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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

People Have Right to See Duma Show

An ongoing battle between the State Duma and television journalists came to a head Wednesday, when deputies voted to ban all television crews from the Duma chamber, allowing only a friendly in-house press service to film debates.


Media activists call the move a blow to press freedom at a critical moment in the development of Russia's democratic institutions. Duma deputies say the news media don't do their job, focusing on the silly antics of parliamentarians instead of reporting on the legislature's important work.


Both are right. But the silly antics won't go away just because millions of viewers across Russia won't see them anymore. The Duma's image problem is much more the fault of those deputies who fool around when they should be passing much-needed laws than of those who broadcast their buffoonery for Russia and the world to see.


In principle, the idea of keeping cameras out of parliamentary sessions is not new. Other countries, such as Britain and the United States, have long restricted such access to lawmaking chambers. But in addition to controlled television access, they also provide press galleries from which print journalists can see and report all the action. The Duma does not.


That means the media and the public view of the Duma will be restricted largely to what the press service cameras show, usually only the featured speaker of the moment.


The Russian television media have, in a way, asked for it. Pictures of parliamentarians sleeping or picking their noses often have little to do with the topic being reported. The government, which heavily influences the editorial policy of the three main national channels, is often at odds with the Duma and does not hesitate to use television to show the lawmakers in a bad light.


This is particularly important now. Political observers say that Yeltsin is trying to prepare public opinion for a major standoff with the Duma that could result in its dissolution. The timing of the Duma's new resolution on television coverage suggests that deputies sense danger and are trying to protect themselves.


But people have a right to see how their elected representatives behave themselves at work. When, for example, members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party doodle with laser pointers on their fellow parliamentarians' foreheads, or when Zhirinovsky himself gets into a cat fight with a female deputy, voters should see the action and decide at elections if these are the kind of representatives they need.


Duma deputies who don't like the way they appear on television should think first about looking better. Pulling the plug only makes them look worse.