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Where Freedom of the Press Is Not Guaranteed

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Old habits die hard:

    Russian deputies on Friday approved tough new media curbs during “anti-terrorist” operations, giving authorities greater control over coverage of crises such as last week’s Moscow theater siege.

    The measures, brought to the State Duma lower house of parliament long before last week’s mass hostage-taking by Chechen guerrillas, passed a third reading, 231-106. The draft next faces a vote in the upper house Federation Council.

    The draft law will again focus attention on President Vladimir Putin’s patchy record on media freedoms after controversy over private television channels that were effectively neutered after being critical of his rule.

    ….”People’s lives are more important than the right to information,” Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of Russia’s Union of Journalists, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

    “If you understand that your words could worsen the hostages’ situation, then you should shut up. Keeping quiet is not a problem,” he said.

    INFORMATION CATEGORIES PROSCRIBED

    The new rules specifically prevent the media from publishing information about technology, arms, ammunition and explosives used in anti-terrorist operations. That could have complicated reporting the Moscow theater siege.

    Under the new measures, the media might well have been unable to report the use of a powerful anaesthetic to knock out guerrillas intent on blowing up the theater if authorities stormed it. Almost 200 hostages remain in hospital.

    ….The draft media law would bar the dissemination of information that could hamper the conduct of anti-terrorist operations or endanger the lives or health of people involved.

    It would also bar the media from quoting individuals seen as threatening the conduct of anti-terrorist operations or any remarks judged as propaganda or seen to justify resistance to counter-terrorist measures.

    During the siege, the authorities banned the private NTV channel from broadcasting comments by Movsar Barayev, the commander of the guerrilla force in the theater.

    Nevertheless, most newspapers and national television stations lavished praise on Putin’s handling of the crisis, which won 85 percent support in the first post-siege poll.

This part would really bother me: “any remarks judged as propaganda or seen to justify resistance to counter-terrorist measures.” Pretty vague, too much power invested in the state over the dissemination of information.

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