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A JOURNALIST has accused press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of “abetting genocide” after it launched a controversial appeal for funds to censor Russian media.
Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett accused RSF of silencing the voices of the Donbass region’s inhabitants.
The group launched an appeal on Friday with an email from Jeanne Cavelier, head of the RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, asking for donations.
She claimed that several Russian television channels, including Rossiya 1, Perviy and NTV, were spreading “disinformation and content that in effect condones war crimes and incites violence and hatred, legitimising the invasion of Ukraine and the Russian army’s crimes.”
When pressed by the Morning Star, RSF was unable to point to any specific examples of such activity by the organisations cited in its appeal.
General secretary Christophe Deloire responded by saying that the channels were “created to destabilise our democracies in a context of information war” and had lied by describing Russia’s intervention as defensive.
“In short, they serve the interests of a repressive, censorious and propagandist state.”
He said that Russian media has challenged the dominant narratives on the bombing of a hospital in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and the massacre of civilians in the town of Bucha and also suggested that the US had funded “a secret network of biological laboratories used to design chemical weapons.”
But journalists say that it is right to scrutinise such incidents and seek to cut through the fog of war.
The appeal called for French authorities to act against Eutelsat, which RSF claims is profiting from broadcasting Russian media outlets and “deriving dividends from disinformation and censorship.”
It accused the satellite operator, in which the French state is a major shareholder, of “acting as an intermediary for the Russian war propaganda apparatus.
“Help us to get Eutelsat to comply with the international convention that requires respect for the right to freedom of expression and information,” it said above a donation button.
Mr Deloire denied that RSF was calling for censorship but accused the Russian outlets of promoting “propaganda and lies,” saying that “Eutelsat should rather broadcast independent Russian channels.”
He insisted this case was different from the state bans on RT and others which RSF opposed, but was about the jurisdiction of governments.
“We call on France and other signatory countries of the Eutelsat convention to impose the respect of the principles of this convention,” he said.
But Ms Bartlett told the Morning Star: “What RSF is actually doing is censoring the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, who have been living under Ukrainian bombing for over eight years.
“Ukraine has increased its shelling in the past four months, heavily hitting civilian areas and infrastructure, including schools, markets and hospitals.
“Russian media and those able to publish reports on sites like RT is giving those terrorised civilians a voice and holding Ukraine accountable for its war crimes,” she said.
“RSF is clearly working hand in hand with Ukraine in obfuscation of its murder of 754 civilians from January 2022 to July 21 2022 alone. That is in addition to the nearly 8,000 civilians alone Ukraine has killed over the past eight years.
“In covering this up, RSF is abetting genocide,” Ms Bartlett said.
RSF refused to comment on reports of journalists deemed to be “pro-Russian,” including Ms Bartlett, being placed on kill lists and declined to speak out about her case.
“Our team did not have the capacity to investigate the case. We need to get sources from all sides, and make sure that they provide information and not lies,” Mr Deloire said.
He denied that such appeals create a climate that puts journalists at risk, after some raised concerns that RSF is “placing a target on our backs.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “denouncing propaganda media is a way to defend the independence of journalists, whatever the editorial lines of their media,” adding that RSF does not have any political bias.
The press freedom organisation was founded in 1985 by French journalist Robert Menard and others.
Mr Menard is now mayor of the southern city of Beziers, having been elected in 2014 following a campaign backed by the far-right National Front.
RSF has received funds from US regime change outfit the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID, among others.
It has been accused of targeting countries that the US has criticised or sanctioned as part of a new cold war and regime change efforts, including China, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.
In 2008, a number of its activists were arrested for attempting to disrupt the flame ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.
Difference Group founder Dr Dan Steinbock said that RSF has previously supported coups against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras when those leaders held office.
He claimed that the group has admitted co-operating with the US State Department against Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, while pursuing similar joint interests in Libya, Iran and Iraq.
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