Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
4 Zubovsky Boulevard, Moscow 119021, Russia
phone: (+ 7 095) 201-7626; 201-3550 comm. 124
fax: (+ 7 095) 201-7626
Web site: www.cjes.ru
RUSSIA: MASS MEDIA AND ELECTIONS
Issue No. 10, September 26 – October 2, 2003 г.
I. Events of the Week
1. The Russian Constitutional Court plenum, which was held on September
26, scheduled the hearing of the inquiries regarding the legality of some provisions of
the law On the Main Guarantees of Citizens’ Election Rights and the Right to Take
Part in a Referendum for October 13. The inquiries were filed by Konstantin Rozhkov
(editor of the Kaliningrad newspaper Svetlogorye), Konstantin Katanyan (Moscow
journalist), and several members of the State Duma.
This law is known to considerably limit the freedom of the press. The most
criticized provision of it is Article 48 (Election Canvassing and Referendum
Canvassing). The wording of this article is vague and the list of types of election
canvassing is not exhaustive (it ends with the words “other actions”). Although the
Central Election Commission is working to explain this article to journalists in the
regions, they are not understanding this law any better: the law in effect advises
journalists to rely on the professionalism and objectivity of the authorities.
2. While meeting with the chiefs of regional election commissions on
September 29, Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Alexander
Veshnyakov said he knows who organized the recent “attack” on the new election
legislation. Moreover, he said he knows who is paying for this attack and how much
is being paid. “To my surprise, the Constitutional Court still decided to process that
query. I am also surprised that that decision was made so fast.” Veshnyakov later
told a briefing he does not believe the law On the Main Guarantees of Citizens’
Election Rights and the Right to Take Part in a Referendum contains unjustified
restrictions. He said the law is “disciplinary in nature” and promotes the responsibility
of election campaign participants.
II. The Press and Federal Elections
1. Last week, Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Alexander
Veshnyakov gave journalists explanations regarding several complaints recently
received by the Central Election Commission. He said the election campaign entitled
Yabloko without Yavlinsky is illegal because it “was not paid for out of an election
fund.” However, he believes that the airing of the film called Peizazh pered Bitvoi
(which translates as “Landscape before the Battle”) by Channel One, which, in the
opinion of Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, the United Russia party insulted
“its competitors,” is fully legal.
In addition, on September 28 the Central Election Commission rejected
another complaint from Zyuganov, in which he asked the commission to recognize
the speech given by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a United Russia congress
as election canvassing. The Central Election Commission made that decision after
the complaint had been considered by the working group ion information disputes.
Sergei Bolshakov, chairman of the group, said the opinion of the Central Election
Commission lawyers had been taken into account. The lawyers found the president
“to have expressed preference to one of the parties.” However, Bolshakov believes
that “preference” does not constitute election canvassing, which means that the
television companies that aired the speech are not in breach of the law either.
2. The first scandal over alleged violations of the federal election legislation
by the newspaper Tulskaya Pravda (which is published by the Tula region office of
the Communist Party) has broken out in Tula. Fore more details on this, see the
Conflict of the Week section of this bulletin.
3. The Kaliningrad region’s election commission has issued 16 warnings to
the region’s mass media since the beginning of the Duma election campaign, deputy
chief of the commission Natalya Lazareva told reporters. She said most of the
warnings were issued due to the use of “dirty election technologies” by the mass
media and their involvement in “unfair political competition.”
4. The program Vremya Novostei, which is produced by the independent
television company MKTV, was taken off the air of the State Television and Radio
Company (GTRK) on October 1. Peter Kotov, new chairman of GTRK, initiated the
suspension of the contract with MKTV, citing some “violations of the law on the mass
media and advertising.” MKTV believes Kotov’s decision is purely political and is
connected to the parliamentary election campaign. Kotov was once editor-in-chief of
the newspaper Pskovskaya Zhizn, which was founded by the regional office of the
United Russia party. Now, GTRK Pskov covers only one candidate, Alexei Sigutkin,
head of the local office of United Russia.
Last week, GTRK censored news reports prepared by MKTV. A report on the
press conference given by United Russia and a report on one of Sigutkin’s
competitors were cut out. MKTV asked the Pskov region’s prosecutor’s office to take
investigate these facts. MKTV journalists believe GTRK has violated their right to
disseminate information, because GTRK Pskov holds a monopoly on television
broadcasting in the Pskov region. MKTV intends to seek the resumption of the airing
of its programs under the contract with GTRK Pskov.
5. The Bryansk region’s election commission on September 30 issued an
official warning to three Braynsk newspapers, accusing them of violating the law on
parliamentary elections. The commission found the papers’ publications Bryansky
Perekryostok, Bryanskiye Fakty, and Desnitsa to promote voter activity. Bryansky
Perekryostok and Bryanskiye Fakty published information obtained by public opinion
polls conducted by their journalists. The region’s commission warned the papers
because they had not given the dates of the polls and did not state who ordered
As to Desnitsa, it attracted the commission’s attention because it had
published an interview with Igor Artemyev, one of the leaders of the Yabloko party.
