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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Struggle For Izvestia: Bad Timing

After six months of tangling, the Russian parliament has done what it set out to do: It has seized control of Izvestia. Both houses of parliament voted this week to take over Izvestia's publishing facilities, which means that Russia's legislators technically now control one of the country's most popular newspapers.


Technically, that is. A month and a half ago. President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree putting Izvestia in his control, ostensibly to protect the paper's freedom. Which takes precedence -- parliament's legislation or Yeltsin's decree -- is unclear.


The parliament, insisting that it is not out to muzzle the press, presents the issue as a matter of real estate. Before the August coup, Izvestia belonged to the Soviet parliament. In the days of exhilaration that followed, the paper and its publisher hastily declared their independence.


Now the parliament says Izvestia registered itself illegally. Lawyers preparing to defend Izvestia in court admit that this is partly true. But the parliament confuses the issue by at the same time making regular attacks on the press.


Fresh from a tour of several countries, Ruslan Khasbulatov, the often blunt parliament speaker, declared Wednesday that no parliament anywhere is treated with such lack of respect as Russia's is by its own press. Khasbulatov told a Western journalist he would be jailed at home for writing about his country's parliament the way Russian journalists write about theirs. This hardly shows devotion to free speech.


On the other side is the government, which, citing a commitment to defend the freedom of the press, has rushed to Izvestia's defense over the past few months and has vowed to take the issue to the Constitutional Court. But is it freedom of the press that Yeltsin is defending?


Already, the government is effectively in control of the press. Most newspapers and magazines cannot survive without state subsidies as they struggle to adapt to changing economic conditions.


The fight over Izvestia is one of many points of contention between Yeltsin and the parliament. The legislators who engineered the Izvestia takeover -- Gennady Sayenko, for one -- are some of the most outspoken opponents of Yeltsin's reforms.


What is unfortunate is that this political bickering has spilled over into a domain that should remain as far as possible above the fray. By interfering with Izvestia, the parliament comes dangerously close to infringing on press freedom. and if the parliament is seeking to get a better deal from the press through coercion, this will never succeed. It is shooting itself in the foot.