Russian Parliament Adopts Blatant Censorship Law

А судьи кто? —
За древностию лет
К свободной жизни их вражда непримирима,
Сужденья черпают из забытых газет
Времён Очаковских
и покоренья Крыма.
But who are these judges?
Since ancient times
They have been irreconcilably hostile to freedom.
They get their opinons from old
Newspapers, from Ochakov’s time,
When we conquered Crimea.

(Chatsky’s rant, from Griboedov’s ГОРЕ ОТ УМА)

Dear Readers:

Today I have this story from Interfax.  The Russian Duma (or Parliament) today (Thursday March 7) adopted what is basically a media censorship law.  Ostensibly this law protects the (very fragile) public against “fake news” and other horrors, such as disrespecting national symbols!

You can’t make fun of the 2-headed spitting turkey any more…

The proposed legislation went through 3 readings before the final wording was adopted.  The vote was not unanimous, though.  Fortunately, there are still a few hardy souls out there who believe in Freedom of Speech.  Deputies from the Communist Party; from Zhirinovsky’s Party; and from the “Just Russia” Party either voted against the law, or abstained.  The final tally was 78 nays versus 322 yays.  Since the legislation was proposed and supported by United Russia, which operates pretty much like a one-party government, then the outcome was completely predictable.

During the debate, Opposition Deputies declared that they were not opposed to the righteous struggle against “Fake News”, they are just worried about censorship.  And indeed, even a child can see that modern “democratic” governments, including Russia, are using the “fake news” issue to candy-coat their attempts to control political opinion on the internet.

Indeed, Deputy Alexei Kurinny from the Communist Party noted the “fluidity of the formulations” threatening this or that legal action against non-compliers.  He speculated that “an order could come” from on high, as to which “information” being touted is fake.

Indeed, who is to be the Decider of which news is fake, and which is authentic?  As Griboedov’s Chatsky once asked, “Who is to be the judge?”

Who Is To Blame?

Well, we actually know who the judges are, and whom we shall blame for this monstrous attack against freedom of speech:  United Russia Senators Andrei Klishas (his name sounds like a cliché); and Liudmila Bokova; along with Duma Deputy Dmitry Vyatkin.

Liudmila Bokova: “I will be the judge of what is fake and what is real.”

All of these people, by the way, especially the so-called Senators, are completely illegitimate, in my humble opinion.  After bringing down the much-more democratic system of the Soviet representatives, these bourgeois upstarts set up this monstrously undemocratic bi-cameral system which partially apes the American 2-chamber legislative branch.  All part of the plan to set up a crusty governing elite that cannot be removed by the people; all the better to offer free rein to the voracious capitalist class.  Boo hiss!  And the worst part of this legislation is not even the attack against fake news.  The “fake news” bit is just the lure.  No person in their right mind wants to see a liar yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  So innocent dupes will go along with the entire package, which also punishes honest people, for examples, bloggers, for  “disrespect”.  Disrespect towards what?  Well, towards “state symbols”, for example.  Would that include the fake-tsarist double-headed eagle, or the fake tricolor Russian flag, which the Yeltsinites borrowed from the самозванец Alexander Kerensky?

Nor the one-third-invisible Kerensky flag…

I’m not even joking here:  The bill will lay out fines up to one and a half million Rubles for DISOBEYING.  And that’s serious money, even by the standards of the inflated Russian currency.  To be sure, the public is assured that only wrong-doers will be punished:  Those who sow panic or misinformation leading to public calamities.  But again, I think most of us smart people (and cynics) know where that slippery slope leads…  Next thing you know, some innocent blogger like myself will be making fun of the Russian flag, calling it a Kerensky flag, or something like that, and The Powers That Be will get all huffy and puffy…  And speaking of the Russian tricolor, who designed that monstrosity anyhow?  What kind of idiot would put the white strip on the top, where it can’t even be seen half the time, especially against a white background?  Sheeeshhh.

