Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 203

Russia’s Press Ministry yesterday received a complaint from the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) against Sergei Dorenko, anchor of the Sunday evening news analysis program on Russian Public Television (ORT). The CEC charged that Dorenko had violated Russia’s electoral laws by “agitating against” former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The CED was referring to Dorenko’s October 24 show, when he aired comments made by William Odom, former head of the U.S. National Security Agency, in which Odom appeared to accuse former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov of plotting to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze (see the Monitor, October 25, 29). Odom made his comments during an interview with Radio Liberty (ORT, October 24; Moscow Times, November 2). CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov defended his decision during a live appearance on Dorenko’s program this past Sunday (ORT, October 31).

Russia’s Press Ministry, headed by Mikhail Lesin, is to rule on the CEC complaint by the end of this week. Given that the CEC’s complaint would seem to imply that journalists are forbidden from criticizing any candidate to higher office during an election campaign, the CEC complaint has been strongly criticized by journalists, editors and press freedom advocacy groups. Russia’s press ministry, however, looks set to rule against the CEC. Lesin was quoted today as saying that his ministry has not found any “concrete” evidence that ORT violated the existing election laws, and that interpreting any criticism of a candidate as “election agitation” would “paralyze” all of Russia’s mass media. The newspaper that quoted Lesin noted that the CEC is also preparing to lodge complaints against TV-Center, the channel controlled by the Moscow city government and thus loyal to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, also for violating laws by engaging in “agitation.” The press ministry is likely to decide against a strict interpretation of these election laws (Kommersant, November 2).