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Russia is forcing media organizations to scrub their websites and go off the air


For journalists in Moscow, it's starting to feel like the Soviet Union again. Major international news outlets like CNN, The BBC and Bloomberg have said they are stopping their journalists in the country from working. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, they are citing a new Russian law attacking independent journalism, forcing some media organizations to scrub their websites and go off the air.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Novaya Gazeta, whose editor won a Nobel Peace Prize, is deleting all content about the war in Ukraine. The paper announced the move on Twitter, writing, quote, "censorship has now turned into a threat of criminal prosecution." Russia's parliament passed a law that threatens journalists with 15 years in prison if they disseminate so-called fake news about the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.


KELEMEN: Russia's last-remaining independent television station went off the air this week in dramatic form, broadcasting the ballet "Swan Lake," which Soviet television showed during a 1991 coup attempt. And this is what listeners heard on a popular Russian radio station as it was taken off the air.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).


KELEMEN: Ekho Moskvy turned to static just as the announcer was talking about Russia's censorship watchdog. Censors had been warning journalists that they can no longer use the words war or invasion when talking about Ukraine. Russia calls it a special military operation. Yevgenia Albats, who hosted a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy, says Russia is sounding a lot like a George Orwell novel these days.

YEVGENIA ALBATS: It is Orwell - "1984." In this world, truth is not truth, lies are not lies. Lies are the truth, and war is peace.

KELEMEN: The law's opaque language has left foreign journalists also wondering whether they're a target. The BBC's director general says that the law left him no other option but to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC journalists within Russia. The Russian service will continue to operate from outside the country. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.