Following Russia's decision to close DW's Moscow bureau, withdraw accreditation from its journalists and consider naming it a foreign media outlet performing the functions of a "foreign agent," German politicians and institutions have defended DW.
Public broadcasters ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio all condemned the closure, saying it turned press freedom into a bargaining chip.
"Free, independent reporting is being drastically restricted in order to exert political pressure," ARD Chairwoman Patricia Schlesinger, ZDF Director-General Thomas Bellut and Deutschlandradio Director-General Stefan Raue said in a joint statement on Thursday. "The fact that this simultaneously turns press freedom into a bargaining chip fills us with great concern."
Journalist unions also expressed their support for their DW colleagues.
The German Journalists Association (DJV) urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately lift the ban and restore accreditations.
"There is no justification whatsoever for this drastic censorship measure," DJV chairman Frank Überall said, calling the step a "cheap retaliation" for the German media regulator's decision to ban Russian state-owned TV channel RT DE from broadcasting in Germany without a license.
German trade union ver.di, which also represents journalists, said the move showed that Russia was isolating itself and rejecting European values.
"This is a clear attack on the freedom of the press in a country that has suppressed freedom of expression and democratic opposition, even by force," ver.di board member Christoph Schmitz said, adding that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz should demand a reversal of the decision on a forthcoming visit to Moscow.
The Global Network for Independent Journalism (IPI) called the closure an attack on press freedom.
Call for Scholz to address issue in Moscow
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a lawmaker and member of Germany's business-focused Free Democrats, told DW that Scholz must tell the Kremlin that self-isolation damages Russia.
"All of these are overreactions, which to me indicate a tendency of self-isolation on the part of the Russian government, and I think the chancellor's visit may help to render that point clear: that Russia is not helped by self-isolation. Russia needs interaction with other parts of the world, and that includes allowing Deutsche Welle to work in Russia and from Russia," he said.
DW very different from RT
Friedrich Merz, head of the opposition Christian Democrats, sharply criticized the closure, saying RT and DW could not be compared.
"We have come to know Russia Today in recent years as a medium that was more of a propaganda instrument here than a free and independent television and radio station," he told DW. He said Russia should not equate the two broadcasters.
Several others touched on the issue of conflation as well.
German Federal Minister for Culture and Media, Claudia Roth, criticized the decision and said Russia had drawn false equivalence between RT DE and DW.
"The broadcasting ban on Deutsche Welle in Russia and the closure of its office in Moscow are wholly unacceptable," she said. "DW is also an independent organization. This means that, unlike RT DE, the German state does not exert any influence on programming. I therefore urge the Russian side not to exploit RT's licensing problems for political purposes."
Russians defend decision
Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media have meanwhile welcomed the move.
Russian Senator Andrei Klimov called Moscow's reaction "adequate."
"It is a responsive measure to the unfriendly acts from the German side," Klimov, who leads a committee on international affairs in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed Germany was responsible for an attack on freedom of speech by not granting RT DE a broadcasting license, despite allowing Russian journalists to remain in Germany, attend press events and report from the country.
"The situation is perfectly clear: a Russian media outlet, I would even say an international media outlet, has been banned from broadcasting in Germany. This is nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech," Peskov said on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Earlier, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova criticized the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for remaining silent after the German regulator's decision, accusing it of failing to stand up for media freedom.
aw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, Interfax)