The commission found the interview to constitute election canvassing, because it
was published after the Yabloko party lists and was supposed to state the person or
organization that ordered it.
Bryansky Perekryostok and Bryanskyye Fakty journalists disagree with these
warnings, because they see no violation of the law in the polls. They will contest the
warnings in court.
III. The Press in Regional Elections
1. Chechen Republic
Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in Chechnya on October 5.
The most probable winner is Akhmad Kadyrov, current chief of the republic’s
administration, due to the obvious weakness of his rivals.
The Grozny Leninsky District Court has ordered Magomed Khadzhiyev
and Ramzan Gutsiyev, editors of the Chechen newspapers Vesti Respubliki
and Molodyozhnaya Smena, to pay fines an in amount of 2,000 rubles each for
violating the rules governing election canvassing. The lawsuit against them was
filed by Kudus Saduyev, a presidential candidate. The papers published materials
constituting election canvassing before it was allowed. The editors are saying they
have been fined because the materials contained information opposing Akhmad
Kadyrov. Vesti Respubliki published an interview with Bislan Gantamirov, in which he
claimed his readiness to back presidential candidate Husein Dzhabrailov.
Molodyozhnaya Smena published an article by Yan Sergunin, former head of
Kadyrov’s administration, in which he said that Adnan Muzakayev would win the
presidential elections in Chechnya.
The regional operative headquarters directing the anti-terrorist
operation in the Northern Caucasus believes that supporters of the ideologists
of illegal armed groups are conducting information warfare to disrupt the
presidential elections in Chechnya. The headquarters believes that international
terrorist organizations, which are closely connected with al Qaeda, have allocated
considerable funds to disrupt the political settlement process in Chechnya.
2. St. Petersburg
The second round of presidential elections ended in St. Petersburg on
October 5. The two-days television debates between the candidates, Valentina
Matviyenko (presidential envoy in the Northwestern Federal District) and Anna
Markova (deputy governor of St. Petersburg) ended on October 2. At the beginning
of the debates, the candidates recalle their previous meeting: Matviyenko accused
Markova of not answering any questions. Markova inquired whether St. Petersburg
would lose federal aid if Matviyenko was not elected for governor. In response,
Matviyenko repeated that “if the federal administration does not trust the local
administration,” the city would get no money.
After the debates, the candidates were expected to speak solo. Matviyenko
said that the one percent of the votes she lacked to win the first round of the
elections had destroyed the myth about her alleged use of administrative resources.
She made several accusations about Markova and mentioned several items of her
election program. Markova said she had not conducted any election canvassing due
to lack of funds and vowed to “protect the people of St. Petersburg on all levels.” She
also promised to break the city bureaucratic machinery and called on the voters fight
the administrative resources with civil resources.
The television debates ended no later than two days prior to the day of the
voting. That was not an accident. Under the new law on elections, candidates are
supposed to have time to respond to the criticism against them and to use paid
airtime on the last day of the election campaign, a possibility Matviyenko used.
Markova did not buy a single minute of the airtime to which she was entitled.
3. Novosibirsk Region
The gubernatorial election campaign is accelerating in the Novosibirsk region.
The gubernatorial elections are combined with the Duma elections, which makes the
political campaign even more intense.
The Novosibirsk election commission has received complaints from a
proxy of Viktor Starkov, a gubernatorial candidate. The claimant is asking the
commission to take urgent measures regarding the publication Na Predvybornom
Starte (authored by Natalya Zemlyanskaya and published in the September 18
edition of the newspaper Metro) and the publication entitled Vtoroi Tur Neizbezhen?
(which translates as “Is the Second round Inevitable?”, published in the September
19 edition of the Novosibirsk newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda). The claimant
believes these publications contain hidden election canvassing for gubernatorial
candidate Ivan Starikov and against Viktor Starkov.
The analytical service of the foundation Sibir-Forum has summed up the
results of the monitoring of coverage of the first 20 days of the gubernatorial
election campaign by the Novosibirsk mass media. An analysis of the
publications showed that the majority of the local mass media observe the new
election legislation, despite numerous complaints about it.
The Novosibirsk gave most attention to two events: the dissemination of the
newspaper Nash Gorod (a look-alike newspaper), which is a typical example of
“black PR”, and a plenum held by the Communist Party, which addressed the
possibility of supporting candidate Titov. In the latter case, all the mass media
covering that event provided a fairly objective analysis on the results and possible
consequences of that forum.
The election canvassing in the mass media will begin on November 7. The
overwhelming majority of the candidates have not published any election canvassing
materials, observing the new election legislation. The only exception was the work of
the team supporting Kostroma senator Ivan Starikov. Immediately after he informed
the region’s election commission of his intention to run for governor, the local press
began to publish materials promoting him. The election headquarters of another
candidate, Viktor Starkov, has already filed seven complaints with the election
commission against Starikov. Decisions have already been made based on three of
The Moscow press has violated the new election legislation for the first time.
