Medvedev calls for media freedom

Russian president speaks against censorship

MOSCOW — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for an end to media censorship Wednesday, during his first state of the nation address since his election last March.

In a speech to lawmakers televised live across the country on state television’s flagship news show “Vesti,” Medvedev warned officials against trying to interfere in freedom of expression in the press, radio and television.

Free and open coverage of the work of state and local authorities, and activities of political parties was a key function of state broadcast and other media and should not be censored, Medvedev said.

State officials must resist the temptation to attempt to interfere in televised political debates and avoid trying to censor such activities on television and the Internet.

“Freedom of speech is supported by technological innovation,” Medvedev said. “It is possible to more actively expand this free space through the Internet and digital television.”

Although not subject to formal political censorship, Russian press and media have come under sustained pressure in recent years to avoid direct criticism of the Kremlin and many broadcasters acknowledge that official pressures have encouraged widespread self-censorship.

Medvedev’s comments struck a liberal tone in a speech otherwise dominated by hawkish policy statements that included a wish to extend the Russian presidential term from four years to six.

Much of his speech was aimed at American and international observers.

He announced the deployment of short-range Iskander missiles in Russia’s Baltic enclave Kaliningrad, which he said would “neutralize” the planned U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Washington insists is not a threat to Russia but is a defense against “rogue” states. He added Russia would electronically jam the U.S. missile system.

Medvedev criticized America’s role in August’s Russian-Georgian conflict, which he said was the result of “conceited” U.S. foreign policy.

America was also to blame for the international financial crisis, although Russia would survive this, he said.

Medvedev did not directly congratulate American President-elect Barack Obama, but said he hoped the new administration would mend damaged relations between the two countries, suggesting it was up to the U.S. to take the first steps.

Russia hoped that Obama would “make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia,” Medvedev said.

Other reactions to Obama’s election in Russia were more positive: key Russian stock markets were up on the news Wednesday morning, with the RTS jumping 9% and the MMMVB by 12% before trading was suspended.

The Russian foreign ministry welcomed Obama’s election saying that it promised “a fresh” approach to all major policy issues, foreign affairs and U.S.-Russian relations.

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