| 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
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
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.
the original at
State Duma Elections 2003
Speech and Media Law in Russia
"Can Media Cover the Elections?", Editorial,
The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003