Parliament passes restrictive legal amendments

New York, June 20, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disappointed that the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, passed a series of legal amendments on Wednesday, June 18, that would severely restrict the media’s ability to report on the December 2003 parliamentary elections and the February 2004 presidential elections.

The bill, titled “On Amendments and Addendums Brought into Certain Legislative Acts,” would empower the Media Ministry, Central Election Commission (CEC), and regional electoral commissions to shutter media outlets during electoral campaigns for engaging in “biased” political commentary.

After the bill was passed on Wednesday, CEC chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said the upper house of the parliament, the Federation Council, will examine the amendments on Wednesday, June 25, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported. If the council approves the legislation, it will go to President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

According to Veshnyakov, the amendments were designed to minimize the use of illegal campaigning techniques, in particular “black PR,” 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 law targets journalists and not the politicians who make the bribes.

CPJ protested the bill in a June 6 letter to State Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyev.

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