#19 - JRL 7224
June 16, 2003
SPECIAL REGIME FOR THE MEDIA
Media restrictions will be introduced during election campaigns
Author: Olga Redichkina, Alexei Redichkin
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE DUMA HAS PASSED SOME AMENDMENTS TO SEVERAL LAWS, INCLUDING THE LAW ON ELECTIONS, IN THE SECOND READING. PENALTIES FOR BREAKING ELECTORAL LAWS HAVE BEEN SLIGHTLY RELAXED, BUT MEDIA OUTLETS CAN STILL BE SUSPENDED OR SHUT DOWN, AND THEIR CHIEF EDITORS IMPRISONED.
Using administrative resources during election campaigns will be punishable by a prison term; so will "bribing voters" by the "food kit." Chief editors of media outlets which violate the law on the elections will only be liable to administrative penalties. This is what the Duma deputies decided by adopting amendments to the Criminal Code, the law on charitable activities, and the law on the elections in the second reading. Central Electoral Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov was disappointed. He wanted the amendments to be adopted in the third reading on the very same day.
Amendments for the laws on the media, charitable activities and the Criminal Code, worked out by the Central Electoral Commission and submitted on behalf of the president wee adopted six months ago. "Pacifying" the journalists and deputies, Alexander Veshnyakov gave assurances that the amendments contained nothing fundamentally new and only brought the specified laws and electoral legislation into accord. However, the media industry was alarmed: according to the amendments any media outlet - print or electronic - could be shut down during an election campaign if the court found it guilty of violating the electoral legislation twice. The bill contained no list of violations and the court was supposed to decide it "on the spot" each time.
No clarity on what should be regarded as violations of the electoral legislation was available for the second reading. However, the bill got an insert about editors in chief of media outlets, envisaging "personal accountability." If a chief editor is brought to trial for breaking electoral laws, and repeats a violation, the electoral commission will have to apply to the media ministry or its territorial branch to have the activities of a media company suspended.
In order that no one could avoid accountability, TV and radio broadcasting companies must keep copies of programs containing campaign coverage reports for up to a year. Boris Nadezhdin, deputy chairman of the URF faction tried to stand up for journalists.
He asked his colleagues "to leave the law on the media alone". Nadezhdin said: "If we permit a special legal regime to be in force during the election campaign for the media, this regime will spread across the country, since there are always elections happening somewhere in Russia."
Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the Yabloko faction, opposed the "hypocritical toughening of penalties against the media. He said: "Why are we playing dumb? Will anybody suspend the activities of the ORT network? The penalties will be applied against independent media outlets, which might say something against the powers that be." Veshnyakov replied to that: "How could we stop a biased media presenter, if any?"
Penalties against sponsors, contenders for deputies and persons responsible for financial activities of parties and electoral coalitions were slightly mollified by the second reading. If jail threatened to all of them before, nowadays a fine or corrective services work of up to 12 months will be envisaged for material assistance "bypassing" the electoral fund, as well as producing propaganda materials, handing over material values at reduced rates.
In reply to Nadezhdin's request "to have mercy on the poor sponsors," commnist speaker Alexander Saliy importantly replied: "The threat of being jailed is among the chief factors in preventing excesses."
Despite their tiredness and the late hour, Duma members unanimously passed this bill in the second reading.
(Translated by Andrei Ryabochkin)