Johnson's Russia List
19 June 2003
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A CDI Project
June 19, 2003
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Media told to shut up for the duration of election campaigns
Coverage of elections becomes a dangerous venture
Author: Konstantin Katanjan
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
COMMENTS OR PREDICTIONS ABOUT ELECTIONS WILL BE VIEWED AS CAMPAIGN
ADVERTISING NOW; AND CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING IS THE SOLE PREROGATIVE OF
OFFICIALLY-REGISTERED CANDIDATES, PARTIES, AND BLOCS. JOURNALISTS AND
ORDINARY CITIZENS ARE NO LONGER PERMITTED TO PUBLICLY STATE THEIR
OPINION OF CANDIDATES.
Three hundred and fifty-eight Duma members voted yesterday in
favor of the "president's amendments" to the law on the media;
amendments actually drafted by the Central Electoral Commission.
In other words, the majority of the lower house voted to remove
citizens of Russia and the media from the election process. No more
free and democratic elections in Russia. Lawmakers abolished our
constitutional right to comment on the policy programs of parties and
candidates, to make predictions regarding the outcome of elections, or
to warn voters about the possible consequences of a victory for any
All print publications with such comments or predictions will be
viewed as campaign advertising now; and campaign advertising is the
sole prerogative of officially-registered candidates, parties, and
blocs. Journalists and ordinary citizens are no longer permitted to
publicly state their opinion of candidates. More than that, penalties
can be applied against any newspaper, magazine, TV program, or radio
broadcaster for statements "aiming to persuade or persuading the
electorate to vote for or against particular candidates or party
There is more to it than a ban on direct campaign advertising.
Bullying its way into freedom of speech and thought, the law enables
state officials to decide whether a journalist or the author of a
letter to a newspaper or magazine connived to persuade readers to
change their political position on the eve of the election. If the
decision is that he did, the newspaper will be punished. Two such
violations within a single campaign - and the court may rule to
suspend the newspaper in question until the end of voting in the
campaign or referendum. This is the essence of the amendment to the
law on the media adopted yesterday in the third reading. And since
there are always elections happening somewhere in Russia - at the
federal or regional levels - it is quite possible to keep an
inconvenient newspaper under pressure permanently, shutting it down
for a month or two several times a year.
Heads of state-controlled newspapers and TV channels may find
themselves outlawed. Several violations in a row may have them
disqualified for between two and three years. And violations can be
easily found, given some ingenuity, even when the publication in
question doesn't have anything to do with the election. Write an
article about a record crop - and it may be taken for campaign
advertising in favor of the Agrarian Party. Mention low salaries - and
it may be viewed as campaign advertising of the Communist Party.
Mention wage arrears - and it may be taken for campaign advertising
against United Russia, with its promise to keep an eye on timely
payments. Actually, any apple juice commercial can now be viewed as
pro-Yabloko campaign advertising.
At the same time, the Duma voted to toughen criminal and
administrative penalties for "dangerous actions encroaching on
citizens' election rights." In fact, these days the term "dangerous
deeds" applies best of all to the activities of lawmakers themselves.
It is they who have turned our rights into fiction. If the Federation
Council supports these amendments now, the citizens of Russia will
only be able to take lawmakers to court - or else vote them out of
office this autumn.