Russian Lawmakers OK Media Limits

By: Steve Gutterman, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Russian lawmakers approved media law amendments Wednesday that critics charge would severely curb coverage of anti-terrorist operations and prohibit news outlets from carrying rebel statements. Presidential approval is still needed to make the changes law.

The amendments were passed in the upper house of parliament by a vote of 145-1 with two abstentions.

The proposed changes have provoked strong criticism from free-speech advocates, who say they would make it very difficult to report the three-year-old war in Chechnya, where media access is already restricted.

“Limiting the possibility for full, objective coverage of such an important topic as the security of the state and its citizens is useful only for bureaucrats who … try to hide their own mistakes and crimes,” liberal Yabloko party head Grigory Yavlinsky wrote in a letter to the head of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov.

The amendments would prohibit the media from reporting information that hinders counter-terrorist operations or reveals the tactics or people involved in such operations. They would also ban the publication or broadcast of “statements by individuals that are aimed at hindering a counter-terrorist operation and/or justifying resistance to a counter-terrorist operation.”

“This formulation extends not only to terrorists but to all who allow themselves to criticize the authorities’ actions,” Yavlinsky wrote.

The amendments were drafted before last month’s hostage crisis in Moscow, which tested the Russian media’s ability to cover anti-terrorist operations without running up against government prohibitions.

Authorities shut down a Moscow television station briefly after accusing it of publicizing possible escape routes for the attackers who took hundreds of people hostage in a theater and threatened to blow up the building if Russia did not end the war in Chechnya. A radio station was warned against airing live interviews with the hostage-takers.

Shortly before the vote Wednesday, Moscow police broke up a small demonstration against the amendments, scattering protesters and detaining two of the organizers.

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