Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved changes to a law that will curtail media coverage of next year’s presidential election, according to local news agencies.
The elections are due to be held in March. The 71-year-old president, who has led the country for 24 years, is expected to stand for another six-year term. Putin has not officially declared he will run, saying he will announce that only after parliament formally sets the election date.
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New media restrictions
The changes Putin greenlighted limit coverage of Central Election Commission sessions to registered media outlets, which could exclude freelancers or independent journalists, according to the reports on Tuesday.
The amendments prohibit media from reporting on the commission’s actions at military bases or in areas under martial law without advance clearance from regional and military authorities.
They also bar the publication of any campaign content on “blocked sources”, referring to restricted websites and social media services.
Under an intensifying crackdown on the opposition and the flow of information, Russia has banned an array of websites and services, including Facebook and Instagram.
To enforce this ban, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media also reportedly plans to block certain virtual private networks (VPNs) that Russians widely use to bypass internet restrictions.
The state-owned news agency RIA quoted the ministry on Sunday as saying that it could block certain “VPN services and VPN protocols” that an expert commission identifies as a “threat.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it has clamped down on independent and dissenting media voices, watchdogs have said.
Hundreds of journalists have gone into exile as state censors have closed many respected independent media outlets and launched criminal cases against prominent journalists and regional bloggers.
“After Russian tanks entered Ukraine, the authorities switched to a scorched-earth strategy that has turned Russia’s media landscape into a wasteland,” Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Marie Struthers, said in March 2022.
Russian polling agencies have found that Putin’s approval rating remains high – even as much as 82 percent in October. He appears easily poised to win if he runs for re-election.
Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I have no doubt that if he puts forward his candidacy, he will win confidently.”