| 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.
the original at
State Duma Elections 2003
Speech and Media Law in Russia