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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

Thursday, Oct. 2


The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Mikhail Lermontov continues with todays free exhibition in the citys Lermontov Library at 19 Liteiny Prospekt. Titled Under the Rustling Wings, the temporary exhibition will feature the costumes and scenery used in the 1917 production of Lermontovs play The Masquerade, which he wrote in 1835 when he was only 21 years old.



Friday, Oct. 3


Learn more about how to manage and evaluate employee performance during SPIBAs Human Resources Committee meeting this morning on Employee Assessment: Global and Local Trends. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the discussion will touch on such topics as the partnership between HR and business, reliable assessment strategies and more, with Tatiana Andrianova, the head of the SHL Russia and CIS branch in St. Petersburg, as the featured guest. Confirm your participation by Oct. 2 by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.


AmChams Procurement Committee Meeting is at 9 a.m. this morning in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.



Saturday, Oct. 4


Wine and cheese lovers will get their chance to revel during Scandinavia Country Club and Spas Wine Market Weekend. Going on today and tomorrow, wining diners can listen to live music, take part in culinary classes and, of course, sample a variety of fine wines from around the world. The cost of admission is 400 rubles ($10.30) for adults and 200 rubles ($5.15) for children.



Sunday, Oct. 5


Look for the latest fall fashions at the Autumn Market today in Freedom Anticafe at 7 Kazanskaya Ulitsa. The minimarket plans to offer clothes more flattering than the puffy jackets that are a staple of the citys cold-weather fashion, while offering the same amount of protection from the biting winds blowing off of the Baltic.



Monday, Oct. 6


SKA St. Petersburg, the citys KHL affiliate, welcomes Slovakian club HC Slovan in a match-up tonight at the Ice Palace near the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased on the clubs website or in person at either the arenas box office or the clubs merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Oct. 7


Learn more about Russias energy industry at the St. Petersburg Energy Forum that begins today and runs through Oct. 10. Attracting industry experts and political and business representatives, the forum plans to welcome more than 350 plus companies and their representatives to discuss the future of Russias largest economic sector.



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