- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2016

Journalists in Russia will require special accreditation going forward in order to cover federal and regional elections from within the country’s polling centers following a decision reached Friday in the Duma.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that lawmakers passed an amendment Friday imposing new rules on reporters wishing to observe future elections first-hand. Only journalists who have worked with the same news organization for at least two months will be allowed to apply for credentials, and reporters will only learn three days in advance of an election if they’ve been approved to work from inside polling stations.

Dmitry Vyatkin, a Duma deputy with United Russia, the country’s ruling political party, said he had proposed the amendment to keep individuals from claiming media status in order to interfere with elections.

The law will target people who “aren’t really journalists,” Mr. Vyatkin said, according to Meduza, an English-language news portal run by Russian journalists.

Friday’s ruling is the latest in a series of measures affecting media access since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. His administration has routinely blacklisted websites that post reports critical of his policies, and Russian media companies this year became prohibited from allowing foreign stakeholders to control more than 20 percent or a news organization.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog group, has downgraded the status of reporter’s rights in Russia from “Partly free” to “Not free” between 2002 and 2015. A similar group, Reporters Without Borders, recently ranked Russia among the countries with the worst press freedom in the world.

Earlier this week, the speaker of Russia’s lower house said observers with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will be prohibited from monitoring the next State Duma elections as a result of allegedly discriminating against Moscow’s delegate.

“Record lengthy absence in the session hall of one of the most representative delegations — ours — has become a novelty in the 67-year history of PACE,” Sergey Naryshkin wrote in an op-ed published by the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper this week.

Alexey Pushkov, the chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will still be allowed to monitor polling stations.

When Mr. Putin won a record third term in 2012, an investigation conducted by the OSCE concluded that the contest was “clearly skewed” in his favor and recommended Russian lawmakers review legislation “to allow domestic observation by non-party organizations and groups in order to enhance the integrity” of the election process. Mass voter fraud was alleged following regional elections in September, Agence France-Presse reported.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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