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Violations of Press Freedom During the Duma Campaign

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, held a press conference today to announce that the Russian government’s efforts to defend freedom of the press fell far short of their commitments. His report, which can be downloaded here, was delivered to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, detailing a long list of cases of harassment, intimidation, violence, and monopolization of the news media by the ruling party. The case of Oleg Orlov was of primary concern to Haraszti. He said: “Unfortunately, the OSCE commitment to sustain a diversity of news sources was violated during the campaign for the State Duma. Television coverage was monopolized by the ruling party. … The monitoring by the Central Electoral Commission and the NGO Russian Union of Journalists showed a clear bias in favour of the ruling party candidates on the main television channels. Combined coverage of the President, Government and the ruling party approximated 80% of the total political time on the nation-wide channels. … The President’s party chose to ignore the TV debates, and was instead given extra time. While this was done in conformity with the electoral law, the TV debates for the rest of the political parties were downgraded and broadcast in the early morning and late night. This was a breach of the electoral law.” See an excerpt from the report after the jump.

From the OSCE’s report “Cases of media freedom violations during the electoral campaignto the State Duma of the Russian Federation, 2007

Lack of equal accessThe state-funded media failed to offer a balanced and objective coverage of the relevant political subjects and parties.Despite their differing statistical methods, both the official monitoring service of the Central Election Commission and the NGO monitoring service of the Russian Union of Journalists have indicated an overwhelming coverage advantage for the ruling party on federal TV channels.• CEC monitoring showed that approximately one third of the time granted to parties on TV went to United Russia. On Rossiya and Channel One, the time devoted to United Russia was equal, or it exceeded the combined time received by all other parties. CEC excluded from its monitoring the time devoted to activities of the government and of President Putin.• The NGO monitoring measured the coverage of the President, the Cabinet of Ministers and the parties. The President’s time took the largest share of the total electoral coverage time. The combined airtime assigned to the President, the Government, and United Russia was over80 % in October and November.2 Equal access was also damaged by the arbitrary distribution of unpaid broadcast time used for political advertising:• The President’s party ignoring TV debates, given extra unpaid airtime. On 30 October, the Central Election Commission allocated television and radio air slots for the parties participating in the debates. Just like in the 2003 Duma elections, United Russia chose not to participate in the debates alongside the other parties. The electoral law allows for this. Instead, the party received extra unpaid airtime for political advertising (mainly featuring President Putin).• In a breach of the electoral law, TV debates (without the ruling party) were downgraded and broadcast off prime time. The parties that opted for the debates on the state channels could not make use of them, because the rule about the debates having to be broadcast in primetime was systematically violated. Channel Rossiya broadcast them between 7 and 9 in the morning, while Channel One did so between 10:50 and 11:20 in the evening.