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Russian Rights Envoy Wants Stricter Legal Protection For Journalists

File Photo of Mikhail FedotovMoscow, 12 April: Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the president of the Russian Federation, has said that punishment for obstructing the work of journalists does not really exist and that amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation can help regulate this matter.

Attacks on journalists, which became more frequent last year, provoked an active debate in society on whether legislation could be used to improve the safety of those working in the mass media and at the end of November a bill was submitted to the State Duma which toughens responsibility for attacks on journalists. In particular, the amendments establish responsibility for the very fact of using violence to prevent journalists from doing their legitimate work.

"We hope that the appearance of Part 3 in Article 144 of the Russian Criminal Code will lead to the establishment of real penalties in practice for incidents of journalists being obstructed from doing their legitimate work. Grounds for this are provided by the Centre for Extreme Journalism, which records incidents of such obstruction every week," Fedotov told the conference, "The mass media as the fourth estate: myth and reality", which is being held at the office of the European Union in the Russian Federation.

He gave figures provided by the Centre for Extreme Journalism, according to which in the course of a month "about 10 such incidents are recorded around the whole country, hence there should be 10 criminal cases a month... But there are no such cases. As borne out by the statistics, their number is zero. Sometimes this figure goes up to one (criminal) case a year," he said.

The head of the council also said that "the new media are opening up new horizons".

"A newspaper could be subjected to censorship - which is against the law - or closed down, but it is impossible to close down or censor the internet; this doesn't make sense because the internet is trans-boundary," he said, adding, at the same time, that this trans-boundary nature of the internet posed a danger because crimes could also be committed in virtual space.

The council under the president "insists that media activities on the internet should be absolutely free", Fedotov said.

"But if the owner of an internet resource wants to be treated as a media source, they can submit their resource for registration and in this case they will be covered by the media law," he said.

Fedotov also said that, in the opinion of the council, "the right of access to the internet should be regarded as a new human right".

According to him, "the state should leave the media sphere".

"The state should deal with the regulation, but not creation, of the mass media. This is not its business. This (the internet) is a sphere in which private business should operate. It is a sphere in which civil society should operate. It is a sphere for the public media but it is not a sphere for the state media. The state media are the remains of the old system," the head of the council said.

He said that "in the regions, preparations for the process of privatization are already under way".

"Admittedly, privatization is a good thing, but privatization among a narrow circle of insiders is not such a good thing.

"Privatization of the state mass media is not the same as privatization of a shoe factory. It is linked to the interests of the public and the interests of journalism," the expert said.

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