OSCE Press Release
(Suggestion by Petros Petrikkos)
VIENNA, 31 March 2020 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, expressed his deep concerns today about amendments to the Russian legislation, imposing up to five years in prison, for spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I share the concern of the Russian Duma to combat the dissemination of false information related to the current health crisis,” the Representative said. “However, the amendments to the Code of Administrative offense and to the Criminal Code, as envisaged, pose a risk of undue restriction on the work of journalists and of self-censorship for media actors trying to inform the public.”
“I call for a greater consideration of the principles of necessity and proportionality in the new amendments. The amendments should also clearly guarantee that the right of the media to report on the pandemic will not be constrained by the new legislation, which should only aim at combating intentional disinformation that is detrimental to citizens’ health. The media and independent journalists have an important role to play in the fight against disinformation, especially online, and they should not be unduly restrained in their reporting on the pandemic,” said Désir.
The amendments were approved by the State Duma and by the Federation Council of the Russian Federation today. They toughen liability and punishments for the dissemination of false information that could threaten the life and safety of citizens. They were made both in the Code of Administrative Offenses and in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The amendments include punishments for the spread of false information about measures that the authorities take to ensure the safety of the population and territories.
The Representative recalled the joint statement he published on 19 March, together with David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Edison Lanza, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which emphasized that: “Human health depends not only on readily accessible health care. It also depends on access to accurate information about the nature of the threats and the means to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community”. The Representative and the two Special Rapporteurs also stated that: “The right of access to information means that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists. Journalism serves a crucial function at a moment of public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”
The Representative has previously expressed concerns about the law. (See previous statements here: https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/414770 and www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/406775)
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. He provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter: @OSCE_RFoM and on www.facebook.com/osce.rfom.