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Gazeta, June 16, 2003

Special Regime for Media
Media restrictions will be introduced during election campaigns

By Olga Redichkina and Alexei Redichkin

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" every time.

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.".

Sergei Mitrokhin, 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," added Mitrokhin.

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.


See also:

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Gazeta, June 16, 2003

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