VRT’s Moscow reporter pulled after 24 hours

VRT’s Jan Balliauw had just arrived in Moscow to cover the war against Ukraine when the decision was taken for the VRT journalist to return back to Brussels.  Russia’s new media law and accreditation issues meant there was little alternative.

Big international news organisations are all having to take account of Russia’s new media law.  The BBC, CNN and Bloomberg have all decided to suspend their activities in the country amid fears journalists could face prosecution. 

Jan Balliauw had just set off for Russia.  The idea was to ensure the Russian view was also included in VRT coverage, but after barely a day in the country Jan repacked. “There were two main stumbling blocks” he says “I didn’t receive official authorisation to work in Russia as a journalist.  This has never been a problem in the past.  As long as I didn’t receive the accreditation, I was jobless in Moscow”.

“Normally the accreditation arrives very smoothly” says the reporter with a long track record of covering the country both from within Russia and abroad.  “In the morning it looked good.  I waited all day and by the evening it still hadn’t arrived.  Something was clearly up”.

The second big stumbling block is the new media law. 

“Everybody who doesn’t follow the Kremlin’s line is guilty of producing lies and that can land you with a 15-year prison sentence.  The words “war” and “invasion” can’t be used.  As a result it’s hard to say what you can and can’t do as a journalist in Moscow, even with accreditation”.

“The law also applied retroactively.  It means everything you said in the past can be used against you.  It means they can always find an excuse to get you into trouble if they want to.  This ratcheted up the uncertainty”.

In consultation with VRT’s editor in chief Jan then decided to return to Brussels.

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