Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Russian magazines fall foul of latest media election law

NO COVERAGE The new law forbids the media to report on candidates' personalities, background or policies during any future election campaign

THE GUARDIAN , MOSCOW

Two Russian news magazines, the first victims of a draconian election media law, have received warnings from the press ministry about their coverage of voting in Moscow.

Russia has amended its election laws to forbid the media during an election campaign reporting on candidates' personalities or background, or analyzing their policies.

The law was explained as an attempt to crack down on the black-public relations campaigns of previous elections, when candidates paid journalists to smear their competitors.

But its blanket ban on basic political analysis and debate has drawn the criticism that the Kremlin's vision of a "managed democracy" has spilled over into outright censorship of the press.

The weekly magazines Kommersant Vlast and Tverskaya 13 were both served with warnings this week after they published articles about the Moscow mayoral election.

Under the new law, which came into effect in the summer but is being applied for the first time in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in December, a paper is allowed two warnings about its coverage before it is closed down.

Vlast was chastised for an article called "Are you not tired of Luzhkov?" because it apparently contained judgments on an electoral candidate, the Russian media reported. Tverskaya 13 was chided for an article headlined "Fire from a paraffin lamp," which gave full details of a press conference in which the Moscow mayor laid out his plans.

It was apparently guilty of reporting a candidate's non-professional activities and reporting on only one candidate. Under the new law the coverage has to include every candidate. A committee of 15 journalists from other news outlets judged the articles.

The warnings will add to the growing fear of state control in Russia.

On Tuesday night a festival of Chechen films depicting human rights abuses during the fighting there was called off, the organizers citing pressure from the security service. The films were shown in the US before coming to Moscow just before the Chechen presidential election.

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