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Medvedev opposes media penalties

Dmitry Medvedev (3 June 2008)
Dmitry Medvedev said the bill would have failed to protect citizens' interests

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called on parliament to scrap a bill that would allow authorities to close media outlets guilty of defamation.

In a letter to the Duma, Mr Medvedev criticised the proposed amendment and warned it could create "obstacles to the normal functioning of the media".

The bill would amend a law banning the publication or broadcast of material encouraging terrorism or extremism.

Critics accused ex-President Vladimir Putin of stifling press freedom.

During his tenure, television became dominated by channels that were either run directly by the state or owned by companies close to the Kremlin. Several influential newspapers were also bought by companies with official links.

Journalists warned that the latest amendment could have been used to further stifle critical reporting.

New definition

The amendment to Article 4 of Russian law would have given courts the authority to close media outlets found guilty of libel.

[The bill] will not help to achieve the desired goal to protect the interests of the citizens against the circulation of defamatory information
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

It would also expand the definition of slander and libel to "dissemination of deliberately false information damaging individual honour and dignity".

But in remarks published on the Kremlin website, Mr Medvedev warned deputies that the bill would hinder journalists while failing to reduce defamation.

"It is evident that the statutes of the bill can only lead to creating obstacles for the normal functioning of the media and will not help to achieve the desired goal to protect the interests of the citizens against the circulation of defamatory information," he said.

"It would be expedient to withdraw the said bill from further hearing," he added.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says now that Mr Medvedev has taken over in the Kremlin's top job, every move he makes is closely watched for any sign of change.

The president's public intervention at this stage is interesting, our correspondent says, since the legislation was effectively already doomed.

Although the bill passed its first reading in April, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party - which in effect controls which laws are passed - later withdrew its support.

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