Duma Will Not Pass Media Bill

The State Duma will not pass a bill that had raised alarm about media freedom by toughening the penalties for libel.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, a senior leader of United Russia, said Monday that his party had changed its position on the bill, which would have allowed courts to close media outlets for publishing libelous statements.

Critics said the bill would have given authorities an additional tool to crack down on dissent. The bill passed its first reading in the Duma last month by a vote of 339-1, raising alarm among media-freedom groups.

It was authored by United Russia deputy Robert Shlegel, the Duma's youngest member and a former spokesman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

"I would like to calm down the media," Gryzlov told reporters after a meeting of United Russia's leadership, according to a transcript on the party's web site. "The concern of my colleague, Robert Shlegel, is understandable, but we consider the amendments superfluous."

United Russia holds a commanding majority in the Duma and effectively controls which legislation is passed.