Bloomberg News

Russia Tightens Censorship Ahead of Poll, Media Watchdog Says

December 01, 2011

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Russian authorities have tightened control over media outlets and news websites before national parliamentary elections this weekend, a press watchdog said.

“They are targeting both the traditional media, which are closely scrutinized, criticized and threatened, and the Internet, now recognized as playing a key role in political debate,” the Paris-based press-monitoring group Reporters Without Borders said in a report released today. “No methods are being spared to bolster” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s ruling United Russia may lose almost 65 seats, leaving it with just over 250 in the 450-member State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Dec. 4 elections, according to a survey by independent polling agency Levada Center published last week.

At least three Russian Internet forums have been closed or suspended since the start of November, and LiveJournal, a blogging site that hosts much of the political debate in Russia, has been the repeated target of denial-of-service-attacks, in which a hacker cripples a website with a flood of junk messages, the watchdog said.

Russia has 51 million Internet users, more than any other country in Europe, and a quarter of Russians say the Internet is their main source of news, according to Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontieres, or RSF.

It cited cases of two journalists resigning to protest censorship. An employee at a subsidiary of state news service RIA Novosti, which translates foreign media into Russian, quit after he claimed he had been told not to post articles critical of Putin or United Russia, according to RSF.

The deputy editor of Gazeta.ru, an online news site, also resigned because the site removed a link to a website listing electoral violations, the watchdog said. RIA Novosti is suing its former employee for defamation and Gazeta.ru said the banner link was removed to make way for advertising, according to RSF.

In the regions, officials withdrew independent newspaper Sovetsky Sakhalin from newsstands on Sakhalin Island north of Japan, the watchdog said. Police also shut down the server for a popular forum in the western city of Kostroma, it said.

--Editors: Paul Abelsky, Andrew Langley

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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