Russia’s Parliament passed a preliminary bill on Tuesday that would limit foreign ownership of Russian media outlets to 20 percent, targeting several prominent publications critical of the government and extending the Kremlin’s control over the nation’s independent news media.
The country’s top business daily, Vedomosti, the Russian edition of Forbes and dozens of other news, society and fashion magazines would fall under the purview of the bill, which would force the publications to change ownership or close by 2017.
The first reading of the bill was passed by a near-unanimous vote of 434-1 during an intense debate, as lawmakers charged that the West was using the news media to attack the Russian government.
“The cold war, namely the information war, which is being unleashed against the Russian Federation, requires us to apply its rules,” said Vadim Dengin, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill.
With the conflict in Ukraine still simmering and relations with the West at their lowest point in decades, Russia is working hard to mold its image in both international and local media. While the government has long consolidated control over the country’s leading television networks, in the last year the Kremlin has taken aggressive steps to rein in Internet media as well.
Prosecutors have blocked the websites of Aleksei A. Navalny, a prominent whistle-blower and opposition politician, and other opposition sites, and prominent bloggers are now required to register with the government. RIA Novosti, once seen as a liberal bastion among government news media, was liquidated and reincorporated under the name Rossiya Segodnya, or Russia Today. The liberal online television channel Dozhd was nearly driven to bankruptcy in what its owners said was a politically motivated attack.