Russian lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill into the lower parliament house that, if adopted, would tighten already harsh restrictions on media outlets in the country and their coverage of the war in Ukraine.
The bill outlines media law amendments that empower the Prosecutor General’s office to shut down domestic and foreign media outlets for a number of reasons. These would include coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that deviates from the official line and has been criminalized as “fake news,” or which discredits the Russian military and its actions in Ukraine.
Another reason allowing the Prosecutor General’s office to shut down a foreign news outlet operating in Russia would be retaliation for Russian outlets being closed abroad.
To be adopted, the bill would need to pass three readings in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, get approved by the upper house — the Federation Council — and signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin. The process could take months or days, depending on the authorities’ eagerness to implement the new restrictions.
Russia’s government has imposed unprecedented constraints on media covering the war in Ukraine.
A law was rubber-stamped by parliament in early March, criminalizing “fake news” about what the Kremlin has dubbed “a special military operation” in Ukraine, and introducing punishment for discrediting the Russian military and its actions in Ukraine. Media outlets have faced pressure over calling the action a “war” or an “invasion.”
Websites of multiple independent news outlets have been blocked and a critical radio station has been taken off airwaves over content that deviated from the official narrative. Some have ceased or halted operation under pressure.
If the new bill is adopted, the Prosecutor General’s office will be able to simply order Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media and internet watchdog, to pull a media outlet’s license, thus shutting down its operation.