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Vasily Piskaryov

Russian State Duma commission accuses foreign media, including ‘Meduza,’ of violating election laws

Source: Meduza
Vasily Piskaryov
Vasily Piskaryov
Dmitry Dukhanin / Kommersant

The State Duma’s commission on foreign interference in Russia’s internal affairs has openly accused a number of news outlets based outside Russia of election violations. The committee’s chair, Vasily Piskaryov, first announced the accusations to the state-owned wire service Interfax.

According to Piskaryov, “a representative from a government agency responsible for media law enforcement issues” found that the outlets in question had broken election laws “during the election campaign, on Election Day, and during the ‘day of silence’” before polls open. Piskaryov named six outlets his commission suspects of wrongdoing: Radio Liberty, Current Time, Meduza, BBC Russian Service, MBK Media, and Voice of America. Many of these outlets are funded by the U.S. or British governments, and they all frequently report critically on the Putin administration. Piskaryov did not specify whether that list was comprehensive.

He also did not say which agency had complained about the outlets to his commission. Roskomnadzor, the federal agency responsible for media regulation and censorship, does not appear to fit the bill: The commission announced that it now intends to involve Roskomnadzor and federal prosecutors in the case in order to “devise reactive measures.”

Also absent from Piskaryov’s announcement was the exact nature of the violations. All calls to vote for or against a particular candidate are prohibited in Russia both on Election Day, which falls on a Sunday, and on the day before (the “day of silence”). On Election Day, it is also illegal to publish any data about the election’s results until after polls close.

The October 17 hearing during which the commission’s latest accusations were discussed was its fifth overall; the commission was formed immediately after Russia’s September 8 elections. So far, the commission has heard from representatives of the government-owned outlet Russia Today and its subsidiary RT, the pro-regime TV station NTV, and the Patriot media group, which is known for its ties to “Putin’s chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin. Sergey Kochetkov, the deputy editor-in-chief of Russia Today, noted in his testimony for the commission that, on election day, any voter was just a Google search away from Alexey Navalny’s Smart Vote website, which recommended candidates who were viable but less pro-Kremlin than their opponents. Representatives of NTV and the Patriot outlet FAN said they had encountered “curators and provocateurs” from the CIA, the U.S. Embassy, and the Sakharov Center.

According to Piskaryov, the outlets that testified before the commission have demonstrated through their investigative journalism that political advertising was rampant during the election, especially advertising that targeted young people. The chair also noted that media outlets based outside of Russia published negative coverage of current events in Moscow 100 times more frequently than neutral coverage during the elections.

Report by Mikhail Zelenskiy

Translation by Hilah Kohen