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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

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although thesand sculptures at the Peter and Paul Fortress are more centrally located and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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