Russia – making bloggers ‘law-abiding’?

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(Moscow News – themoscownews.com – Natalia Antonova, Acting Editor-in-Chief, July 15, 2013) The latest legislative initiative from the State Duma would award popular blogs the status of media outlets. I am using the word “award” somewhat ironically here.

United Russia Deputy Sergei Zheleznyak, who saw himself and his family attacked in the blogosphere after it was revealed that his daughters study abroad despite his status as an outspoken Russian patriot, has been put in charge of this legal initiative.

Zheleznyak has posted an update on his Facebook page, urging the public to calm down and pointing out that any new initiatives would be aimed at keeping the Internet free – “but law-abiding.”

Zheleznyak said that blogs will be registered as media outlets on a voluntary basis, lest any popular online forum (he used the example of dog lovers’ forums) be magically registered as a media outlet.

According to Vedomosti, it may be that any blogger with over 10,000 subscribers will automatically get the status of a journalist. In particular, LiveJournal, a popular blogging platform for the Russian opposition, appears to be the focus of the proposed law.

Just Russia Deputy Leonid Levin told Vedomosti that such new legislation would primarily be aimed at protecting bloggers, by awarding them the same rights as journalists.

Considering the fact that Oleg Kashin’s attackers are nowhere to be found – just to give one obvious example – the state’s ability to genuinely protect members of the media remains in doubt, no matter how many new laws are passed.

Levin also said that new legislation is needed to tax popular bloggers who frequently include paid-for advertising among genuine posts. Yet there are already laws on the books that require anyone who sells advertising to register as entrepreneurs and pay up.

The more obvious point here is that the Duma is seeking tighter control of the blogosphere, particularly when we consider that many laws tend to specifically place more legal responsibility on registered media outlets.

The reality on the ground is that new legislation is being adopted too hastily in Russia. And in the present climate, the proposed new law on bloggers looks like so much petty revenge to the most casual observer.

This has to do with the old adage of the boy who cried wolf. After you pass enough laws, you will end up having to deal with law fatigue at best, and mistrust at worst.