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Parliamentarians debate limits to freedom of expression

Parliamentarians debate limits to freedom of expression
During a meeting with Russian NGOs, representatives of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service have claimed that information being published on the internet is increasingly coming into conflict with the interests of civil society.

­The Interior Ministry department which deals with cybercrimes, the so-called “Department C”, believes that internet media hosts should be held responsible for users whose comments are judged to be extremist in nature. These statements follow a recent decree from President Dmitry Medvedev, who ordered the Ministry of Communication to prepare a draft law stipulating accountability for the comments posted by internet media participants by August 1. 

As for parliamentarians, there is no unified opinion on the issue. Aleksandr Pochinik, Deputy Head of the Federation Council Commission for the Development of Civil Society, is categorically against making media providers responsible for the statements made by their readers. 

“There should be no accountability limiting freedom of expression,” he told Regions.ru website. Still, he suggested that moderators should cleanse websites of overtly fascist propaganda, intolerance and drugs. But this is more of an ethical question than a legal one. 

His colleague, head of the Federation Council Commission for the Development of Civil Society Valery Shnyakin, agrees that the media should monitor the content of readers’ posts. However, she goes one step further, believing that a legal framework should be created to provide for the imposition of certain sanctions against media outlets that are found to have violated the law.

“Today on the internet, it is possible to find instructions for how to make a bomb followed by a call to detonate it immediately, as well as … direct solicitations to commit crimes,” Shnyakin said.

Robert Shlegel, a member of the State Duma Committee for Information Policy, believes there is a simple solution to the problem. In his view, comments should not appear in publications without prior moderation.

“In this case, illegal information won’t be able to make it onto the website,” the deputy observed, adding though that not all media outlets have the technological means to do so. He said that there is a need for an amendment providing for the user’s right to file complaints and demand that the internet media providers delete certain posts.  

“We also need [to establish] legal norms to guide media providers when dealing with law-enforcement bodies who have found legal violations in this or that publication.”