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State Duma Approves Bill Over Media Clampdown

Published: April 29, 2008 (Issue # 1369)


MOSCOW The State Duma passed in a first reading Friday a bill that would allow courts to close media outlets for publishing libelous statements, a law critics say would give authorities an additional tool to crack down on dissent.

The bill would add dissemination of deliberately false information damaging individual honor and dignity to the list of offenses for which a media outlet can be shut down.

Under current law, courts can close media outlets for publishing state secrets, extremist statements and statements supporting terrorism.

The Duma voted 339-1 in favor of the bill, which will now face two more Duma readings before being sent to the Federation Council for consideration. If approved there, it will be passed on to the president to be signed into law.

Fridays reading came two weeks after the tabloid Moskovsky Korrespondent published an article claiming that President Vladimir Putin planned to divorce his wife and marry Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabayeva. The newspaper suspended operations for financial reasons, according to its publisher after Putin dismissed the story as rubbish.

The bills author, United Russia deputy Robert Shlegel, said Friday that the bill was drafted before the Moskovsky Korrespondent article and that it was aimed at making Russian media more civilized.

Shlegel, 24, is a former spokesman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

Authorities have initiated numerous libel cases in recent years involving reports about public officials. In one high-profile case, Ivanovo journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov was convicted in October 2006 of publicly insulting a public official and fined 20,000 rubles ($840) for referring to Putin as a phallic symbol in an opinion piece.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the amendment would give authorities an additional instrument to shut down independent-minded media outlets.

Now that television and most newspapers are under the Kremlins control, authorities want to control the very few media outlets that remain free in the country, he said. There still are a few newspapers and the Internet that are out of its control.

Kremlin critics would likely be targeted should the bill become law, Panfilov said. It would work the same way the law on extremism works, only against those who oppose the powers-that-be, he said. If [the extremism law] worked properly, many Duma deputies would be in jail for their extremist statements.

Mikhail Fedotov, the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists and author of the current law on mass media, said it was unnecessary to include the amendment in the media law because libel is already a criminal offense.

You should then include [in the media law] that you should not encourage murder, rape or theft, Fedotov said, Interfax reported. In short, the whole Criminal Code. This is just stupid.

Even without the libel amendment, any word that a governor or mayor doesnt like is considered by courts to be false information, and the paper is simply closed, Fedotov said.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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