Russian media's #MeToo moment

Russian media outlets are boycotting the Duma over sexual harassment allegations against a Duma member.

    Russian media's #MeToo moment
    State Duma member Leonid Slutsky meets Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa at the UN on September 18, 2017 [Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images]

    A dozen private media outlets in Russia are boycotting the Russian Duma after its ethics committee failed to find any wrongdoing in the behaviour of Duma member Leonid Slutsky, who has been accused of sexual harassment.

    In late February, three female journalists - RTVI's Ekaterina Kotrikadze, TVRain's Darya Zhuk, and BBC's Farida Rustamova - came forward with accusations that Slutsky had inappropriately touched them and tried to kiss them during interviews in the past.

    In early March, Maria Zaharova, press secretary of the foreign ministry, also said that Slutsky had been verbally inappropriate with her after an official event.

    Slutsky, а member of the ultra-nationalist LDPR and head of the foreign relations committee, has denied the accusations.

    On Wednesday, the Duma's ethics committee met to discuss the issue and interview two of the journalists.

    Riga-based Russian news website Meduza published a leaked recording of the session, in which members of the committee appeared sceptical of the accusations, questioning their timing (just before the elections) and motivation, with some even mocking them. One Chechen member of the Duma accused the three journalists of working for "enemy media".

    I almost expect that Harvey Weinstein would be given Russian citizenship and find himself [in Russia] surrounded by like-minded people.

    Kirill Martynov, Novaya Gazeta

    After the session, member of the ethics commission, Raisa Karmazina told the Russian media outlet The Insider that she never experienced sexual harassment in the State Duma. "I was never sexually harassed. And I was 300 times more beautiful than them!" she was quoted as saying.

    Another Duma member, Fatih Sibagatullin called journalists "servants" and said: "If a woman doesn't want to, a man would not tease."

    In reaction to the commission's conclusion, RBC media outlet, TVRain and Echo Moscow Radio announced on Thursday morning that they will stop sending correspondents to the State Duma. Hours later Russian newspapers Kommersant, Vedomisti and Novaya Gazeta joined them, along with a number of other private print and online publications.

    The Russsian Duma responded to this action by cancelling accreditations for the media organisations that joined the boycott. Russia's independent Journalist Union escalated the boycott by issuing an open letter to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), signed by more than 500 journalists, calling on the organisation to stop dealing with Slutsky and to condemn his behaviour.

    Kiril Martynov, a political editor at Novaya Gazeta newspaper, told Al Jazeera that he was surprised that so many media organisations joined the boycott.

    "We would like to see another ethics committee session, with different people, where Slutsky is reproached and he admits wrongdoing. Until that happens, the boycott will continue, which will not be that difficult to do," he said.

    Speaking at an EU-sponsored conference on gender in Moscow, he said that Russia, like the rest of Europe, is experiencing similar problems dealing with issues of gender and sexual harassment, but that the situation in the country is much worse.

    "Just look at what is happening with Slutsky. I almost expect that Harvey Weinstein would be given Russian citizenship and find himself [in Russia] surrounded by like-minded people," he said.

    The #MeToo campaign prompted by allegations against Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault did not gain much traction in Russia. However, a similar online campaign in 2016 started by Ukrainian journalist Anastasiya Melinchenko with a hashtag YaNeBoyusSkazati (I'm not afraid to say) drew thousands of Russians to share their experiences of gender-based violence.

    Russia currently does not have a law criminalising sexual harassment, although in the past it has been proposed in the State Duma a number of times. After the round of allegations against Slutsky, Duma member Oksana Pushkina announced that she will be proposing amendments to existing legislation on sexual violence to address harassment.

    Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News



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