Moscow, Nov. 1 (Reuters): Russian deputies today approved tough new media curbs during “anti-terrorist” operations, giving authorities greater control over coverage of crises such as last week’s Moscow theatre siege.
The measures, voted with emotions still running high following the mass hostage-taking by Chechen guerrillas, passed its third reading by 231-106 in the State Duma, which is dominated by parties loyal to President Vladimir Putin.
The vote on the changes, submitted well before the hostage crisis, again focused attention on Putin’s patchy record on media freedoms, notably controversies over private television channels effectively neutered after criticism of his rule.
Since the siege, the Kremlin has been angry that some media outlets accused authorities of failing to pursue talks with the guerrillas before launching a raid to free about 800 hostages. Critics also questioned the use of a knockout gas that killed 117 hostages and left hundreds more in hospital.
“On a wave of emotion we have in fact legitimised censorship and practically banned criticism of the authorities in emergency situations”, said Sergei Yushenkov, whose tiny Liberal Russia party voted against the changes. “It was a mistake to take these amendments, because the passions raised by this tragedy have not yet eased,” he said.
But Viktor Ozerov, a senior lawmaker in the Federation Council upper house of parliament which must now vote the measures, disagreed. “I don’t think this is a limitation of democratic freedom,” he said. “In such situations, only information from official sources should be used. Third-hand information should not be broadcast.”