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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Editors Unite Against Election Reporting Restrictions

Editors of Russia's major newspapers said Friday that restrictions on the media's election campaign coverage proposed by the head of the Central Election Commission were absurd and unrealistic.

CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said this week that rules should be established under which journalists would be allowed to mention only candidates' names and the names of blocs and parties. Any other coverage would be considered "agitation" and would be punished.

Veshnyakov has asked Press Minister Vladimir Lesin to sign an agreement with him about these proposed rules, CEC spokeswoman Taisya Nechiporenko said Friday.

But newspaper editors emerged from a meeting with Veshnyakov with a decidedly negative view of the proposals.

"I'm categorically against any agreements," Mikhail Berger, editor of Segodnya said after the meeting.

"We have a constitution that guarantees the fundamental rights of journalists and an election law, whether we like it or not. Any protocols and agreements, if they appear, won't have any judicial power, and no one will follow them," he said.

Berger criticized the CEC head for insisting journalists have no right to agitate, as neither the media law nor the constitution contain any restrictions concerning election agitation.

Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, owned by Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, called the CEC proposal "a ridiculous paper."

"This is a strange position of the CEC. I don't really see what they [CEC officials] want. In my opinion, they want something absurd, which will not work in reality," Tretyakov said. "Everybody will write whatever they want, and no court hearings will scare anyone."

Tretyakov added that if CEC officials punish a TV station or publication for so-called agitation, they will only be doing it a favor by boosting its popularity.

He said that following the logic of the CEC, virtually all of Moscow's media should be fined or otherwise punished after the unanimously negative coverage given to the ultra-nationalist group Spas, whose registration for the State Duma elections was annulled Friday.

"It is impossible to distinguish between the anti-fascist position of Moskovskiye Novosti and agitation against Spas," agreed Viktor Loshak, editor of the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti.

"The CEC works wonderfully in other areas. I don't understand why it has intruded into a sphere that it won't be able to control anyway," Tretyakov said.

Veshnyakov said his proposal was not an attempt to muzzle the media.

"The document contains the position of the CEC, which is not dogmatic," he said.