Yesterday the Duma passed in the first reading a bill which would
limit the participation of foreign investors in Russian media.
The deputies unexpectedly supported the bill - 332 of them voted
in favour, only 22 against, with three abstentions.
The NTV affair has prompted the appearance of several versions
of a bill aimed at restricting the influence of foreign individuals
and businesses in Russia's media industry.
The draft prepared by the Unity faction was the most successful.
This restricts participation in Russian media by foreign individuals,
businesses or dual citizens to 50%. Alexander Chuev, one of architects
of the bill, said: "We consider it unacceptable for them
to own a controlling interest." According to Chuev, this
would impede Russian citizens' right to free speech, and would
not be in the interests of national security either. The Duma
Information Policy Committee supported the draft. Committee member
Pavel Kovalenko noted that most nations have laws regulating this
sector, and Russia should be no exception. For example, in the
United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic foreign media ownership
cannot exceed 20%.
This figure stirred up some debate in the Duma. Yegor Kuzmich
Ligachev questioned the validity of the decision: "So why
are we setting it at 50%, rather than 20-30% like they do? This
is a step toward legalising agents of influence." Another
Communist, Yuri Nikiforenko, accused the committee of being "wishy-washy"
and allowing "anti-state" interests to guide them: "If
a Western tycoon has 50%, and some frontman has another couple
of shares - we will have foreign political influence."
The Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko kept pushing their
line: the Russian media ought to be protected not only from foreigners,
but from "certain Russian individuals and companies".
This would require another law. Viktor Pokhmelkin of the Union
of Right-Wing Forces and Pyotr Shelishch of Yabloko proposed breaking
up share blocks even more, restricting each media shareholder
to no more than 25% - whether the shareholder is a Russian citizen,
a foreigner, or the Russian state. This proposal has been ignored
for the time being. The bill could be passed in May, and come
into effect this summer.