assist it in distributing its press release among Russian journalists. The text indicated that the French organisers cited a “directive” of the Elysée Palace – this, by the way, has been running like a common thread everywhere for two years now. Everyone – journalists, representatives of press services of the executive authorities of France, political scientists, experts and people whom journalists approach for interviews – is telling us about this. Referring to the “directive” coming from the Elysée Palace, they strongly urged that “participation of Russia Today and Sputnik in the event is prohibited.” This is a bilateral event co-hosted by Russia. What are you banning? Who is your ban for? That is how it is formulated in the letter that came to the embassy.
What follows from this? We have been issuing warnings for quite a while. This period is over. Another period has begun, which we call the “period of mirror approach to France” in this area.