Russia’s parliament has urgently passed first reading of a special law that would allow courts to close down media outlets that publish libellous material or unsubstantiated rumours.
The beefed-up press control measures come in the wake of a scandal in which a small Moscow tabloid alleged that President Vladimir Putin had divorced his wife of 25 years and was preparing to marry a sexy young gymnast.
The story, picked up by the world’s media, caused the Kremlin severe embarrassment and led Putin to blame journalists “who, with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, prowl into others’ lives.”
The offending newspaper, Moskovsky Korrespondent, subsequently ran a front-page apology and suspended publication for “financial reasons”.
But that did not appear to satisfy angry parliamentarians who voted to give authorities unprecedented powers to shut down media organisations guilty of libel. A news outlet that “disseminates deliberately false information damaging individual honour and dignity” of a public official will be subject to harsh punishment.