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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poll Rules Curb Press

The Central Election Commission is drafting rules it says are aimed at ensuring fair election coverage that would prevent journalists on state-owned media from commenting on presidential candidates or asking questions during debates.

The draft under consideration forbids government journalists from "support or preference, expressed in any form, for any candidate"; requires that journalists who moderate televised debates between candidates refrain from interrupting or asking their own questions; and warns violators that they can be suspended from work for the campaign's duration, or fired.

Titled only "Instructions," the CEC's rules will apply to television and radio stations owned and operated by the state, and to government-funded newspapers.

That includes ORT and RTR -- Russia's first two television channels, and the only ones that blanket the entire nation -- as well as many smaller regional television and radio stations owned by local governments.

It also includes three national newspapers -- Rossiiskiye Vesti and Rossiskaya Gazeta, both of which publish government documents, and Krasnaya Zvezda, the military's newspaper. It does not include independent news media such as NTV, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Segodnya and Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Alexander Veshnyakov, CEC secretary, said the rules are designed to prevent the government-owned press from feeling compelled to support its current boss, President Boris Yeltsin. But media professionals were dubious that the regulations would have the desired effect.

"This means that federal TV and newspapers should stop showing and printing material, for example, about Boris Yeltsin or Gennady Zyuganov," wrote Nikita Vainonen, a political observer for Rossiiskiye Vesti. "Any information, even the most sterile or dispassionate, can be interpreted by the courts as support or preference for one candidate over another."