| The usage of administrative resources during election
campaigns will be punished by a prison term, as well as "bribing
voters" with "bags of food-stuffs." Chief editors
of media outlets that violate the law on elections will only be
liable to administrative penalties. This is what Duma deputies decided
by adopting amendments to the Criminal Code, the law on charities,
and the law on elections in the second reading. Chairman of the
Central Electoral Commission Alexander Veshnyakov was disappointed.
He wanted the amendments be adopted in the third reading on the
very same day.
Amendments to the media law, charities and the Criminal Code,
developed by the Central Electoral Commission and submitted on
behalf of the President were adopted six months ago.
"Pacifying" journalists and deputies, Alexander Veshnyakov
issued assurances that the amendments contained nothing fundamentally
new and only brought the specified laws and electoral legislation
into line with existing legislation. However, the media industry
was alarmed: according to the amendments, any media outlet - print
or electronic media - can be shut down during an election campaign
if the court finds it guilty of violating electoral legislation
twice. The draft law contained no list of violations, thereby
leaving it up to the court to decide each case "on the spot"
No clarity was provided for the second reading on what should
be regarded as violations of electoral legislation. However, the
draft law received an amendment about editors-in-chief of media
outlets, envisaging "personal liability." If a chief
editor is brought to trial for breaking electoral laws, and repeats
a violation, the electoral commission will have to apply to the
media ministry or its territorial branch to have the activities
of a media company suspended.
To make sure that nobody avoids responsibility, TV and radio
broadcasting companies must keep copies of programmes containing
campaign coverage reports for up to a year. Boris Nadezhdin, Deputy
Chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) faction tried
to defend journalists' rights here.
He asked his colleagues "to leave the law on the media
alone". Nadezhdin added: "If we permit a special legal
regime to be in force during the election campaign for the media,
this regime will spread across the country, as elections always
take place somewhere in Russia.".
Deputy Chairman of the YABLOKO faction, opposed the "hypocritical
toughening of penalties against media. "Why are we playing
dumb? Will anyone dare to suspend the activities of the ORT network
(Ed. A state-owned TV company)? The penalties will be applied
against independent media that dare to criticise the authorities,"
Veshnyakov replied that, "How could we stop a biased media
presenter, if there was such a case?"
Penalties against sponsors, contenders for deputies and individuals
responsible for the financial activities of parties and electoral
coalitions were slightly mollified by the second reading. If in
the past they all had to face the threat of imprisonment, at present
a fine or corrective work of up to 12 months will be envisaged
for material assistance "bypassing" the electoral fund,
as well as producing propaganda materials, handing over material
values at reduced rates.
In reply to Nadezhdin's request "to have mercy on the poor
sponsors," a communist speaker Alexander Saliymade replied
notably: "The threat of imprisonment is one of the chief
factors preventing any excesses."
Despite their fatigue and the late hour, Duma deputies unanimously
passed the draft law in the second reading.
of Speech and Media Law in Russia