Russia has told a BBC journalist working in Moscow to leave the country by the end of this month in retaliation for what it called London’s discrimination against Russian journalists working in Britain, state TV reports.
BBC director-general Tim Davie called her expulsion “a direct assault on media freedom, which we condemn unreservedly”, and urged Moscow to reconsider its decision.
“In the meantime, we will continue to report events in the region independently and impartially,” he said.
In an unusual move that signals a further deterioration in already poor ties between London and Moscow, the Rossiya-24 TV channel on Thursday said Sarah Rainsford, one of the British broadcaster’s two English-language Moscow correspondents, would be going home in what it called “a landmark deportation”.
The step, a de facto expulsion, follows a crackdown before parliamentary elections in September on Russian-language media at home that the authorities judge to be backed by malign foreign interests intent on stoking unrest.
“Being expelled from Russia, a country I’ve lived in for almost 1/3 of my life – and reported for years – is devastating. Thank you for all your kind messages of support,” Rainsford wrote on Twitter.
Rossiya-24 said Russian authorities had decided against renewing Rainsford’s accreditation to work as a foreign journalist in Moscow beyond the end of this month when her visa expires.
The move was a response to London’s refusal to renew or issue visas to Russian journalists in Britain, it said.
The channel cited Britain’s treatment of state-backed Russian broadcaster RT and of online state news outlet Sputnik, saying neither could get accredited in Britain to cover international events.
“This correspondent of Moscow’s BBC bureau will not have her visa extended because Britain, in the media sphere, has crossed all our red lines,” Rossiya-24 said.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry (MFA), said BBC representatives had been at the ministry in recent days and everything had been explained to them in detail.
“We reject the MFA’s claims of discriminatory action against Russian journalists in the UK,” the British embassy in Moscow said, adding Russian journalists continued to work freely in the UK if they acted within the law and the regulatory framework.
Rainsford, a Russian speaker, is part of a team that supplies the BBC’s English-language outlets with content about Russia and the former Soviet Union.