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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Regulatory Body Causes Concern Among Media Heads

President Vladimir Putin has decreed the creation of a new super-agency to regulate media and the Internet, sparking fears among journalists of a bid to extend tight publishing controls to the web.

Putin signed a decree this week that merges two existing agencies into one entity that will license broadcasters, newspapers and web sites and oversee their editorial content.

The new agency combines the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage and the Federal Information Technologies Agency.

Officials said this would improve efficiency by putting a single entity in charge of media content and technology, but some journalists expressed concern.

Raf Shakirov, who was dismissed as editor of Izvestia after critical coverage of the 2004 Beslan school siege, said Putin's decree could extend Soviet-style controls to online media, which have been relatively free to date.

"This is an attempt to put everything under control, not only electronic media, but also personal data about people such as bloggers," he said.

Russians are the second largest group represented on the big U.S.-based blog www.livejournal.com. Their blogs often feature political debates and advertise protests by opposition leaders.

But authorities have already fired a warning shot across the bows of one news web site, www.gazeta.ru, which got an official warning last year for "extremism" after writing about cartoons that satirized the Prophet Mohammed.

Roman Bodanin, Gazeta.ru's political editor, said the new super-regulator could make it easier for the government to track and pressure independent media because the same agency would control the granting of licenses and the supervision of content.

Andrei Vasilyev, editor of Kommersant, saw the move as part of a Kremlin drive to consolidate power before parliamentary and presidential elections.