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The Moscow Times, September 24, 2003

100 Deputies Challenge Media Restrictions

By Francesca Mereu

A group of 100 legislators is challenging the constitutionality of restrictions on media coverage during the election campaign in the Constitutional Court, saying the rules are infringing on free speech.

The appeal, initiated by the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, contests amendments to the media law that punish news organizations for backing one candidate over another, criticizing a candidate's position or publishing critical reports about a candidate's private activities. The amendments were passed in June.

"We think that they are against the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom in spreading information," deputy SPS leader Alexander Barannikov said Tuesday.

Barannikov said the vague rules are not only complicating the work of journalists but also "are making the election campaign more complex for political parties." "Any report in which journalists mention political leaders or parties taking part in the elections can be interpreted as campaigning, and this has to be paid for with election funds," according to the law, Barannikov said.

The appeal was signed by 28 SPS deputies, 27 Communists, nine Agrarians, six Yabloko deputies and six members of People's Deputy and five from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. The other signatories were independent deputies. Ninety signatures were needed to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party did not sign the appeal. "The party does not see anything wrong with this law, this is why its deputies did not sign it," said a United Russia official, who asked not to be named.

Barannikov said the rules are helping United Russia more than any other party. "On TV, the only thing you see are United Russia representatives meeting with the president," he said.

The Constitutional Court has yet to receive the appeal, court spokeswoman Anna Malysheva said.

Malysheva said the court has received two appeals against the amendments, both filed by journalists -- Konstantin Katanyan of the Vremya Novostei newspaper and Konstantin Rozhkov, a journalist from Kaliningrad. She said she expected another appeal, from Ekho Moskvy radio journalist Sergei Buntman, to be filed Wednesday.

The appeal from the Kaliningrad journalist is on the court's agenda and the judges "will probably decide to consider all the appeals -- from the journalists and Duma deputies -- together," Malysheva said. The court will reconvene after a summer break Friday and will set a date for the hearing after that.

Journalists are required to provide balanced coverage of an election campaign under the new rules. If a media outlet is deemed to have committed two violations during a single campaign, election officials can file a complaint with the Press Ministry calling for its suspension for the duration of the campaign. Only a court, at the ministry's request, can decide to suspend the activities of a media organization.


See also:

the original at

State Duma Elections 2003

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

"Can Media Cover the Elections?", Editorial, The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003

The Moscow Times, September 24, 2003

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