Parliament approves restrictive legal amendments

New York, June 26, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disappointed that the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, the Federation Council, approved a series of legal amendments on Wednesday, June 25, that could severely restrict the media’s ability to report on the December 2003 parliamentary elections and the March 2004 presidential elections.

The lower house, or the State Duma, passed the legal amendments on June 18. [See CPJ’s June 6 letter.]

The language in the amendments is extremely vague, but they essentially empower the Media Ministry, the Central Election Commission (CEC), and regional electoral commissions to close media outlets during electoral campaigns for engaging in “biased” political commentary.

The amendments will now be submitted to President Vladimir Putin for signature. He is expected to sign them immediately so that they can take effect by July 1, the Interfax news agency reported.

CEC chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has said that the amendments were designed to minimize the use of illegal campaigning techniques, particularly “black PR,” which is a fairly common practice in Russia where political parties bribe journalists to write favorable articles about their candidates or negative articles about their opponents. However, the amendments target journalists and not the politicians who make the bribes.

“State regulation of the independent media is already highly politicized in Russia,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Putin to reject the amendments, which will only promote self-censorship and deny citizens access to basic information and opinions about the elections.”