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7 Responses to Russian Parliament Adopts Blatant Censorship Law

  1. Nat says:

    Not a very honest review of this law. You write “I’m not even joking here: The bill will lay out fines up to one and a half million Rubles for DISOBEYING. ” One and a half million if someone DIES as a result of the spread fake news or if there is mass disturbance to public safety, and this amount is if the news spreader is an entity, not a private person. Maximum for a private person, again if it results of people deaths, is 400 thousand roubles. And these fines are for the fake news part, not the “insulting part”, so you’re in the clear if you call the Russian flag the Kerensky flag, that could (but would not) fall under the “disrespecting national symbols”.

    The “disrespect” part actually is not a new law but an addition to a previous one, and is still not a criminal offence but an administrative one. It previously included “Petty hooliganism, that is, a violation of public order, expressing obvious disrespect for society, accompanied by foul language in public places, insulting harassment of citizens, as well as destruction or damage to another’s property” and “Actions aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, as well as at humiliating the dignity of a person or a group of people on grounds of gender, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, as well as belonging to any social group, committed publicly, including with the use of mass media or information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet, if these actions do not contain a criminal offense” to add now: “Dissemination in information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet, of information expressing in an indecent form that offends human dignity and public morality, obvious disrespect for society, the state, official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation or authorities, exercising state power in the Russian Federation, with the exception of cases provided for in Article 20.31 of this Code, if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence”. So whichever criteria was used to judge that something was an obvious disrespect to society or was humiliating enough to the dignity of a person or a group of people to justify a fine in the previous articles (in place since 2007), will continue to be used now (fine is between 30 thousands and 100 thousands).

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    • yalensis says:

      Nat, thanks for clarifying and correcting the bit about the fines. I am still opposed to this law, I am sure there are other ways and mechanisms to handle damage and loss of life. Besides, it’s still all too subjective, which is why I adduced the Griboedov quote!

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  2. Nat says:

    About “Ostensibly this law protects the (very fragile) public against “fake news” “, maybe I am mistaken but I feel the “very fragile” is slightly sarcastic. In case it is, I just wanted to relate a personal anecdote. Of course it’s on a small scale and would hardly fall in what we call now fake news, but still. I was working in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which happened some time in January. Later that year, some idiot coworker thought of a “cool” April fool joke to make: He emailed every one in the building, using the mailing list that included us all, that he just saw a group of mask-wearing armed men pass by his office, that they didn’t see him as he was hidden and that we should all lock ourselves. As a result, a colleague whose office was on the second floor jumped from the window to “escape”. She lived (broke her legs and ribs) and even resumed a normal life after a long time off work, but man! What a price to pay for a “joke”. And she is a smart person, it’s not like she is gullible or fragile, but under certain conditions and circumstances where they are emotionally involved, you can’t judge how even analytical people can react to news they read.

    The Russian “fake news” law ONLY deals with fake news that are a threat of harm to life and health, threat of mass disturbance of public order or public safety. It was first discussed after the horrible fire in Kemerovo last year where 64 people died, when a Ukrainian guy posted a fake call where he posed as an emergency services officer inquiring at local morgues over the space left for bodies there, and saying there were over 300 bodies. The false rumor triggered public anger and massive rallies, the mayor who wanted to address the crowd was almost lynched and despite the authorities rejecting such allegations, some locals urged for people to be allowed to check the morgues. It took such proportions that they were actually allowed to inspect the morgues and the results of the inspection were reported to be consistent with the official count. The law came back in discussion again this year after the building collapse this New Year’s Eve in Magnitogorsk. Based on the publication of a unknown “volunteer” group called Baza, Znak (a respected media) published an article later relayed by many Telegram channel, about how authorities were hiding the truth and they had solid information that it was a terrorist attack led by Tadjik men, that an “unnamed source” heard gunshots and that later that day in the same neighborhood, FSB succeeded in killing three terrorists circulating in a bus but more when running free. All this from some unnamed source and witnesses. Authorities denied the bus story and said they were still investigating the cause of the collapse, the main theory being a gas leak, but people (with accounts often not even in Russia) continued to spread the fake (or at best, unverified) news, hoping to trigger some unrest. It did cause a little panic along with some excessive suspicion of everyone Tadjik or looking like one, but at the end, the fact that Putin went there immediately after the building collapse quieted many residents who concluded that, since his security detail allowed for such a visit, it could hardly be that they did so while suspecting some terrorists were freely roaming around.

