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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Media Watchdogs Say They Have Little Power

An arbitration court designed to ensure equal media access to political parties during the coming election campaign acknowledged Thursday that it has neither the staff, offices nor telephones to start work.

"We are the guarantor that the elections will be democratic", court chairman Anatoly Vengerov told a press conference. "We will stand against the manipulation of public opinion by the mass media".

But however noble its conception, the court as yet has neither the power nor the physical means to attain its goals. With just five weeks to go before the elections, the court has no staff, no office, no phones or funds, according to court member Anatoly Yezhelyev.

The nine-member Arbitration Information Court will find itself in the crossfire of one of the campaign's most divisive issues.

Arkady Volsky, who represents a bloc with the high-sounding title "Civic Union in the Name of Stability, Justice and Progress" on Thursday accused the chairman of Ostankino Television, Vyacheslav Bragin, of imposing an "information blockade" on all parties except Russia's Choice, on whose ticket Bragin is running.

"National television should not be used in the interests of one's own bloc", said Volsky. Volsky said he had calculated that Ostankino already owes him 11 hours of air time, based on the amount of coverage that Russia's Choice candidates, many of whom are government officials, have received.

"The government has already begun its election campaign", he said.

The court was set up by presidential decree on Oct. 29 and will sit until the Dec. 12 elections. But it has no real power to impose sanctions on those who violate the rules. In cases of flagrant bias, it can advise that the journalist be barred from covering the election.