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Rossiyskaya Gazeta, November 12, 2003

Russian journalists to list would-be MPs according to their stance on media freedom

A long-forgotten word from the Soviet era was revived yesterday: nakaz or "wish list". The secretariat of the Russian Union of Journalists has sent this wish-list to all political parties and movements taking part in the parliamentary elections.

The document sets out eleven points which must be met if there is even to be talk of the existence of an independent press in Russia. After the elections no-one will take any notice of a journalists' declaration. Currently moral support has been pledged for everybody who take notes of the list and responds to the initiative.

The journalists' packet of legislative proposals, the press release says, "does not represent concessions or additional laws wrested from the state at somebody else’s expense, but rather a necessary base to enable the press to fulfil its obligations and answer for them".

The journalists' wishes include points for the removal from the Criminal Code of articles concerning the arrest and detention of correspondents accused of libel or defamation and the introduction into the Civil Code of a three-year term during which they can sue to defend their honour, dignity and professional reputation.

Moreover the Union of Journalists proposes including in the Russian Federation's Civil Code sensible limits on compensation for moral damage to prevent cases of the mass media being deliberately ruined and a levelling of the amount of duty on legal action seeking compensation for moral damage with those on property suits.

The first question put by the journalists to the Union's Chairman, Vsevolod Bogdanov, was as follows: "What will happen to those who do not respond to the wish-list?" According to Bogdanov, the electorate will be informed appropriately about parties and deputies who have not heeded the opinion of voter journalists and about parties that agree with the wish-list.

However, politicians will not be able to easily exploit such free PR. Their signatures will be demanded on the wish-list, to which journalists will appeal when their proposals are being considered in the new Duma. For example the authors of the list intend "to make it difficult for them to lie to us", that is, they intend making the deputies keep their promises. There is a possible scenario whereby a party or politician does not agree with all the points on the list. In that case they can attach their signatures only to those items for which they are prepared to vote in the Duma.

"What we are doing is in line with Russia's Constitution," declared Pavel Gutiontov, secretary of the Union of Journalists. "The State Duma is a representative body, isn't it? In other words the deputies represent the interests of the electorate. What we are doing is a serious social experiment which I hope will interest the public. The public needs a free press, doesn't it? And the press we have today is not free; it is hungry and dependent, such as the deputies need to be able to abuse it from the Duma podium."

The appeal to colleagues which accompanies the wish-list mentions how society as a whole has a vital interest in the existence of a strong, independent and authoritative press.


See also:

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

State Duma elections 2003

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, November 12, 2003

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