    It’s not about an order “coming from on high, as to which information being touted is fake or true”, If an information is fake but doesn’t threaten life or mass public order or safety, then nothing is to be done against circulating it. Under some circumstances, the public, otherwise smart and resilient, can indeed be fragile, and it is the State responsibility to protect it. When people fall for fraud or “Nigerian Prince” scams demanding money, lawmakers don’t call them idiots who should know better and do nothing about it. They adopt relevant laws. If the spread fake news does lead to some major consequence, like death, impacted health or massive unrest, then there should be a legal framework to deal with it.

    – The Keremovo Ukrainian blogger who started the “300 to 450 dead” rumor filming himself during the call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_ogp45QAQc

    – Mass rally in Kemerovo as a result of people relaying this “news”:

    – The first of a long series of articles from Znak about the Magnitogorsk “terrorist attack” : https://www.znak.com/2019-01-01/istochnik_vzryv_doma_i_chp_s_marshrutkoy_v_magnitogorske_terakty

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    • yalensis says:

      Nat, these are very good points and examples of horrific provocations. I would categorize such acts as terrorism or something close to that. Especially when society truly is vulnerable to such provocations. The crack about “fragile public” was directed more at “nanny-state” type endeavors to “protect” people from what the officials deem to be political “conspiracy theories”.
      The “practical joke” that you mention, I agree was a criminal act and should be punished. I have never been keen on practical jokes myself, even relatively harmless ones like hand-buzzers and that sort of thing. If it were up to me, I would arrest people for doing that kind of crap.
      And I agree that governments should legislate against such acts, but why combine this in a package with the bit about the flag and the symbols, and so on? That was what really got my goat, since I was never keen on this tricolor thing or the tsarist eagle. For years I had to endure the “emotional trauma” of people spitting on the symbols which I personally respect, such as the hammer and sickle. 🙂
      Also, I live in a country (the U.S.) where the ruling class go all medieval about their flag and so on, and I despise all of that pathos and would mock it until the day I die.

      Anyhow, as is obvious, I did not do extensive research on this Russian legislation, just was reviewing one piece in the press, and reacting sort of “shooting off the hip”, as they say in America.

      I was wondering if you would care to write a better op-ed about this legislation. I mean, you already did, in your comment, but if you wanted to expand, you could write a whole blogpost about it, for Avalanche. Just let me know if you are interested. Thanks!

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      • Nat says:

        The reasoning about the “disrespecting state symbols/representatives on the internet” article, in my understanding at least, was that the articles existed already. The current article only extend the responsibility to include the same actions when done on the Internet (websites, apps, etc). The fake news bit and the state symbols bit are combined in the same package because they are both articles either added or amended to the same point of law: “Federal Law on Information, Information Technology and Protection of Information” in place since 2006.”

        Truth to be told, I agree with you on the “disrespecting State symbols/representatives on the internet” part. While I could at least see the trigger that caused the fake news law to be proposed, I don’t see the trigger behind the one about the State symbols, and amid economic difficulties, pensions talk and all, I’m not sure the best move was to discuss a self-serving law (“You can’t insult us or we’ll sue you!”).

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      • Nat says:

        Oh, for the op-ed, for both of our sake I have to say no. On an interest level I would love to write one, but practically, I’m the most procrastinating person ever. We would be in 2024, Putin would be out of office, a fake news would be spread that the next President is actually Putin in disguise, and you would still be waiting for my post. I’d rather we both avoid this catastrophic scenario 🙂

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        • yalensis says:

          Haha! That’s okay. You make good points in your comments anyhow, so maybe best not to get formal. The only advantage to writing a guest-post is that I would provide “editing” services, like finding pictures and putting funny captions, etc.

          🙂

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