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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OSCE Says 'Clean,' But EMI Decries Campaign

Observers from the OSCE called Sunday's Duma vote a sign of progress "consistent with democratic principles," and those from the Council of Europe said the vote showed Russia remained on "the democratic road" - while a third European observer group called Russia's elections "sad" and a step back from democracy.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation called the election "vigorous," and an OSCE conclusion offered at a Monday news conference argued they "provided for open debate as well as the full and robust expressions of opinions."

The OSCE lamented "negative" media coverage. But OSCE observers suggested this coverage had little effect on the results, and added that media bias is "a problem in many democratic countries."

Ernst Muhlemann, head of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly observer team, said the election "has demonstrated that [Russia] will not deviate from the democratic road."

The OSCE said it had found some cases of Russian officials harassing opposition supporters by arranging to have them dismissed them from their jobs or subjected to "extraordinary tax inspections, administrative fines and criminal investigations that were subsequently proven groundless."

Helle Degn, president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly, said however that those offenses noted by foreign observers "were insignificant."

In sharp contrast to the OSCE and the Council of Europe, the European Institute for the Media concluded that Sunday's vote was already unfair long before ballots ever hit the box.

EMI observers concluded that the elections were not a contest of ideas, and they argued that Russian democracy is in worse shape than it has been since 1991 - largely because of a Kremlin-orchestrated media drive to smear the Fatherland-All Russia bloc and boost the Unity team.

"The election coverage was so biased that the Russian word 'kompromat' has become an international word thanks to these elections," said Jonathan Steele, a former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian and an EMI observer.

"In terms of the absence of political debate and the low level of journalistic ethics, I find yesterday's elections very sad."

EMI observers placed the majority of the blame on state-owned television outlets ORT and RTR for creating an artificial antagonism between two parties - pro-Kremlin Unity and anti-Kremlin Fatherland All-Russia - and ignoring all other contenders.

"Voters were not given the information necessary to make proper decisions," said Sarah Oates, an EMI elections observer and professor of politics and media at Glasgow University.

The EMI observers argued that the situation was worst in the regions, where often the only available news comes from ORT and RTR.

"The economic crisis in which Russia finds itself means the media is more and more dependent on a few owners and more and more vulnerable to pressure from these owners," said EMI expert Margo Light, an international relations expert at the London School of Economics. "In the regions, state media is funded by regional authorities who influence what they say."

EMI observer Michel Tatu recounted an alleged incident in Samara when a prominent newspaper editor reportedly had to pull a paid advertisement by a certain single-mandate candidate because the mayor of Samara didn't like the candidate.

Non-state-owned television channels were also guilty of biased and unbalanced coverage, the EMI observers said, holding up Media-MOST's NTV as the lone television channel to offer something approaching neutral coverage.

But there has been at least one positive change in Russian television: the "kompromat [coverage] was technically much more professional, and presented in a convincing way," Steele said.

As far as print media were concerned, the EMI pointed to a general "lack of appreciation for journalistic ethics and a lack of legal support for independent journalism."

EMI singled out Moskovskiye Novosti and Argumenty i Fakty as showing the only objectivity in print media. The others - like Izvestia, Kommersant and Segodnya - "fulfilled the political preferences of their owners."

Hidden advertising was a big problem, Steele said, and political ads were not labeled as paid for by a certain party.

"Izvestia's articles were paid for and one editor told me they charge an extra 50 percent if they do not print [paid for] at the bottom [of the article]," he said. "[These practices] clearly lower the trust in journalism, newspapers and politics."