Duma takes first step to equating popular news aggregators with mass media

© Vladimir Astapkovich
The State Duma has passed the first reading of a bill ordering news aggregators with over 1 million daily visitors to comply with the rules applied to mass media. This includes the ban on spreading lies and extremism, and limiting foreign ownership.

The bill also introduces the definition of a ‘news aggregator’ to the Russian legislation. It’s described as “a computer program or website used for processing and distribution of news information in…any language used by peoples living in the Russian Federation and with the possibility of advertising to consumers who live in Russia.”

The formula covers about 20 companies, including Russia’s internet giant Yandex and international majors like Google, Twitter and Facebook.

The draft obliges the owners of news aggregators to take measures on preventing the unlawful use of their assets. These include the public distribution of state and commercial secrets, circulating calls for violence and other extremist materials as well as pornography and obscenities.

READ MORE: State Duma ponders tighter controls on internet news aggregators

The document reads that the owners of news aggregators would be held responsible even when the republished news consists of complete copies of reports circulated by other mass media.

Another requirement is that the staff of news aggregators verify all news reports before publishing links to them and take immediate measures to stop the spreading of false information upon receiving orders from the state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

The proposed punishment for violating the new rules comes in the form of fines of up to 5 million rubles ($73,000).

Finally, the new bill reads that foreign persons, companies, governments or international organizations cannot own over 20 percent in companies that run news aggregators.  

In August 2014, Russia introduced a law requiring all blogs with 3,000 daily readers or more to follow many of the rules that exist in conventional mass media, such as tougher controls on published information and the ban on the use of explicit language. In March 2015, Fair Russia MPs moved to amend the bill with provisions that would grant popular bloggers the same rights as professional reporters, such as free access to information in state organizations and power bodies. These corrections have not yet been considered by the lower house.

READ MORE: Half of Russians trust news they read on internet, poll shows

A public opinion poll conducted in January this year has shown that about 60 percent of Russians turn to information websites for news with 48 percent of respondents admitting that they trust news they learn from the web. Of those who read news on the internet, 67 percent said they preferred to scan news aggregators as the first page for news search. Only 17 percent said they turned directly to dedicated news sites. Yandex was more popular than Google among news readers, with 55 percent versus 27 percent.

Russia currently has over 87 million internet users, the highest absolute number among European countries. However, the share of people with internet access in Russia is just 61 percent, which is relatively low by European standards.