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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senators Pass Tough Media Bill

MTSupporters of the pro-Kremlin People's Deputy faction rallying for tougher state controls on television on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad.
With only weeks left before the start of the parliamentary election campaign, the Federation Council on Wednesday unanimously approved amendments allowing election officials to temporarily shut down a media outlet deemed to be carrying biased reports about a campaign.

The raft of amendments, which were approved by the State Duma in the third reading last Wednesday, need the president's signature to become law.

Igor Yakovenko, head of the Union of Journalists, warned that the amendments will curb press freedoms and probably be applied selectively to news organizations that do not follow the official line. "The amendments make the objective enforcement of the law impossible, mainly because the law will now contain notions such as 'electoral propaganda' that are not properly explained," Yakovenko said.

Reporters Without Borders also raised concerns about the bill.

"The term 'electoral propaganda' is not clearly defined and could be construed as referring to any article mentioning a candidate. This would drastically curtail press coverage during election campaigns," the Paris-based media watchdog said in a statement Tuesday.

The bill gives election officials the right to suspend the operations of newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations that violate new strict rules governing election campaigns. Media outlets, for example, will be punished for praising one candidate, policy or position over another.

A first violation would result in a warning, while a second would allow election officials to take the matter to court and get the outlet's operations suspended for the rest of the campaign.

Senators, who approved the amendments in the last day of the Federation Council's spring session, insisted the legislation would not affect media freedoms. "Adopting such a law will not influence media freedoms in Russia," said Yury Sharandin, head of the upper house's constitutional law committee.

Meanwhile, dozens of supporters of the pro-Kremlin People's Deputy faction rallied Wednesday for tougher government controls on television. Gathering on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad in downtown Moscow, they called for restrictions on foreign films and a ban on violence.