Russian resolution strengthens media freedom

Landmark amendment modernizes laws, offers protection for journos

LONDON — Russian media outlets and journalists have better protection under new measures adopted by lawmakers last year, analysis by the European Audio Visual Observatory shows.

A report by the Strasbourg, France-based EU body demonstrates that “Resolution No. 16,” which updated Russia’s Statute on the Mass Media of 1991, offers significant new guarantees on press freedom.

The Resolution, which clarifies media law relating to the press, broadcasters and new media such as digital and Internet based services, fills the gaps in a law adopted 20 years ago.

It “represents a positive step towards press and media freedom in Russia,” the Observatory said.

Analysis by Andrei Richter of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Center shows that the Resolution supports the principle that “freedom to express opinions and views and the freedom of mass information are the foundations for developing a modern society and a democratic state.”

This, the Observatory said, shows that “from the outset a solid statement in favor of the freedom of the mass media is made.”

The Resolution also addresses censorship – a subject that frequently comes up when the media in Russia is discussed.

The Resolution states that although officials have the right to demand prior approval of interviews, journalists can refuse to provide a transcript for approval and that is not a punishable act.

“The concrete consequence of this new element is that editorial offices may now edit interviews independently with impunity,” the Observatory said.

Published interviews with representatives of states bodies now also have “a legal nature equal to that of an official response.”

Although online media are not subject to mandatory registration, doing so affords them the same protection as mass media outlets and “confers upon the authors the status of journalists with all the rights and privileges foreseen by the Statute on Mass Media.”

Sites that wish to register cannot be refused permission.

“Further clarification is provided by the stipulation that disseminating mass information on line does not require a broadcasting license, as only the use of technical means such as over-the-air, wire or cable makes such a license necessary,” the Observatory added.

The Resolution also gives new guarantees for access to information, stipulating that “information enquiry by the editorial office of a mass medium … is a legal means to seek information on the activities of state bodies … and municipal organizations (commercial and non-

commercial) ….”

In the past commercial organizations were exempt from the obligation to provide information due to commercial secrecy.

In his analysis, Richter concluded that the Resolution “allows Russian media to engage in socially responsible journalism without being threatened by illegal pressure in the courtroom, extreme demands by state bodies and excessive bureaucratic procedures.”

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