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Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Russian Resolution for greater media freedom?

A Russian Resolution for greater media freedom?

The European Audiovisual Observatory publishes new IRIS plus report

Press Release

Strasbourg, 24 February 2011

A landmark decision was taken concerning Russian media law on the 15th of June last year. Resolution No. 16 “On the Judicial Practice Related to the Statute of the Russian Federation ‘On the Mass Media’” was adopted in order to serve as a framework of guidelines for the application of the principle legal instrument regulating the media in Russia, the Statute on the Mass Media of 1991, in the light of a rapidly changing media landscape. For example, the Resolution offers instructions to Russian courts on how to apply the Statute to digital and Internet based services. In short, the recently adopted Resolution aims at filling in the gaps of a legal instrument which is now 20 years old and was badly in need of a facelift. The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published a thorough analysis of Resolution No. 16 and its consequences for media legislation:

A landmark for mass media in Russia

The leading article by Andrei Richter of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Centre is tellingly entitled “Russia’s modern approach to media law”. Richter opens by underlining two major aspects of progress brought about by the new Resolution. The text enshrines 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”. From the outset, therefore, a solid statement in favour of the freedom of the mass media is made.

The second aspect concerns the often thorny subject of censorship. According to the new Resolution, states officials do have the right to demand prior approval of interviews, for example, when published by journalists. However, a journalist’s refusal to provide the transcript for such approval is not a punishable act. The concrete consequence of this new element is that editorial offices may now edit interviews independently with impunity. Further protection of editors and journalists is afforded by the fact that interviews with representatives of state bodies now have a legal nature equal to that of an official response. Before the Resolution the practice of holding journalists accountable for the content of interviews was, according to Richter, “quite common”.

In terms of the regulation of online media, the new Resolution makes it clear that websites are not subject to mandatory registration as they would be if considered as mass media outlets. However, voluntary registration is possible and confers upon the authors the status of journalists with all the rights and privileges foreseen by the Statute on Mass Media. Furthermore, the Russian internet registration authority cannot, under the new Resolution, refuse registration of a website as a mass media outlet if requested. Of course, registration of a website then carries with it the same editorial responsibility as registered journalists. Further clarification is provided by the stipulation that disseminating mass information on line does not require a broadcasting licence, as only the use of technical means such as over-the-air, wire or cable makes such a licence necessary.

Further guarantees for access to information are provided by the Resolution through its stipulation 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 organisations (commercial and non-commercial)…”. The novelty here is that commercial organisations were previously exempt from the obligation to provide information due to commercial secrecy. “Additional possibilities of seeking and obtaining information” are also accorded by the Resolution to state accredited journalists.

Richter goes on to explore areas of mass media activity affected by the Resolution such as the protection of journalists’ privileges, the protection of confidential sources, and the abuse of the freedom of mass media. He concludes the leading article by underlining that this recently adopted 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.” As such, it surely represents a positive step towards press and media freedom in Russia.

The related reporting section of this new publication provides country by country articles on various court cases involving the European Convention on Human Rights, given the thematic link between Article 10 of this convention on freedom of expression and the theme of the lead article on Russian media legislation. The final “zoom” section provides an extremely valuable translation (English, French or German) of Resolution No. 16 as an additional reference document.

A must-have report on the latest developments in Russian legislation on mass media.

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