"While Helsingin Sanomat and other foreign independent media are blocked in Russia, online games have not been banned so far," said Antero Mukka, editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat. Image: Shutterstock A
Finnish newspaper said Wednesday it was circumventing Russian media restrictions by hiding news reports about the war in Ukraine in a computer game popular among Russian gamers.
"While Helsingin Sanomat and other foreign independent media are blocked in Russia, online games have not been banned so far," Antero Mukka, editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, told AFP.
The newspaper was bypassing Russia's censorship through the competitive online shooter game Counter-Strike, which has many fans in Russia, where gaming terrorists and counter-terrorists battle against each other in timed matches.
While the majority of matches are played on around a dozen official levels or maps released by publisher Valve, players can also create custom-made maps that anyone can download and use.
The newspaper's initiative was unveiled on World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday.
"To underline press freedom, we have now built a Slavic city, called Voyna, meaning war in Russian," Mukka explained.
In the basement of one of the apartment buildings that make up the Soviet-inspired cityscape, Helsingin Sanomat hid a room where players can find Russian-language reporting by the newspaper's war correspondents in Ukraine.Also read: Kavita Devi and Meera Devi: Giving voice to marginalised with Khabar Lahariya
"In the room, you will find our documentation of what the reality of the war in Ukraine is," Mukka said.
The walls of the digital room, lit up by red lights, are plastered with news articles and pictures reporting on events like the massacres in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Irpin.
On one of the walls, players can also find a map of Ukraine which details reported attacks on the civilian population, while a Russian-language recording reading Helsingin Sanomat articles aloud plays in the background.
This is "information that is not available from Russian state propaganda sources," Mukka explained.
Since its release on Monday, the map has already been downloaded over 2,000 times, although the paper cannot currently track downloads geographically. Also see: Reporting on Covid-19 horrors: Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Amit Dave, the late Danish Siddiqui awarded the Pulitzer
"This definitely underlines the fact that every attempt to obstruct the flow of information and blind the eyes of the public is doomed to fail in today's world," Mukka said.
Mukka said an estimated four million Russians play the game.
"These people may often be in the mobilisation or drafting age," Mukka noted.
"I think Russians also have the right to know independent and fact-based information, so that they can also make their own life decisions," he added.