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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Media Crackdown

The MediaGuardian reports:

A newspaper in Russia has been warned it could be prosecuted after publishing an image of a regional governor making "bunny ears" with his fingers behind the head of president Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors in Orlov region issued Orlovskiye Novosti with a document warning that a criminal case would be opened against the paper if it published more material "insulting representatives of authority".

The image - submitted by a reader and possibly an image that has been manipulated - "expressed disrespect toward the president of the Russian Federation", the document said.

Acting Orlovskiye Novosti editor Tatyana Kuzmina, who was called to the prosecutor's office to receive the written warning, said it was an attempt to stifle her newspaper, an opposition weekly that has published material accusing local officials of corruption.

"It is not insulting to either person, it's very light humour - a friendly jest," she said. "They want to censor us because we are inconvenient to the local authorities.

"This shows you how the press in Russia is being steamrollered and strangled."

In the image, the pro-Kremlin Orlov governor, Yegor Stroyev, is seen looking askance at Mr Putin and holding two fingers behind his head, as the president raises his arm in a wave.

Ms Kuzmina said the picture was published with other "political posters" produced by readers using photographs, montages or computer manipulated images. "For us, there is no person who is off limits for criticism," she added.

Orlovskiye Novosti believes the image is a real, undoctored photograph from April last year when president Putin was visiting a home for war veterans in the region.

The newspaper claims the "bunny ears" gesture was made by accident as the governor waved to the crowd.

A spokesman for Mr Stroyev refused to comment on the image.

Alexei Simonov, head of the press freedom group, the Glasnost Defence Foundation, said he doubted the prosecution threat originated from the Kremlin.

"This shows the return of Soviet bureaucratic fear in Russia," he added. "A humourless bureaucrat has decided to act just in case it offends the boss and he gets it in the neck for not taking any action."

Last month the editor of an online Russian newspaper was fined £400 for "insulting the president" in an article headlined "Putin as Russia's phallic symbol", which explored government attempts to increase the country's birth rate.

The Media Guardian also reports:

The French government was today urged to strip the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of one of France's highest awards, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. The press freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières called for the award to be revoked in the wake of the recent murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was a critic of the Kremlin and its war in Chechnya. RSF said it classified Mr Putin as one of the world's press freedom "predators". It expressed shock and anger when Mr Putin received the honour during a visit to France last month. "It is outrageous to say that Putin has rendered service to causes that France defends," the group said in a statement. "It beggars belief that Putin has been given one of the greatest honours France can bestow on a person."

RSF said that 21 journalists have been killed in Russia since Mr Putin became president. The watchdog was also angered that the president waited 48 hours before commenting on Politkovskaya's murder. RSF appealed to to the French president, Jacques Chirac, and to France's Council of State, the body that issues the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, to revoke the award. The appeal was made as Mr Putin met Mr Chirac and other European leaders at a European Union summit in Finland.

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