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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawmaker's Move Angers Media

A parliamentary council designed to monitor Russian television and radio began work Thursday, as President Boris Yeltsin vowed he would halt its efforts and one of his officials stormed out of the meeting.


The new body "would ensure the renaissance of morality on state television and radio", said Vladimir Lisin, the head of parliament's mass media committee, who chaired the first meeting of the council.


Yeltsin's supporters say the council amounts to an attempt by parliament to take control of the media and have refused to attend. The president assured leaders of a largely pro-Yeltsin mass media in a fiery speech Thursday that he would never support the council.


"I have not signed and will not sign such a law", he said, referring to a change in Russia's mass media law, approved by parliament last month, that gives the council the right to name and fire the heads of state radio and television companies.


A senior official from Yeltsin's government did briefly attend the parliamentary meeting - but only to inform the council of Yeltsin's position before storming out of the room.


"Your meeting is unlawful", said Yury Luchinsky, the press ministry's top watchdog for the protection of free press and mass media. "Yeltsin has vetoed your work".


As Luchinsky left the room, Lisin laughed off his remarks and the meeting - attended by members of parliament factions that usually oppose Yeltsin - resumed.


The council, officially called the Federal Council for the Defense of Freedom of Speech, has stood at the center of a battle between Yeltsin and the legislature for control over Russia's airwaves.


Legislators say that the media shows only one side of the country's politics - Yeltsin's. The president's supporters say that the legislature is seeking to monopolize its power over the electronic media.


Parliament passed the amendments giving the council its powers at the end of July. Last week, the president vetoed the changes.


Parliamentary leaders, confident that the legislature can override the law with a simple 50-percent majority vote, held their meeting anyway.


Viktor Yugin, the deputy chairman of parliament's mass media committee, who also attended the council meeting, said that parliament would appeal to Russia's Constitutional Court if Yeltsin refused to sign the law a second time.


Yeltsin's side also threatened to take action. The head of his Federal Information Center, Mikhail Poltoranin, called on journalists to show solidarity and prevent parliament from taking control over the media.


Vatery Tolsky, who heads a group representing regional television and radio companies, described the state of Russian broadcasting as "critical" and requested that Poltoranin replace Press and Information Minister Mikhail Fedotov.


Poltoranin, who is reviled by parliament, held the post of press and information minister until last December, when Yeltsin, under pressure from the legislature, reshuffled him.