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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethnic Reporting Bill Riles Deputies

The State Duma is to consider a controversial bill in a first reading Friday that would prohibit the media from referring to the ethnicity or religious affiliation of suspects or victims in crime reports.

But the legislation, which has been strongly criticized for limiting press freedoms and having little chance of improving interethnic relations, looks unlikely to garner support in the legislature.

The Moscow City Duma voted March 7 to send the bill, consisting of amendments to federal mass media laws, to the State Duma, where it came under fire Friday at a hearing of the State Duma's Information Policy Committee. The committee recommended that the legislature not pass the amendments.

"I view any changes to mass media laws with apprehension, as they can lead to a limitation of press freedoms," committee deputy head Boris Reznik said Monday.

"There is a problem with the media fanning xenophobic attitudes, but this should be dealt with through self-regulation instead of laws," Reznik said. "Editors themselves must understand what the result of their actions can be."

Nikolai Svanidze, the head of a working group created in the Public Chamber to examine the bill, said the group also had problems with the legislation.

"We see a lot of intolerance in the media, but that can't be cured forcefully," Svanidze, the host of the weekly political analysis program "Zerkalo" on Rossia television, said Monday. "Journalists will find other ways to indicate a person's ethnicity."

Andrei Savelyev, the leader of the nationalist Great Russia party and a member of A Just Russia's faction in the Duma, said a person's last name or place of birth were enough provide a good idea of an individual's ethnic background.

Savelyev, whose party was refused registration by the Federal Registration Service in July, slammed the bill as "a move to destroy ethnic self-awareness" among the country's diverse population. He said the move was unconstitutional, as Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to ethnic self-identification.

Journalists also expressed concerns that the legislation, if passed, could be used selectively to target media outlets unpopular with the authorities.

"It's hard to imagine that any law in Russia could work without creating some difficulties," said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

An unidentified United Russia party spokesman said Monday that the State Duma faction had decided not to support it, Interfax reported.

Another party spokesman declined by phone to comment Monday, saying the faction's decision on the bill would be clear after Friday's first reading.

Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy head of the State Duma Security Committee and a member of the Communist faction, said the amendments would actually make the xenophobia problem worse.

"Tensions are rising not because we do or don't talk about something, but because of what is actually happening in society," Ilyukhin said, adding that, if passed, the legislation would allow people to pretend that the problem does not exist.