The Moscow City Election Commission’s working group on information disputes on
September 30 found that the publications published by the newspaper Tverskaya, 13
(official newspaper of the Moscow government) and the magazine Kommersant-Vlast
constitute election canvassing. The group did not like the article Ogon Kerosinki and
the poll Ne Nadoyel li Vam Luzhkov? (which translates as "Are Your Tired of
Luzhkov?”). Tverskaya, 13 published a report about Luzhkov’s visit to the Oil and
Gas University and a complete transcript of the press conference he gave there, in
which he talked about his plans for the future. The paper was accused of "reporting
on the candidate’s activities that are unrelated to his professional activities.” By the
time the material was published, Luzhkov had not set up his election fund yet and
could not pay for the publication, which the new law on the mass media requires. For
some reason, the election commission is blaming the journalists.
Kommersant-Vlast is accused of “promoting a positive or negative attitude to
candidates.” However, the commission admitted that the responses to the question
“Are you tired of Luzhkov?” do not lead to the formation of a certain opinion.
The commission decided not to punish the journalists too severely this time:
both publications were only ordered to provide “written explanations.” On October 2,
the Moscow Election Commission decided not to make administrative protocols on
these violations and to simply issue warnings.
The elections of the Moscow mayor will be held simultaneously with the
Duma elections, on December 7. By the time the materials in question were
published, Luzhkov had already been stated his intention to run for mayor again.
IV. Quotes of the Week
1. Central Election Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said he is
convinced that the mass complaints about the strictness of the law on elections are
no more than a journalistic plot. “They are simply unhappy that they will not be
able to earn money from elections like they used to,” he said.
2. Commenting on the imposition of sanctions on Bryansk newspapers, Press
Minister Mikhail Lesin said on September 2 that “the mass media cannot fulfill
their mission relating to the coverage of the election campaign.” He believes
that “even now many mass media are already scared and are afraid to publish
any […] acute materials on issues relating to the elections. And the 30 days’
period, when the tough election canvassing rules will kick in, has not come
yet.” Lesin is afraid that “if there are no acute materials in the mass media, the
country’s voters may lose interest in the election campaign altogether.”
V. Conflict of the Week
The first scandal over alleged violations of the federal election legislation by
the newspaper Tulskaya Pravda (which is published by the Tula region office of the
Communist Party) has broken out in Tula. The newspaper published materials about
the Communist Party congress devoted to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Tula region’s election commission found that the paper had violated the election
legislation by not publishing any other information about any other political forums
devoted to the upcoming elections. The commission cited Article 45 of the law On the
Main Guarantees of Citizens Election Rights. An administrative probe was initiated
into that violation.
Alexander Mashkov, the head of the working group, has commented on this
situation: “Before the paper was published, I warned the editor-in-chief about a
possible violation. There would have been no problems if it had been paid for by one
of the Communist Party candidates nominated to run for Duma. That was not done.
The law on elections really paralyzes the party press, making it equal with all the
other mass media, but it was passed by the Duma, where all the main parties are
Commentary Prepared by CJES Lawyer Boris Panteleyev for Sections I.
2 and II.1
“The ministry of democracy” has celebrated its anniversary this week. The
Russian Central Election Commission was set up on September 29, 1993 based on a
It cannot be said that our lawmakers were following the most progressive
Western models when they chose this mechanism of election processes regulation.
Many countries we consider civilized have no bureaucratic structures to organize
elections. These issues are successfully handled by the ministries of justice, interior
affairs, and other civil structures. During extraordinary elections and referendums, a
great role is played by volunteers. In those countries, taxpayers do not believe it is
necessary to keep people fulfilling purely procedural, auxiliary functions. In addition,
such an influential intermediary between voters and candidates does not fit in the
traditions of true, not controlled, democracy.
But Russia, as usual, follows its own path. The influence and administrative
potential of this agency are increasing. Lawmakers believe the Russian Central
Election Commission, together with regional election commissions, should promote
the creation of an election system as a component of the country’s political system
and should work consistently on improving and developing the election legislation
and on increasing the professionalism and responsibility of the organizers of
elections, as well as the legal awareness of citizens.
However, even official reports on the results of the recent elections in the
regions show that voter activity and the legal awareness of the people of Russia have
not increased, but have considerably decreased. The people are unhappy with the
way elections are organized and conducted. This is the reason why so many people
are voting against all candidates. It is no longer mere “voter apathy,” it is active
The “ministry of democracy” has begun making and interpreting laws. They
are so confident that even attempts to revise this area of work is seen as an attack
on democracy. For example, the chairman of the Central Election Commission this
week publicly expressed his concern about the Russian Constitutional Court’s
decision to consider numerous complaints about the current election legislation. In
some legal systems, such a statement by a highly placed official could be seen as an
attempt to put pressure on a court.
The Central Election Commission also considers itself the supreme expert on
the wording of laws. It turns out that only Central Election Commission experts can
“make a very fine distinction” between “election canvassing” and “expression of
preference.” Which means that a conflict can be resolved even without going to court.
The laws of bureaucracy are universal all over the world. It can expand and fill
in all the pores and cells of society until a clear legal limit is set. Only systematic
contesting of any doubtful activities by bureaucrats can guarantee protection from
bureaucratic lawlessness. This conclusion applies to the relations between the mass
media and the Central Election Commission during this election campaign.