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The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003

Can Media Cover the Elections?


The draconian restrictions placed on the media's election coverage, which came into force this summer, have been coming under increasing fire from various quarters as the autumn election season gets under way. And rightly so.

Under new regulations, the media are not allowed to provide any kind of "commentary" when covering the State Duma elections or any other election campaign. Furthermore, the official definition of "campaigning" is so broad that just about any newspaper article, TV report, etc. on an election could be interpreted as "campaigning," and it is illegal for media organizations to engage in "campaigning" unless it is paid for out of the campaign funds of a party or candidate. Two violations by a media organization in an election campaign and it can be shut down for the duration of the campaign.

In short, if one takes the new regulations literally then the whole of the Russian media might just as well pack their bags and go on vacation until the Duma elections are over (or, to be on the safe side, until next year's presidential election is over as well).

President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin-controlled Channel One and Rossia offered their own interpretation of the regulations, in the context of the St. Petersburg gubernatorial election taking place later this month, when the president demonstratively endorsed the Kremlin's candidate, Valentina Matviyenko, in a meeting that was copiously broadcast to the nation on the two channels.

In doing so, they rode roughshod over the new restrictions. However, neither the CEC nor the St. Petersburg election commission seems in any great rush to punish any of the offending parties. And this is perhaps not surprising. Presumably, the Kremlin did not shepherd the new legislation through parliament in order for it to trip up the president or silence two of the Kremlin's most important propaganda organs.

While judgment must be suspended until the St. Petersburg election commission pronounces on this particular incident, the legitimate concern is that the new regulations are really targeted at intimidating those media outlets that the Kremlin does not control, and ensuring that they exercise a strict policy of self-censorship. Whether this is indeed the case will become increasingly apparent as the Duma campaign progresses.

The new regulations certainly seem to pave the way for a particularly heavy-handed form of "managed democracy." The so-called law on the basic guarantees of voters' rights, which contains the restrictive regulations on media coverage, fails abjectly to provide voters with any such guarantees -- not only that, it is a fundamental erosion of their rights as enshrined in the Constitution.


See also:

the original at

State Duma Elections 2003

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003

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