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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

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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